School begins this week and parents and caregivers are busy getting their kids and household ready for back to school.

It’s also the time of year where parents begin to dread the influx of cold and flu bugs that seem to show up when school starts. Add another school year in a pandemic and parents can be overwhelmed with how to help their kid's immune systems.

Registered dietitian Adrienne Penner who works at Steinbach Family Resource Centre and A Little Nutrition, says nutrition is a benefit when building your immune system.

"A balanced diet won't necessarily guarantee you won't get sick, of course, but it can certainly help you fight off germs, so your symptoms are maybe less severe. Or you might find that you recover quicker," she says. "When we do get sick, nothing replaces homemade chicken noodle soup or a warm tea when you're not feeling well."

Penner suggests adding a variety of vitamins to your child's diet in the form of food. Including vitamins like Vitamin C, A, E, and D, zinc, and fibre.

"There's a lot of research going on about something called our gut microbiome, so practically you may have heard of probiotics or kombucha, or kefir. The gut microbiome is something that we are learning a lot more about," she says. "The biggest way to boost our immune system through food is lots of colourful fruits and vegetables."

Penner is a big advocate of frozen fruits being the most beneficial as they are harvested and flash-frozen which preserves a lot of the nutrients and is a comparable option to fresh or canned fruit.

Penner also recommends switching to whole grains which tend to promote more stable blood sugars which everyone can benefit from. This includes things like brown bread, pasta, and cereal.

You should be looking for whole grains as the first ingredient on products you’re purchasing and at least 2 grams of fibre per serving. Whole grains according to Penner will help with all-around wellbeing and stabilize blood sugar.

"Less of the ‘hangryness’ going on, stable mood, energy,, switching to more whole grains can be helpful."

In addition to eating specific foods, Penner also recommends adding a supplement to your child’s daily routine.

"Vitamin D, the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ is the one supplement that we do recommend for all Canadians. Babies a year and under should have 400 international units a day and anyone older than that should have 600 international units at a minimum daily. Health Canada set their safe upper amount at 4000 international units a day, but generally speaking for adults, 1000 is a very common amount of vitamin D to take a day and that's because it's hard to get through food and sunshine."

Another way to help build your child's immune system is to make sure they are properly hydrated. The average recommendation for adults is 2 litres or 8 cups. And Penner says to "go by the colour of your urine. If it's the lighter yellow/clear, you're good to go."

Penner does suggest that parents focus on water and milk for their kid's drink choices. She recognizes that going out for lunch or dinner is special and always recommends chocolate milk.

"It's just a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D."

In addition to bringing some change into your children’s diets to help their immune system, Penner also suggests getting back to the basics.

"Sleep hygiene, stress management, our kids are learning so much about mental health and the role of overall wellness."

Getting kids active and moving and exercising are also important aspects of strong immunity. Penner also adds the things we’ve been doing the last 18 months of the pandemic, "of course the hand washing and covid protocols that we're all experts on right now."