Supporting their immune system

How to support your toddler's immune system with food

As your baby reaches toddlerhood, their immune system is still developing, and it will continue to do as they grow through childhood1. In fact, your child’s immune system will continue to adapt, evolve and become stronger and more complex well into adulthood. 

There are a number of ways in which your child’s immune system develops. Minor childhood illnesses, for example coughs and colds, help to strengthen the immune system, providing your toddler with future protection from illness and infections.

Another very important way to support your child’s immune system is through their diet. Here we’ll take a look at the immune-enhancing nutrients that can help your child’s immune system both now and for the future, as well as the role of breastfeeding and vaccinations. We’ll also be providing some meal-planning inspiration to help with supporting your child’s immune system through their diet. 

Does breastfeeding help improve my child’s immune system?

Breastfeeding has several benefits for both you and your toddler, including when it comes to strengthening your child’s immune system.

Breastfeeding your baby can help to minimise the risk of several common illnesses, including vomiting and diarrhoea2. There’s also evidence to suggest that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and heart disease in later life2.

During pregnancy, antibodies will be passed to your baby via the placenta, providing them with a certain amount of protection from viruses and bacteria3. This is known as ‘passive immunity’3 which your baby is born with. However, this passive immunity decreases very quickly during the first early weeks and months, which is where breastfeeding can be very beneficial. 

In the first few days after your baby’s birth, your breasts will produce a substance called colostrum. Colostrum is particularly rich in antibodies that can help to build your child’s immune system and protect them from infection3.

Breast milk also contains antibodies, which your baby will continue to get for as long as you continue breastfeeding. Ultimately, the longer you breastfeed, the longer your baby will benefit from the immunity it provides2

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby until they reach at least six months of age4, and that where possible, breastfeeding continues up to the age of two. This will ensure that your baby will continue to benefit from the immune-supporting nutrients it provides well into toddlerhood5.  

Won’t vaccinations give my child all the immunity they need?  

Vaccinations are very important, and provide your babies, toddlers, children and teens with the immunity they need against serious diseases and infections. Measles, mumps and rubella for example, and well as meningitis6. You can read more about vaccinations and your baby’s immunisation schedule here

Alongside vaccinations, it’s important to provide your child’s immune system with continued support as it develops. One very effective way of doing this is to ensure that they’re eating a varied, healthy and balanced diet, full of the nutritious foods that will help to strengthen their immune system.

Support your child's immune system with a healthy, balanced diet

From the moment they’re born, the foods your baby eats will affect their growth, development and health outcomes throughout their life7. Ensuring that your baby is introduced to healthy and balanced diet as soon as they start weaning can help to build the foundations for life-long healthy eating habits8.

A healthy toddler diet should incorporate a variety of different foods (including plenty of fruit and veggies), and contain all of the immune-supporting nutrients, vitamins and minerals that they need in order grow.

Including iron-rich foods like red meats or apricots in your toddler’s healthy, balanced diet can help support their immune system

What are the best veggies to give my child to boost their immune system?

Vegetables are packed with a variety of different vitamins and minerals that can help to support your child’s immune system9. Luckily, there are so many immune-supporting veggies that can be easily incorporated into your toddler’s daily diet. 

Some of the best immune-supporting veggies include10:

  • Leafy greens such as spinach - these are rich in vitamin A and folate

  • Broccoli, cauliflower and green cabbage - all good sources of vitamin C

  • Carrots - a good source of beta-carotene

  • Avocados and green peppers - both rich in vitamin B6 

Strengthening your toddler’s immune system  

In order for your child’s immune system to function as it should, it needs plenty of energy. The cells in the immune system get this energy from the nutrients in food 11, which is why a healthy and balanced diet is so important.

Including wide range of nutrient-rich foods, as well as good sources of prebiotics, into your toddler’s diet will help to build their immune system and positively benefit their long-term health.

Below you’ll find lots of information about the main nutrients and vitamins that will help to strengthen your toddler’s immune system, and the various foods in which they’re found.

Prebiotic oligosaccharides  

Prebiotics are types of carbohydrate that the good bacteria in your toddler’s gut feed upon. Including more foods that contain prebiotics encourages the growth of more good bacteria, which in turn will help your toddler to fight off any bacteria that could potentially be harmful12.

Plenty of fruits and vegetables naturally contain prebiotics, including12:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Artichoke
  • Chicory
  • Bananas 

Some toddler milks also contain prebiotics and can be used as your toddler grows to complement a healthy and balanced diet.


Iron helps your toddler’s body to produce red blood cells, which then go on to ensure that oxygen is carried around the body. It’s also very important for your toddler’s general growth and brain development13.

Toddlers are more prone to iron deficiency than adults. This is due to their rapid growth spurts which require increased iron levels14. Not getting enough iron can affect the normal function of the immune system15, leaving your toddler more prone to illness and infection13. As such, aim to provide your toddler with around three to four helpings of iron-containing foods each day. These include16

  • Meat - especially red meat
  • Wholegrain cereals (and fortified breakfast cereals)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and broccoli)
  • Beans and lentils (try adding these to soups and stews) 
  • Bread (try to opt for wholegrain varieties)


Zinc is an essential mineral found in all of the body’s tissue and is needed by the body in order to function17.  It has a number of important roles to play when it comes to your toddler, having been a building block of their future health since pregnancy (you can learn more about zinc in pregnancy here).

Zinc supports your toddler’s growth and development at every step and continues to do so into adulthood18. Vital for aiding the creation of new cells and enzymes that support your child’s immune system19, zinc can help to protect you against any harmful infections and help any wounds to heal17 - which might come in handy for an active toddler!

Foods containing zinc include20:

  • Meat and poultry
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Cereal products

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has a number of essential roles within the body, including helping your toddler’s immune system to fight off harmful bacteria and viruses21.

The NHS recommends 10 micrograms of vitamin D from birth, either through a vitamin D supplement if your baby is breastfed (even if you’re taking a vitamin D supplement), or through at least 500ml of infant formula22.

The most effective source of vitamin D is sunlight, as the body produces it when UVB rays shine on the skin23. In the UK, we only get sufficient sunshine from April until September24. It’s no surprise then that many of us don’t get enough vitamin D, especially during the winter months. However, babies under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight, and toddlers should have limited exposure to direct sunlight to protect their skin from harmful UV rays25.

Vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, but sources include26:

  • Eggs
  • Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel
  • Red meat
  • Liver
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and fat spreads (check the label)

Healthcare professionals recommend that children between the ages of one and four are given a daily 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D all year around, which you can buy from most supermarkets or pharmacies26.  

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant that’s vital for immunity. It’s used by the white blood cells as they do their job of helping your child’s immune system to function effectively27. In addition, vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron21, another mineral known to support the immune system.

You can support your child’s immune system, and their general health, by including vitamin C-rich foods in their diet every day. These include21:

  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi fruit

Vitamin A  

Vitamin A supports your toddler’s immune system, and as such, it’s important that your toddler gets enough of it in their daily diet. Your toddler can get vitamin A from a variety of foods, including21:

  • Cheese other dairy products
  • Fortified fat spreads 
  • Dark green vegetables and fruit – these contain beta-carotene, a substance that the body can convert into vitamin A. Good sources include carrots, sweet potatoes, swede, mango, spinach, dark green cabbage and kale

Next steps

Try these handy and healthy meal and snack ideas to support your toddler’s immune system as it develops:

  • Spaghetti Bolognese – served with wholegrain pasta
  • Tuna and cheese melts on wholemeal toast triangles
  • Scrambled eggs with grilled, sliced tomatoes and avocado chunks
  • A baked sweet potato with mashed sardines and sweetcorn
  • Natural yoghurt with fresh blueberries and chopped banana

Your baby's future health begins here

At Aptaclub, we believe that experience helps to build resilience; and that each new encounter, whether in pregnancy or after birth, can shape your baby’s future development. With our scientific expertise and one-to-one round the clock support, we can help you and your baby embrace tomorrow.

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Get in touch with our Careline experts

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Last reviewed: 27th August 2014

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