Nutritious Foods For Toddlers To Boost Immunity During Cold And Cough

June 19, 2023
Rinnie George – June 19, 2023
Nutritious Foods for Toddlers to Boost Immunity During Cold and Cough

Nutrition plays a huge role in the overall growth and development of a toddler. As…

Nutrition plays a huge role in the overall growth and development of a toddler. As the toddler is still in a growing stage their nutritional requirements are different from that of an adult. During this time, toddlers get introduced to new places and people leading them to fall sick. This way their immunity develops in those places. Thus it is necessary to provide food for toddlers during cold and cough that help to boost their immunity.

Importance Of Nutrition

The importance of nutrition is not just limited to the growth and development of toddlers but it also strengthens their immune system. Nutrition is important for the cognitive development of kids. Cognitive development means the ability to think, explore and figure things out. To maintain the energy levels of toddlers for their various physical activities they must eat a balanced diet. 

When your toddler is down with a cough and cold it is not just a difficult time for them but for you as a parent also it is frustrating. Their appetite levels drop leading to food rejection. Cough and cold affects their sleep patterns as well. Because if the toddler has a choked nose, it would not be able to breathe properly during sleep. Eating less food and getting irregular sleep in turn affects their mood, making them throw tantrums more often. 

Toddlers anyways eat very less food. Consuming even lesser quantities of foods during cough and cold affects their nutritional requirements. 

Make sure that your toddler is drinking enough water so as not to cause dehydration. 

Understanding Toddler’s Immune System

Understanding toddlers' immune system

Immune System Development in Toddlers

Toddlers are in an important phase of their development. Their immune system is still developing. Understanding Foods for toddlers during cold and cough and how the immune system works is important for parents to make necessary lifestyle changes.

1. Maternal Antibodies: In the last 3 months of pregnancy, antibodies are passed from mother to baby in the form of passive immunity. This passing of immunity continues later as well in the form of breast milk. These antibodies wane off during the 1st year of the baby. After that, the child starts producing its immune system. 

2. Active Immunity: Active Immunity refers to when the child’s immune system starts making antibodies to protect its body from pathogens. 

3. Exposure to Germs: Toddlers’ immune system develops when they get exposed to other children and the outside environment. Healthy exposure to germs is crucial for the development of a child. This is the reason why your child falls sick or has a cough and cold when a few days after you send them to the play school. 

4. Role of Nutrition: Nutrition is important for the immune system. Children anyways eat very little, so try to make that little portion as nutritious as possible. During their infancy, the kids receive antibodies and nutrition from breast milk and formula milk that boost the immune system. 

Vulnerability to Cold and Cough

Toddlers are particularly susceptible to cough and cold because they explore a lot of surfaces and then touch their faces. They meet other children which transfers viruses and bacteria. Below we have listed down a few reasons why toddlers are vulnerable to cough and cold. 

  1. Immaturity of the Immune System: Toddlers’ immune system is still developing, which makes them fall sick as soon as they meet other people or explore the environment. Their immune system is immature as compared to that of older children and adults. 
  2. Close Contact with Others: Toddlers don’t know how to maintain distance while playing. Most of the time they are in close contact with other kids in the playground, playschool, and daycare. This close contact helps spread viruses and bacteria leading to cough and cold.
  3. Lack of Hygiene Habits: toddlers do not have hand hygiene habits and respiratory etiquette. They touch dirty surfaces, often put dirty hands in their mouth and touch their face often. This leads to the transmission of pathogens which causes cough and cold.  
  4. Incomplete Vaccination Schedule: Most of the important vaccines are given before the child reaches 2 years of age. But in rare cases, if the toddler has missed a vaccine then he or she may be more susceptible to catching cough and cold.

Key Nutrients For Boosting Toddlers’ Immunity

Nutritious foods for Toddlers During Cold and Cough that has a huge role to play in building a toddler’s immune system.

Key nutrients for boosting toddlers' immunity

Vitamin C-Rich Foods

Vitamin C is needed to form and repair Red Blood Cells, bones, and tissues. It is a powerful antioxidant. 

  1. Benefits of Vitamin C For the Immune System

Toddlers explore a lot and it’s very difficult to contain their energy. They get cuts and wounds as a result of all the play. Vitamin C heals cuts and wounds. It also boosts the immune system. 

  2. Food Sources Rich in Vitamin C

Rich sources of Vitamin C foods are Oranges, Strawberries, Kiwi, guava, red bell peppers, papaya, broccoli, grapefruit, mango, etc. 

Zinc-Rich foods

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that we should have throughout our life not just in childhood. For toddlers, zinc plays a vital role in immune support, healthy growth, cognitive development, and maintaining gut health. 

  1. Role of Zinc in Immune Function

Zinc is required to maintain the immune system on a cellular level. A deficiency of Zinc can disrupt immunity growth and can lead to the wrong cellular formation of the immune system.

  2. Food Sources Rich in Zinc

Some food items which are rich in zinc are different types of non-vegetarian items like crab, beef, lobster, and pork. Chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, baked beans, yogurt, and cashews are also excellent sources of Zinc. 

Vitamin A-Rich Foods

Toddlers need vitamin A for healthy vision and bone growth. It also helps prevent the body from various infections. 

  1. Importance of Vitamin A For Respiratory Health

For respiratory health also vitamin A is extremely important. Vitamin A is useful in the formation of Alveoli, which is responsible for gas exchange in the lungs. 

  2. Food Sources Rich in Vitamin-A

Food that are excellent sources of Vitamin A are carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and mangoes. 

Probiotic-Rich Foods

Probiotics are bacteria which promote a healthy gut in our body. 

1. Probiotics and Immune Health: Probiotics regulate the immune system. They keep the gut healthy. 

2. Probiotic-Rich Food: Food sources rich in probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, idli, paneer, Lakhani (fermented soybean), green peas, pickles, buttermilk, etc. Make sure to include these items in your toddler’s diet to strengthen the immune system. 

Nutritious Food Options For Toddlers During Cold and Cough

When toddlers experience cough and cold, there is a drop in their appetite level. They would be rejecting food that they used to enjoy earlier. So during this time, their food must be packed with nutrition to aid in their recovery. 

Nutritious food options for toddlers during cold and cough

Soups and Broths

Soups and broths are the easiest options during a cough and cold. It is easy for toddlers to consume it because they don’t have to chew and it provides hydration. 

1. Benefits of Warm Soups and Broths

The sodium present in the soups and broths helps with a sore throat, it is the same concept as gargling with warm saline water. The heat of the soup clears the nasal passage. The vitamins and nutrients present in the soup aid recovery. 

2. Nutritious Ingredients for Soups and Broths. 

Soups made with meat-based products such as bones and chicken are packed with nutrition. You can also add different vegetables to your soups and broths such as carrots, mushrooms, celery, and tomato. Adjust the heat and sodium as per the toddler’s age and likes. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Consume Fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits to keep your toddlers body healthy. 

1. Immune-Boosting Properties of Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and veggies have nutrients that support the immune system. 

2. Selection of Nutrient-Rich Fruits and Vegetables

a. Citrus Fruits: Citrus fruits help the body in fighting infections. They develop white blood cells. Citrus fruits are easily available in the market in the form of oranges, kiwis, grapefruit, etc. 

b. Berries: Berries have antioxidant properties that support immune health. 

c. Leafy Greens: Dark leafy greens contain vitamins A, C, and E, and antioxidants.

Whole Grains and Legumes

Including whole grains and legumes in your toddler’s diet can help support the immune system. 

1. Nutritional Benefits of Whole Grains and Legumes for a Toddler

Indian diet focuses more on eating grains. No doubt that they are rich in vitamins and minerals. Offer a healthy amount of whole grains and legumes to your child.

2. Option for Toddlers. 

a. Oatmeal: Warm and comforting, oatmeal can soothe a sore throat and provide energy. 

b. Whole Wheat Bread:  Never offer bread made with refined flour during cough and cold. Always choose whole wheat bread which is packed with vitamins and minerals. 

c. Brown Rice: Brown rice is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals which provide essential nutrients for a toddler’s recovery. 

d. Lentils:  Lentils are a vegetarian source of protein. They also have fiber and essential minerals. Cook lentils into soups, stews, or curries, or puree them for added texture in toddler-friendly meals.

Dairy Products

If the toddler is not allergic to milk and milk-based products then you can include them in the diet to provide relief from colds and coughs. 

1. Importance of Dairy for Immune Function

Dairy products have high-quality proteins which help in keeping toddlers healthy by fighting off infections. They also have a certain type of probiotic bacteria that boosts the immune system.   2. Healthy dairy choices for toddlers

a. Milk: A glass of milk is a complete diet in itself. It has protein, calcium, and vitamin D. It can help soothe a sore throat and provide essential nutrients for recovery. Avoid giving cold milk to your toddler during cough and cold. 

b. Yogurt: Yogurt is a probiotic-rich dairy product that supports gut health and aids digestion. Choose plain, unsweetened yogurt, and consider adding pureed fruits for added flavor. Yogurt can also be served as a base for dips or used in baking recipes to increase nutrient content.

c. Cheese: Cheese is a tasty and nutritious option for toddlers. It provides protein, calcium, and other essential minerals.

Tips for Incorporating Nutritious Foods into Toddlers’ Diet

Tips for incorporating nutritious foods into toddlers' diet

Introducing New Foods Gradually

Introducing new foods to a toddler’s diet can be challenging. Most of the time the food is rejected and all your efforts go down the drain. We suggest you introduce the new food gradually to get accepted by the toddler. 

These are few tips to make the process easier:

  1. Start with Small Portions: Kepe the new food item as an optional food with the regular food items. Feed a few portions of the new food in between regular food items. 
  2. Be patient: Don’t give up if the toddler still rejects the food. Keep offering the same food multiple times and prepared with different methods. 
  3. Offer Variety: Introduce a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins to expose toddlers to different tastes and textures. This helps them develop a diverse and balanced diet.

Creative Food Presentations and Recipes

During cough and cold the toddler would already be feeling low with a drop in appetite. Make the mealtime fun and engaging so that the toddlers develop some interest in food. 

Consider these ideas:

  1. Shape and Colour: Make different shapes out of regular food using a cookie cutter. Add colorful foods so that the plate looks visually appealing. 
  2. Food Art: Use different foods and ingredients to make simple food art such as a smiley face or a bunny. Toddlers love food art and they would be willing to eat the food if it is presented differently.
  3. Hidden Veggies: The food which your toddler rejects mostly, you can puree them or chop them finely and sneak them into the regular food. For example, if your toddler does not like spinach you can puree it and cook it with pasta or make delicious pooris out of it. 

Involving Toddlers in Meal Preparation

You can involve your toddlers in meal preparation as well. It would make them appreciate the food as they are involved in the preparation.

Here’s how to involve them:

  1. Simple Tasks: Assign simple tasks to the toddlers such as garnishing the meal with coriander, placing toppings on pizza, washing fruits and vegetables, rolling chappatis, etc.
  2. Setting the Cutlery and Plates: involve the toddlers in cleaning the dining table, placing the plates and glasses, etc. Encourage them to sit and eat with the family. 

Setting a Positive Mealtime Environment

Creating a positive mealtime environment is crucial to maintain toddlers’ interest in the food and encouraging family bonding. 

Consider the following:

  1. Set Regular Meal and Snack Times: Offering food at specific times to toddlers sets their routine and they can anticipate when it’s time to eat.
  2. Eat Together as a Family: Eat one meal as a family together to promote bonding. You could discuss your day and interact with each other. Seeing others eat would encourage the toddler to have an interest in the food. 
  3. Limit Distractions: Limit all kinds of distractions while eating. Do not encourage your kids to watch tv, mobile phones. Do not play with toys while feeding them. The concentration would be only on the food. In this way, the toddler would be able to acknowledge the taste and texture of the food. 
  4. Be Patient and Avoid Pressure: Keep offering different varieties of foods. Eat with them and be a positive role model. Encourage them to eat nutritious food. If they reject certain food items then respect them and do not force them to eat. 

Precautions and Considerations

Precautions and considerations

Allergies and Intolerances

1. Common Allergens to be Aware of

Common food items that cause allergies are nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, and fish. Whenever you offer these foods, pay close attention to the child developing any allergic reaction such as hives, swelling, difficulty in breathing, or digestive issues. If you notice any of these reactions then consult a healthcare professional. 

2. Alternative Options for Allergies and Intolerances

If your toddler is allergic to some foods it’s important to find alternatives that have the same nutritional benefits. We have discussed a few alternatives below:

a. Lactose Intolerance: For toddlers with lactose intolerance plant-based milk like oat milk, soy milk or almond milk can be offered. 

b. Gluten Intolerance: Rice, quinoa, corn, flax, or millet are good options for gluten-free grains.  

c. Egg Substitutes: Food such as paneer, soya, tofu, chicken, etc are sources of protein. If you want to replace eggs in baking you can do so by following eggless recipes. 

Consulting a Pediatrician or Nutritionist

1. Expert Advice for Toddlers’ Nutritional Needs

Consulting a healthcare professional such as a pediatrician or a dietician is recommended when your child is allergic to certain kinds of food. A healthcare professional must be able to guide you better concerning the substitutes which provide adequate nutrition. They can assess the child’s health and take a call accordingly. 

2. Customized Meal Plan for Specific Cases

A healthcare professional will assess the age, gender, weight, medical history, and dietary preferences of the family. They will also advise on the portion sizes and supplements to fulfill the nutritional needs.


As toddlers are still in their growing stage both mentally and physically, the importance of nutrition cannot be undermined. Nutrition is crucial in keeping the immune system healthy. Make sure to give your toddlers a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, etc to strengthen their immune systems.

When toddlers are down with a cough and cold, they lose their appetite, and food rejection is common in that phase. You can present the food differently by using cookie cutters and making simple food art to spike interest in the food. Focus on foods that will provide relief from cough and cold. If the child eats nutritious food during cough and cold then the chances of quick recovery increase and the immunity also boosts.  

Immunity is just one of the many benefits of nutritious food. By instilling healthy eating habits right from the beginning, you can create a lifetime impact on the food choices of the toddler. 

Parents must create a positive mealtime environment, involve toddlers in meal preparation, and seek guidance from healthcare professionals when needed. 


Q1: What foods are recommended for toddlers with a cold or cough?

Warm fluids, fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C, protein-rich foods, whole grains, and healthy fats are recommended for toddlers with cough and cold. 

Q2: Are there any foods to avoid when my toddler has a cold or cough?

Limit sugary and processed foods, fried and greasy foods, citrus fruits (depending on the individual), and cold beverages or ice cream.

Q3: Can dairy products worsen a cold or cough in toddlers?

Some toddlers may experience increased mucus production with dairy consumption during a cold or cough. Monitor your child’s response and adjust accordingly.

Q4: Should I force my toddler to eat when they have a cold or cough?

It is not necessary to force your toddler to eat, as their appetite may naturally decrease during illness. Focus on providing fluids and offering small, nutritious meals and snacks.

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