5 surprising ways to build your family’s immune system

Pitiful sick kids.

Cold and flu season is supposed to be long gone by now, but this year it’s hanging on like winter in Narnia. In my house, anyway. One or another of us has been sick for so long that I’m not sure I remember what healthy feels like. One illness has followed another, blending together so smoothly that I don’t even know where the flu ended and the stomach virus began.

Now that it finally feels like spring — it is spring break, after all — getting healthy is even more appealing. Am I the only one who’d rather be sick when the weather’s bad? Lying on the couch all day doesn’t seem so bad when it’s gray and cold and rainy. But on days like today, when it’s sunny and 75 degrees, it’ll make you more stir crazy than the kids in The Cat in the Hat.

So I’ve been plotting how to get us back to health fast. These methods aren’t really quick-fix cures, but they’ll help. I hope. At least for next year.

1. Eat local vegetables. You know that vegetables build your immune system, right? — because they’re nutritious, and better nutrition means better health. But what you might not know is that to really get nutrition in, what you need is local food. The reason is that food starts losing nutrients as soon as it’s harvested. (Yes, fresh food in storage actually leaches nutrients. Crazy but true.) So if you want lots of nutrition, especially micro-nutrients that are especially important to improve your immunity, you need to eat food that was harvested recently. And that means local food.

And — bonus! — it’s April! Which means the Grant Park Farmers Market, my favorite source for local food, is opening in just 11 days. You’re welcome.

2. Go on vacation. Stress strains your body and makes you more likely to get sick. Vacation reduces stress, which makes you healthier. Unless you have young kids, in which case vacation actually increases stress. Unless you bring a babysitter with you, which is what I’m going to do (love you, Mom! It’s a win-win! She gets a free room at the beach; I get a free babysitter). Or if you go to one of those resorts that includes childcare (did you even know those existed? I just discovered them. Staying in one has now become one of my life goals). But if neither of those is feasible, a staycation might be less stressful. Take a week off work, play with your kids, and organize that closet that’s been driving you nuts. That’s another a win-win.

3. Get enough sleep. Of course, this is impossible when you have young kids. At least on a regular basis. But you can take steps to mitigate your lack of sleep. You can switch off nights with your partner (or a grandparent, or even a mom friend) so you each get good sleep at least half the time (I’ve talked about doing this with other breastfeeding moms and taking turns nursing each other’s babies all night). You can cosleep (which means better sleep for a lot of parents). You can night wean (which may or may not help, but it’s worth a try). And you can do whatever possible to make sure your baby gets enough sleep.

Or you can just wait for your kids to grow up. That works eventually.

4. Take probiotics. I won’t lie. Probiotics freak me out if I think about them too much. The idea of getting little creatures to colonize your digestive system on purpose is freaky and gross. (Although not as freaky as people who deliberately infect themselves with parasites, which supposedly can help with autoimmune disorders.) Just do it and don’t think about it, because it really is good for you. And yes, baby can take probiotics too.

5. Eat garlic. Garlic is a natural immune booster, along with echinacea, shitake mushrooms, and of course vitamin C. I actually hate garlic (Ironically, I blame an incident when I got sick immediately after eating some heavily seasoned vegetables. The immune boost did not help at all. And garlic does not taste good the second time around, at all), but (flavorless) garlic supplements are effective too. Babies can start eating spices (in moderation) around six months.

And, of course, it protects against vampires too.

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