10 Immune-Boosting Foods to Pack in Lunches

September 4, 2020

By Anna Varriano

We’ve heard plenty about how to prevent ourselves from getting sick from the outside-in (wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay 2 metres apart, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, wear a mask, etc), but not much about how to prevent ourselves from getting sick from the inside-out. Nutrition plays an important role in boosting our immune systems.

In the past several months, many of us have had more time to focus on eating healthier, including preparing more home made meals, eating out less often, and even growing some of our own veggies for the first time. It seems easier for many of us to eat healthier when we aren’t rushing around to and from commitments, including work and school.

As many of us are in the process of returning back to the workplace or sending kids back off to school, packing lunches is back on the to-do list, so in this blog, I’m listing 10 immune-boosting foods to pack for lunch.

1. Foods rich in Vitamin C

Most fruits and vegetables contain some amount of Vitamin C. These foods boost your immune system by offering anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant benefits. Some examples of vitamin C foods that would be easy to include in lunches are: oranges, grapefruit (consider pre-peeling and packing individual wedges so the fruit is ready to eat!), apples, kiwi (if washed, you can eat the skin), fresh papaya chunks (papaya is also a great digestive aid), red bell pepper slices (yummy to dip into some humus), and tomatoes (cherry/baby tomatoes are easy to pack and eat).

2. Foods rich in beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is an orange-coloured pigment, so it makes sense that most orange-coloured fruits and veggies are good sources of beta-carotene … however, so are dark leafy greens (the orange pigment is hidden by green chlorphyll). Some examples of beta-carotene rich foods that would be yummy to include in lunches are: baby carrots/carrot sticks, orange bell pepper slices, apricots, left over baked/roasted sweet potato, squash, or pumpkin. There are also some yummy soups and baked treats you can make with squash and pumpkin. I often sent my kids to school with a thermos full of soup. Here are a few recipe ideas for you:

Gluten-free Baked Pumpkin Spice Donuts

Carrot-Ginger Soup

Butternut Squash – Leek – Ginger Soup

For more squash/pumpkin/carrot recipes, just use the search bar of my website and type in one of those veggies!

Salads, even some pre-made bagged ones, are a great way to get beta-carotene from greens. When I get a head of lettuce or any greens, I wash and prep all of it, wrap it in a mildly damp dishtowel that I then put in a plastic bag, then put in the fridge. The greens will stay fresh for days and then they will be ready to go! 

3. Cruciferous Veggies

Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and immune system boosting nutrients. A lot of veggies fall into the cruciferous category; however, easy ones to include in lunches are broccoli and cauliflower (florets would be great with some humus dip!), as well as arugula, radishes, and watercress that could be added to salads.

4. Berries

Berries are tiny but powerful when it comes to supporting our health. Pack some blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or strawberries in your lunch. Buy organic strawberries whenever possible, as conventionally grown strawberries are typically high in pesticide residue.

5. Probiotic foods

There is no doubt that probiotic foods support gut health – and a healthy gut is foundational to overall health, in particular the health of our immune system. Probiotic foods that can be easily packed for lunch include plain, organic, whole fat yogurt or kefir. Add your own fruit (like berries!) and avoid flavoured yogurts as most of them contain a lot of sugar. You can also pack kombucha as a beverage instead of fruit juice. You can find it at just about any grocery store now, or you could try to make your own! Easy and affordable. Here’s my recipe!

6. Foods Rich in Vitamin D

There is a boat-load of research that links vitamin D to immune system function. Unfortunately,  most of us are deficient and it’s difficult to get enough from our food. That is why it is recommended to supplement with vitamin D. I’ve written a lot of blogs on vitamin D given how critical it is to our overall health. While we can get vitamin D from food, many of us don’t eat enough of them to have a health-boosting effect (e.g. organ meats like liver, and fatty fish like sardines and mackerel).  However, a couple of suggestions for the lunch box include hard boiled eggs (as is or as an egg salad), and tuna or salmon (either left over from dinner or canned).

7. Foods Rich in Omega-3s

Like vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids are critical to overall health and most of us are seriously deficient. Omega-3’s big health claim is that they are anti-inflammatory  – which is a big deal as inflammation is involved in virtually every disease process. The best sources of omega-3s are fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring … so maybe some canned salmon for lunch as is or on a salad or in a sandwich? Some nuts (e.g. walnuts) and seeds (flax and chia) also provide some omega-3s. Nut and seed buttters containing them could be included in lunch snacks (e.g. apple slices and nut/seed butter) depending on the school’s/workplace’s nut-free policy.  It’s challenging to get enough omega-3s from our meals and snacks, so I strongly recommend supplements.

8. Healthy Fats & Oils

This is a confusing topic, and being misinformed can be hazardous to your health. I go into it in detail in my pre-recorded webinar, “The Skinny on Fats”.  In general, avoid vegetable oils including soy oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and canola oil. Healthier oils include olive oil, ghee (clarified butter), avocado oil, and coconut oil. Read labels when buying packaged foods to see what types of oils they contain.

9. Anything Coconut

Coconut and coconut oil contain medium-chain triglyceride (MCTs) which have been shown to support gut health and immunity due to MCTs bacteria-fighting and antioxidant properties. One of these MCTs is called lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which the human body can convert into a substance called monolaurin. Monolaurin has antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal properties. Interestingly, breast milk contains lauric acid and a study published in 1998, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that lactating mothers who eat coconut oil and coconut products, increased lauric acid levels in their breast milk significantly – up to three times the original level.

10. Broths and Stocks

Properly made broths and stocks are rich in nutrients. Gramma knew what she was doing when she made us chicken soup when we had a cold or flu. Some research has shown that chicken stock has nti-microbial properties which can boost the immune system and heal the gut. My mom always had homemade chicken stock on hand, and so do I. I make big batches so there’s plenty to freeze. It is the base of many of the soup recipes on my website. A thermos full of a yummy homemade soup is a great lunch, especially during the fall and winter months (aka flu season). Here’s my chicken stock recipe.

Presentation Counts!

If you are packing lunches, keep in mind that sometimes the difference between a child eating or not eating their lunch is all in the “marketing”, that is, the presentation and packaging. My kids are all grown up now, but our favourite lunch gear was from a company called Bentology. Bentology products are designed to help you pack nutritious bento box style lunches for school (or work … or play!). The unique design of this durable line of products makes it easy to break free of the sandwich mentality, and as a bonus, the products are free of phthalates, BPA, PVC, or lead. These fun & kid-friendly containers that transform lunch-bag letdown into lunch-bag fun! Great for adults too!

One Last Thought …

Finally, a word about immune-boosting supplements. Before you spend a fortune on a bunch of supplements to help keep you healthy, make sure you’ve covered the foundational basics. In my opinion, these are:

  • Vitamin D (bio-emulsified)
  • Omega-3 (high quality, clean Neptune Krill Oil or Fish Oil)
  • Probiotics (clinically proven strains)

While we can get these nutrients from certain foods (and healthy food choices are the foundation of overall health), studies show that most us don’t get anywhere near enough through our meals/snacks. Given how critical each of these nutrients is to our overall health, including our immune system, I supplement with them every day and strongly suggest my clients do too.

It’s important to know that not all brands of supplements are created equal – and many have never been reliably and/or validly tested to ensure they are delivering therapeutic benefits. I feel so strongly about the benefits of the supplements I personally take and make available to clients, that I am offering 25% off orders that include all three of these supplements from now until Dec 31 2020 to get you started. I can offer non-contact pick up or have them shipped to your home if you live in Canada for a flat $5 fee. For more information on this offer, email me at: info@perfectresonance.com with the subject line: ORDER REQUEST or call 613-299-4022.  Oh – and bonus benefit – these supplements also play a critical role in supporting our mental health – something that many of us could use right now.

Take control of what you can.


Privacy Policy