Ways to Boost our Immune System



The myFace Team was delighted to spend some time with Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, Registered Dietitian, myFace Center for Craniofacial Care at NYU Langone Health to ask some questions to help us all understand ways to boost our immune system, eat properly and stay active as we collectively navigate this unprecedented time.

What recommendations do you have to make sure we are getting a healthy diet?

Eating healthy is critical to boost your immunity and stay strong to stave off illness. I encourage you to review this list of essential Vitamins and Minerals that will help you make educated nutrient-rich food choices during this time. 


One of the important immunity boosting vitamins is often neglected, Vitamin D! Adequate levels are needed to help fight off bacteria and viruses that try to invade the body. There are few foods that contain Vitamin D (fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel) but the best source comes from direct exposure from the sun on our skin. Our skin can convert Vitamin D however; we need to also balance out skin cancer risk, and sunscreen blocks the conversion. This is why typically most individuals need to supplement.


Here is a link to Vitamin D dose recommendations from the National Institute of Health.  When checking lab work, blood levels of children should be between 50-75 ng/mL, adults 40-80 ng/mL. Supplementation doses would be much higher if patients were deficient and should be prescribed by a physician.

What tips do you have to help build my immunity at a time like this?

There are very basic things we can do to keep our body working at its best.


  • Do not smoke – smoking depletes antioxidants in the body, increases your risk of respiratory infections and prolongs the length of sickness in general.
  • Wash hands frequently to prevent bugs like bacteria or viruses from getting in.
  • Cook meats/eggs thoroughly to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Wash fruits/vegetables well.
  • Have good sleep hygiene. This means going to bed by 11pm and waking up by 7:30am, not going to bed 2am and waking up 11am. The latter actually provides more sleep but the quality of sleep is lower.
  • Eat wholesome foods filled with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals like fruits, vegetables, meats and fish.
  • Buy frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned. Frozen produce is picked when it’s at its most ripe!
  • Supplement if you are unable to meet certain food group requirements like if you do not eat salmon, you’ll likely need Vitamin D and Omega 3. Supplements to keep on hand are: Vitamin A, C, D, and E.

We are preparing all our meals at home now. What ideas do you have to make this a bit easier?

Pull out the slow cooker or crock pot, it’s my favorite for 1 million reasons!  First you can cook any meat in it (except fish because it is too delicate and will break apart). I find that even the toughest cuts of meat will work (pork chops, beef shoulder, etc.)  You can add any vegetables, potatoes, root vegetables, etc. or use dried beans to save money.  

**Just remember to soak dried beans overnight, drain and rinse then add back to crockpot.  


You can make soups, stews, pulled pork, pulled chicken, macaroni and cheese, oatmeal…you name it.  ANYONE can do it…no cooking skills are required…just chop, throw it in and press start!

When kids have issues with texture, or a parent is concerned about making sure their child is getting enough calories what should they do?

Many of our cleft and craniofacial kids have texture issues with food. Some tend to only eat soft or pureed foods, like bananas, mushy macaroni and cheese, hummus, meatballs, applesauce and yogurt; while others prefer hard/crunchy foods such as pretzels, carrots, chips, cucumber, granola and freeze dried fruits. In addition, for some children, weight gain can be a concern especially when coupled with texture preferences and issues with chewing.


Please see this chart on textures and adding calories as quick guide to how you might address your child’s preferences and how to make meals more calorie dense.

How are you and your family keeping active while confined to your home or apartment?

This is a challenging time for us all so we all need to be creative to stay positive and make this time as bearable as we can. Exercise releases endorphins, which are “feel good” hormones, and can help balance out the cabin fever and stress everyone is going through. Not to mention we might all be eating a little more than usual. I can tell you with a small child of my own, getting physical exercise while avoiding parks and long periods of time outside can be challenging. 


Some things you can do outside to keep active:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Use a scooter, skateboard around the block just to get fresh air.
  • Go to a local park.  If it isn’t crowded, just kick a ball around for 10 minutes.
  • Jump rope inside or outside.
  • Blow bubbles and chase to pop them. 
  • Hopscotch.
  • Basketball with your siblings at park if no one else is playing.

How much exercise does each child need?

While there are no specific recommendations for children 2-5 years old, they should engage in age appropriate physical activity throughout the day. Children and adolescents between 6-17 years should have 60 minutes or more of more strenuous physical activity every day.

For families who can’t get outside as much and don’t have exercise equipment what do you suggest?

If you can’t get outside, put on music and dance. Make an obstacle course if you have the room. Try doing jumping jacks or jump rope; perhaps check with your downstairs neighbor first, if you live in an apartment. How about a game of Freeze dance, or a scavenger hunt – this can also incorporate learning as well!  


No free weights at home, no problem. Get out your backpack and fill with gallons of water, or books, or canned goods to use as resistance for squats and lunges. Hold a canned good in each arm, and do arm curls, keeping your elbows close to your side. Then do shoulder presses, hold the cans up to your ears and push straight up to the ceiling; your arms should create a 90-degree angle.


This is a time to be creative and positive so you can remain healthy. Cherish this special time with your family. And think about the stories we will have to tell one day!

What should families do if they have more questions?

myFace is here to support you and help your family navigate this challenging time. Don’t hesitate to contact me via email  deborah@myface.org or by phone 212-263-5834.  If you need to reach the myFace staff please write to info@myface.org or you can call us at 917-720-4701 Monday through Friday, 9am–5pm, Eastern Time.


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