Updated: Sep 8, 2019
A healthy family is great because it makes life a little simpler. The bigger the family, the more it's worth it to help everyone heal quickly or skip an illness.
First, let's acknowledge the immune system as an unsung hero. If it were easy and cheap to run tests every time someone got sick, we would really appreciate all it does for us. As it is, we take it for granted until something big comes along.
Real food is key. Sugar intake seems to be the single biggest factor in whether my kids are likely to catch what's going around. We're not purists, and they have something sweet most days. They eat a ton of fruit and a good amount of vegetables. The sugar effect has been noticeable sometimes after holidays.
Sleep (and general downtime like reading or drawing) is huge for the immune system, especially with growing kids.
Affection and social connection raise oxytocin and promote immunity. When my kids were little, it seemed to me that when I was more affectionate, they were healthier. While this probably correlated with other factors like a calmer schedule and healthier food, there are plenty of studies about immunity and affection.
Exercise moves lymphatic fluid and blood, and helps the metabolism and brain.
Hydration makes everything run better, and is particularly helpful during temperature shifts and allergy seasons. Broth and tea count.
All that being said, here is what I keep on hand to take when something gets started. It's nice to be stocked for the Friday afternoon or evening illness that doesn't quite warrant a visit to urgent care but will overshadow the weekend.
Vitamin D - this is preventative, but if one person in the house is coming down with an illness, and another person is feeling "run down", it's available. In liquid form the drops are virtually tasteless.
Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate form) - Again, more of a preventative than a cure. The upside of sodium ascorbate is that it doesn't cause acid diarrhea like ascorbic acid does.
Zinc - shown to shorten duration of a cold, BUT it may cause nausea if taken without food, so know thyself. And for maximum effect the lozenges need to sit in the mouth to dissolve, not be chewed.
Charcoal - Nice to have for a stomach upset. It settles things down more quickly than letting nature take its course. If a kid throws up once and seems otherwise fine, I wouldn't bother with charcoal unless they wanted it, but if it seems like an actual stomach virus, the charcoal supposedly absorbs the irritants and allows them to pass through. In our small family sample, this seems to have spared us any lengthy stomach incidents for several years.
Planetary Herbals Old Indian Cough Syrup - Intense herb flavor, this is the backup when better tasting formulas don't cut it.
Sambucol Elderberry Syrup - This is generally my kids' first choice, because it tastes like an intense boysenberry syrup. It also typically includes zinc and vitamin C.
Old Indian Cough Syrup by Planetary Naturals - This one tastes "herby", and seems to work when the Sambucol doesn't quite cut it. Only the adults in the house will start with this one.
Zarbees Honey Cough Syrup - Also has extras, and the honey taste is quite sweet. Plain honey also helps coughs enough that we have rarely used cough syrup. (Also kids hate the taste of Triaminic.)
Cyclone Cider - Apple Cider Vinegar with cayenne, ginger, garlic, and parsley, which needs to be stored in the fridge. It tastes, not surprisingly, like an intense salad dressing, and I often put a squirt into homemade salad dressing. It saves time and everyone likes it.
Goldenseal - One of the well-known antibiotic herbs. It's recommended to take probiotics during and after goldenseal, and generally treat it with the same respect one should treat antibiotics. That is, take it only when necessary, for a short duration, and replenish gut flora.
Congaplex - Recommended by a chiropractor, this works a little differently, by stimulating one's own immune system through animal organ extracts.
There may be more that we don't happen to have in the cupboard right now. It's not critical to have everything all the time, but it's nice to have options, especially for kids. If they are sick, I generally encourage them to take something, but sometimes the whole thing goes so fast it doesn't happen.
We'll go through months where no one gets anything to speak of, and times when they catch whatever is going around. I try to stop and appreciate it when no one has a sniffle, because it's easy to miss good health in busy family life.
I've given up worrying about contagion for anything other than major intestinal illness. For coughs, colds, and other minor illness, it seems the immune system of the child is the key determinant of whether they catch it, not any particular amount of exposure.
Hope this is helpful! Please share your tips in the comments!