How to Prevent Ear Infections in Toddlers: Can Food Help?

Is your toddler or child getting colds one after another? And then ear infection after ear infection? 

The average child has 6 to 8 colds yearly. A rhinovirus often causes the common cold, and there are at least 140 known types of rhinoviruses, which is why you can get a cold many times!

There is no cure for the common cold, just measures to help ease the symptoms. These colds can lead to ear infections, sinus infections, and pneumonia. 

Often, these secondary infections require a doctor’s visit for antibiotics. This leads to families losing school, daycare, and work attendance for families. 

Additionally, ear infections are the leading cause of antibiotic use in children. 

So, how can you prevent your toddler or child from getting a cold and reduce their ear infections? 

In this article, you’ll learn about cold and ear infection prevention, how an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce the frequency and severity, and two meals to feed your toddler or child to help prevent colds and ear infections.

Ear infection of toddler or child being checked by doctor

Main Ways to Prevent Colds in Toddlers and Children

The main preventive measures recommended for colds and related infections are:

  • Limit exposure to other people with colds
  • Hand hygiene for children
  • Cover coughs or sneezes
  • Teach and remind children not to touch their face
  • Clean high touch point areas

Typical Child Hygiene Behavior

While these recommendations are great, preventive measures don’t work well if you have ever been around the typical child. Young children are not developmentally ready to do many of these things without constant reminders.

  • A typical child will often wipe their noses with their hands and touch everything around them.
  • Toddlers and teething babies put their hands in their mouths all day.
  • Children decide to lick the floor, their friend, or your car tires in a split second for no logical reason.

Progression From Colds to Ear Infections

It can feel daunting to try and prevent the common cold. If your child is prone to developing ear infections after their cold starts, you may be anxiously waiting for infection symptoms. If your child develops infection symptoms like ear pain, fussiness, not sleeping, fever, a doctor visit and a round of antibiotics are likely in your future.

As a dietitian, I am thankful for medicine and antibiotics, but I also know antibiotic use alters the gut negatively.

Gut Health After Antibiotic Use

Research shows that after short-term antibiotics (5 to 10 days prescription), most people return to pre-antibiotic gut bacteria levels in a month or two. Some people take two to six months to restore their gut health. Quick gut restoration is necessary, as gut health is essential for preventing illnesses.

Suppose you hit a sickness cycle with your children. In that case, you may have repeated colds, ear infections, antibiotics, non-healing ear infections, and recovery over and over and over! 

Sadly, we had over 22 illnesses as a family of five from April to August 2022, totaling 18 separate oral antibiotic prescriptions!! Some were second rounds of antibiotics for non-healing ear infections. 

Thankfully, 14 of these oral antibiotics were connected to two of our children who had sinus surgery and tubes placed due to anatomical problems not allowing proper drainage. 

Due to these issues, this mom dietitian researcher wanted to examine the diet factor! Could eating certain foods help prevent colds and ear infections?

What Your Kids Eat Can Reduce the Frequency of Colds and Ear Infections

Many home remedies and advice exist for eating certain foods or taking vitamins and minerals. While some may be effective, only those with research supporting them were included. 

Vitamins and Minerals that Reduce Illness

Limited research supports using single vitamin or mineral supplementation to prevent colds and ear infections in children. Some research indicates zinc can help reduce the severity but not the duration of the cold. 

Vitamin C reduces the severity and length of a cold when taken at high levels within the first 24 hours of symptoms in adults. However, taking vitamin C supplements does not reduce how many colds a person has yearly. Research indicates a greater benefit when getting vitamin C from foods. 

Foods that Help with Colds and Ear Infections


Recent research shows honey used in children over one year old can soothe daytime and nighttime coughs better and is safer than over-the-counter cough medicine. 

Cough medicine is not recommended in children under four years old due to a high risk of life-threatening side effects or the risk of taking too much medication with pain relievers.

Traditional Mediterranean Diet (Anti-Inflammatory Diet)

Two recent studies (2016 and 2022) have linked a child’s diet (or way of eating) to a pro-inflammatory state, predisposing them to recurrent colds and ear infections. 

The authors hypothesize that a poor diet exacerbates recurrent colds and secondary ear infections, causing “an abnormal and insufficient immune response and an imbalance in the inflammatory regulation system that protects” the body from infection. 

Both studies proposed that the Traditional Mediterranean Diet reduces the frequency of colds and ear infections in children aged 1-5.

The first study from 2016 focused primarily on cold frequency in 128 children with an average age of 2.9 years old and the adoption of the Mediterranean Diet over one year.

  • Before the study, the children averaged 7.45 colds per year and afterward averaged 2.88 colds yearly!
  • Inflammatory complications were reduced from 4.64 to 0.7 episodes. 
  • Antibiotic use was reduced from 3.85 times per patient per year to 0.49 times.

The KIDMED test and the study-specific TMD test evaluated how well the families followed the Traditional Mediterranean Diet and information regarding their cold symptoms.

The KIDMED results improved from 7.5 (average-high score) at the program’s start to 10.5 (good-optimum score) at the end of the study. 

The TMD test showed an increase from 6.7 (poor quality diet) to 16.6 (good optimum Traditional Mediterranean Diet) by the end of the study. 

The second study, released in late August 2022 by the same authors, focused on ear infections in the same age group (1 to 5 years old) among 90 children. 

The researchers found that the children’s diets were high in animal-based products and processed foods. They also hypothesized that the mucosa (tissue lining) in the whole ear, nose, and throat area is pro-inflammatory and hyper-reactive due to the inadequate diet. 

Researchers educated the families on how to eat the Traditional Mediterranean Way (an anti-inflammatory diet). By the end of the year-long diet implementation and study:

  • No patients could meet the criteria for recurrent ear infections
  • 60% of the patients had no further ear infections
  • Ear infection occurrences dropped from 3.84 to 0.48 at the end of the study
  • The intensity of pain during the ear infections dropped from 1.6 to 0.09
  • Antibiotic use dropped from 4.3 times per patient per year to 0.66 times afterward
  • Family satisfaction with the use of the diet was very high, along with adherence to the Traditional Mediterranean diet using the TMD Test and KIDMED Test.

What is the Mediterranean Diet? How can I use this diet to prevent colds and ear infections in my toddler or child?

What is the Traditional Mediterranean Diet?

I’m so glad you asked! The Tradition Mediterranea Diet prioritizes anti-inflammatory foods and reduces pro-inflammatory foods. 

It contains a high amount of fresh, raw, perishable, and seasonal foods, along with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes(beans), and whole grains.  Fats come primarily from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish. 

The diet is generally lower in saturated fat animal products with a limited use of pre-cooked, packaged, and fast foods. 

Following the Mediterranean diet equates to limited white bread, packaged bakery items, packaged snack and children’s foods, red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, dairy foods, and fast food.Table 3 highlights the participants’ statements to assess their compliance with the Mediterranean Diet. These statements clearly explain key aspects of the diet and their importance.

Table Explaining the Traditional Mediterranean Diet for kids aged 1 to 5 (toddlers and preschoolers).

It can be overwhelming to implement these changes. Remember, the participants in this study took a year to adhere to these diet recommendations. Give yourself grace in adopting a new lifestyle and diet changes. Take one step at a time. 

Follow Some of These Key Anti-Inflammatory Features

  1. Eat at least 2 to 5 pieces of fruit daily.
  2. Eat vegetables at lunch and dinner. 
  3. Follow a low-dairy diet, and prioritize unsweetened yogurt or kefir.
  4. Limit sugar intake, such as those found in cereals, desserts, ice cream, and drinks.  
  5. Eat legumes (beans) at least once a week.

Simple Anti-Inflammatory and Kid-Friendly Breakfast Ideas

Here are two simple and kid-friendly breakfast ideas that follow the Mediterranean Diet. I recommend starting with these amounts (or less) and offering more if requested by your toddler or child.

Anti-inflammatory Blueberry Oatmeal Recipe for Kids
Anti-inflammatory Chocolate Banana Nut Butter Recipe for Kids


  • Colds are inevitable since there is no cure. But they can become less common!
  • Following the Mediterranean Diet has significantly reduced the frequency of colds, secondary ear infections, and antibiotic use in toddlers and children.
  • Start with one or two recommendations to start eating more anti-inflammatory foods. Remember, it isn’t all or nothing! Take it one meal at a time. Aim for progress, not perfection!

If you are stuck, let me help you learn to plan meals and snacks that fuel your child and help prevent illness. You can sign up for a self-paced online course taught by me!

You can read my article on how an anti-inflammatory diet benefits everyone in the family along with some simple foods swaps.

Please share if you found this article helpful!

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