Summer is winding down and some kids are already busy at school. After a few months of playing outside, eating fresh produce and being free of viruses and illnesses more common during the winter months, I am a bit hesitant to send my kids back to school. Keeping them healthy is one of my top priorities as a mom. Here are my five best tips on how to start the school year off right, the healthy way.
Let’s get physical
Well-child visits are recommended for children until about the age of 7, then as needed. Make sure you take your child to the pediatrician for scheduled check-ups. At physicals, discuss eating, sleeping and physical development. If you have concerns about your child’s social or emotional development, be sure to discuss those as well. Immunizations are also recommended for all children attending school. If you have concerns about immunizing your children, discuss them with your physician. School districts usually require waivers and notification of children who are not immunized. School nurses can be another resource for information about keeping your kids healthy.
If your child has special health concerns, visit school a few days early to drop off medications, have him or her meet the nurse and discuss care and needs with the teacher. Most elementary schools require medications to be kept in the office area and on file so they can be administered appropriately. Being proactive about learning your school’s methods will help the transition to school be smoother for your child.
Bring on the ZZZZs
A week or two before school starts, begin adjusting your nighttime schedule so your children can go to bed earlier and be ready for the school day wake up time. If your family is like ours, bedtimes are later in the summer months as we enjoy the longer days, and it takes a bit to adjust to an earlier wake up time.
Busy teenagers still need a lot of sleep, as do growing 5-11 year-olds. Children who are well-rested wake easily in the morning, are not overly tired during daytime hours and are not grumpy. If necessary, experiment with bed times to find the amount of sleep your child needs, then try to make sure he gets it. You can also consider recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation as a starting point.
The most important meal
Starting a school day with a healthy breakfast is very important. After a full night of sleep, bodies need fuel to be energized for the day ahead. Try to serve a source of protein, a healthful grain and a fruit. You can teach your children to prepare their own meals this way. The protein will help them feel full until their next meal and the good carbs will keep blood sugar up and brains functioning. Avoid high sugar cereals and pastries, which will cause uneven blood sugar levels.
If your kids are tired of cereal, try smoothies, homemade breakfast bars, breakfast burritos, muffins and oatmeal with choose-your-own toppings.
Some things aren’t worth sharing
Germs are easily passed around crowded classrooms and lunchrooms, as is lice. If you’ve ever gotten lice at your house, you know how much work it takes to get rid of those bugs. Teach your children not to share coats, hats and hair brushes. Watch for notices from school that warn of outbreaks. Putting girls’ hair into braids, buns or ponytails can minimize the risk of getting lice.
To reduce the spread of illness, teach children the proper way to cough and sneeze — using the crook of their arm. I send hand sanitizer to school with my older children, as they can’t always get to a bathroom to wash their hands. Another tip that’s worked well for our family is to have kids wash their hands as soon as they come in the door from school. Don’t forget to wash lunch boxes, water bottles, coats and backpacks as often as needed. Germs hang out all sorts of places!
Lunch box success
After a healthy breakfast, don’t forget about lunch. We skip school lunch altogether, opting for whole grain breads, proteins like nut butters, meats and cheese, and fruits and vegetables. I send water to drink, sometimes lightly flavored, as my children’s teeth are sensitive to fruit juices. Sending money to buy low-fat milk is also a good option. A treat could be a homemade cookie or granola bar, fruit leather or a small candy. If your child buys hot lunch, encourage him or her to choose fresh fruits and vegetables with lunch.
Back to school time is always busy and fun. Make sure your children head back to school healthy so they can be happy and ready to learn.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.