HEALTH NEWS

Back-to-School Healthy Habits for Children

Written by Kristen Fischer on August 15, 2016

back to school tips

Most of us remember that week before school started when our parent sent us to bed — and woke us — early to get us back into “the routine.”

Is that really the best way to prepare your children for a new school year?

back to school tips

What other things can parents do to get back into healthy routines as summer fades into fall?

We’ve rounded up a few tips from various lifestyle experts.

Read more: How much sleep do children really need? »

The sleep factor

“Unfortunately, kids just don't buy the argument, ‘Sleep now, because you'll be tired later!’” Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist from New Jersey, and author of “Raising Emotionally & Socially Healthy Kids,” told Healthline.

“Convincing them to go to bed earlier will be a hard sell, unless they actually are tired,” she said. “Getting them up a bit earlier every day starting a week or two before school starts can help kids shift their body clocks and avoid major jet lag once school begins.”

Read more: Can schools make our kids healthier? »

Good-for-you eating

“We let a lot of things slide over the summer … an afternoon Popsicle and then an ice cream cone after dinner,” said Maya Henry, a health coach from Pittsburgh.

Get back into a fall routine by clearly setting health goals for your family and setting up a meal planning system.

“Explain to the whole family why food rules are changing and any new rules you will be introducing,” she said. “Emphasize the benefits and let your kids choose healthy meals from a list of ‘agreed upon meals.’”

One thing to carry over from the summer: All the great produce. Let kids know it continues into fall with a few new choices.

Felicia D. Stoler, a registered dietitian from New Jersey, recommends adding apples, pears, and squashes to the food rotation.

“Don’t forget to buy the dried Indian corn,” she added.

When put into brown paper lunch bags, it can be popped in the microwave for a healthy snack.

“One of the top things to do is make sure kids are fitting in a healthy breakfast, which has shown to improve athletic and academic performance,” Sharon Palmer, the California-based author of “Plant-Powered for Life,” told Healthline. The meal should include whole grains, a healthy protein, and a serving of fruits or vegetables for an ideal balance.

Preparing healthy after-school snacks is also key to keep children eating healthy. Palmer recommends stocking a fruit basket on the kitchen table, as well as keeping sliced veggies and hummus or nut butter ready to go in the fridge.

It may also be a good time to get in the habit of Meatless Mondays, too.

“Try out a veggie taco bar, veggie lasagna, or pasta tossed with kale and chickpeas,” she added.

Jessica Cording, a dietitian from New York, advises getting the kids involved in meal planning, whether it’s packing lunch or food shopping.

One thing to take charge of is removing sugar from the house.

“Kids will get enough of it at school and at friends' homes,” she added.

Read more: 3 natural ways to calm your child’s anxiety »

Mental preparation

Palmer said the simple act of school shopping can help kids get excited about going back to a routine.

“Being able to choose certain items gives kids a sense of control and happy anticipation,” she added.

Parents need to get back into the swing of things, which can then help them fall back into healthy habits.

Laura Cipullo, a nutritionist from New York, suggests that parents try to meditate for 5 to 10 minutes in the morning.

“Try to meditate at the same time every day in the same location for the best results,” she said.

You may need to wake before the kids do to fit that in. To do that, place your phone far from the bed so you can’t hit snooze.

Read more: more people skipping dentist because of tight finances »

Healthy habits

“Treat this season as a great time to work with kids on their oral health habits by teaching the 2 by 2 by 2 Rule,” said Dr. Renee Townsend, a dentist from Texas.

Do that during a set time before school and before bedtime.

The rule is simple: Brush and floss teeth for two minutes twice daily, and visit the dentist twice each year. Kids can even repeat the rule by holding up two fingers.

“Brushing together is a great way to model good oral health habits for kids, as well as monitor and assist kids so that they clean their teeth properly,” she added.

“Back to school can be a great time to start healthy habits,” Dr. Larry Burchett, an emergency physician from California, told Healthline.

He said that you need a trigger to set up a habit. For example, while packing lunches (a trigger) give children the option of which fruits and veggies to include in their lunch (a healthy behavior).

“Then reward them with verbal praise — until they do this on their own, and it's part of the routine,” he said.

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