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Starting back to school: Five tips for a healthy school year

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Janey's first day of high school!
A new school year is always exciting. My little sister started high school today and it made me think of what I would want her to do to make sure she has a productive year and feels good about herself. Healthy habits are so important because these kids are going to be adults one day and we need more healthy adults. Start early with good habits to get your child ahead of the game! Here are five ways to start making healthy changes with your children now to ensure they perform their best at school and life. 

1) Eat breakfast:  Our brains can only run off of sugar (glucose). When we go more than 4 hours without eating our brains begin to crave sugar because the brain is running low on fuel and needs a fast acting sugar (sweets, cookies, cakes, etc.) for brain power. That’s one reason we love syrup and sweet breakfast foods, why kids who skip lunch come in from school and eat all afternoon, and why when people are dieting they crave sweets and desserts. Eat breakfast to jump start your metabolism and brain activity for the day. Studies have shown that kids who eat breakfast make better grades, focus better in school, and have healthier weights than those who skip.

2) No sugar in drinks: Drinking sugar sweetened drinks, including juice, can give a false sense of energy only to leave kids hungry and tired 30 minutes later. Instead of sugary drinks, make sure your child is well hydrated with water. Not only will this decrease hunger sensations and improve concentration and energy levels, but it will also help keep excess weight gain at bay.  Even if your child is a healthy weight, no sugar from drinks is always a good rule!

3) Pack a protein packed snack: Especially for after school. Pack a snack for your child to eat on the way home so that they don't start the habit of making a bee line to the fridge when they first come in the door. Pack yourself a snack to eat on your way home from work to keep you from doing the same. Protein and fiber are two things that help keep us fuller longer. By adding them both to meal and snack time, you can be sure your child will be full and satisfied and ready to do school work! Protein is found in meats, cheese, nuts and seeds and fiber can be found in fruits, veggies and whole grains. 

4) Limit screen time to 1 hour or less: Kids have about 5 hours after school to be at home before bedtime. This time has to be used for dinner, homework, play, chores, and getting ready for bed (not to mention any organized sports your child may play!). If we come in from school or work and sit down to watch TV, chances are we will spend the rest of the evening there {been there. done that.}. Don’t let the couch be your first stop and teach your kids the same. Don’t just make the kids limit their screen time, set an example and do chores, cook dinner, or go on a walk together to show them the importance of staying active. Allowing 1 hour or less of TV/computer/ipad/phone time each day will encourage everyone to stay busy in productive ways. Less TV time also encourages kids (and adults) to be creative. Pick up a hobby, learn a new trade, write a book, or just go outside and enjoy fresh air; the possibilities are endless and can be beneficial to young minds (and old minds, too!).

5) Exercise:  Exercise has been shown to boost brain function, help focus, and help people sleep better. That’s why, each child should have at least 30 minutes of play and exercise time after school. This after school break will help them focus on their homework better and finish it faster. It will also help them fall asleep faster and sleep better which might just make the morning times a little less stressful too! While physical activity is great, it is not the same as exercise. Exercise should be intentional movement that gets the heart pumping and makes you work up a sweat. Every little bit counts and a 15 minute walk after each meal has been shown to decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes {source}. 

Remember, one day kids will be adults and if these habits start at a young age they will carry over into their adult lives and help them be more productive and healthy as adults, too. Don’t we all want that for children?

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