Back to School: Boost Your Kid’s Health Where It Counts

The end of summer means one thing to parents: a new school year is about to begin! While this is certainly exciting—back-to-school routines can be a blessing for busy parents—it can also be anxiety-provoking. Where did the time go? How did my child already grow out of those clothes you bought less than a year ago? What if he doesn’t like his new teacher? We parents are professional worry warts, which is a good thing—it shows how much we care about our children to no end. The best sanity saver I recommend to all the moms and dads I see in my practice is to prepare ahead of time and to slowly transition the whole family back to a routine. This will avoid those last-minute scrambles to grab school supplies before they’re sold out and to inch “lights off” time towards a more reasonable hour.

So here are my best tips for starting a new school year off on a healthy, stress-free and sustainable foot.

Start kids off with a healthy breakfast

This is so important no matter what season or day of the week. Don’t let breakfast be an afterthought, though on busy school-day mornings it’s often rushed. Try to plan ahead and make healthy and quick breakfasts that are loaded with the protein and good fats tiny brains need. A healthy, well-balanced diet not only keeps their growth and development on track, but it also impacts their immunity and mood, too. I know it’s hard, but I always say to keep any processed foods, especially ones packed with sugar, away from your child—in the morning, at lunch, at dinner and at night (snacks count too!).

Starting the day with protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates (eggs, turkey, sausage, yogurt, oatmeal) is key. Some of my favorite ingredients to incorporate into my kids’ early morning meals include chia seed pudding. It’s so easy to make and these tiny seeds are rich in important nutrients, omega 3 fatty acids and fiber. Check out my recipe here and steal some of my other go-to recipes for healthified versions of french toast and even yogurt sundaes!

Kick the late-night habit

With the sun setting later in the summer and no early-morning wake-up call, it can be tempting to let the kiddos stay on the couch watching a movie into late in the evening. But one of the best things we can do for our children as parents is ensure that they get the proper rest to function at peak levels, especially at school. Less snoozetime can also weaken young children’s immune systems and increase their susceptibility to infection. With flu season making its rounds, this is not the kind of health precedent you want to set. I always say aim for 10-12 hours of sleep for preschool-age kids, 10-11 hours of sleep for 7-12 year olds and 8-9 for teenagers. Your best chances of making sure this happens is setting a bedtime routine that you can maintain.

Limit screen time

There’s no way to get around the fact that we live in a digital world, but we, as parents, do need to stay mindful of the growing minds we’re responsible for. Studies have shown that screen addiction—to computers, televisions, smartphones, tablets—is taking a toll on children. More and more kids are tuned in to the electronic device and tuned out of real life activities that have shown to be tremendously important in their physical, emotional and mental growth and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting screen use to 1 hour per day for children ages 2-5. I tend to agree, though if some days your child clocks in two hours, it’s okay too. The best way to balance this out is to encourage physical activity. And to make sure the blue light from the screens don’t mess with your child’s quality of sleep, keep screen time to several hours before bedtime whenever possible.

Give your child options

Children love to make choices! Keep this in mind when it comes to everything from the outfit they’ll wear to school to the color folder they think suits them best. It’s also important to incorporate options for exercise. Do they want to go for a bike ride? How about a walk? Do they want to go play basketball in the park? Whatever the options, do keep them physical but don’t overdo it. Too much resistance training of rigid sports training for children can be draining both intellectually and physically.