Practical Back-To-School Tips for Health & Nutrition

September is Back To School Month. This is our opportunity as parents to help our children develop lifelong healthy eating habits. It is not as difficult as we may think and the benefits to their health will be outstanding.

Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, show that one of every five children in the United States are obese, and one in every three children are overweight.

These statistics have many health consequences for our future generations.

Children who are overweight are more prone to high blood pressure, impaired blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and weight gain leading to metabolic syndrome and many other health consequences in later years.

Overweight children are also at greater risk for asthma and other chronic diseases as well as anxiety and depression.

A recent study shows that children who are overweight are also more likely to become obese adults.  Obesity in adulthood is linked to increased risk for heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

Children are continually developing and growing, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are receiving adequate nutrition to help them not only develop properly but also to allow their body and brain to function at their best.

As parents, we can help our children form lifelong healthy habits by showing them the path to proper nutrition and lifestyle choices.

Breakfast:

The best way to start the day is with a healthy breakfast. Most children sleep many hours during the night and much time passes between their last meal of the previous day and their first meal of the day.

When healthy whole foods are not supplied for breakfast, their body will start to break down proteins (including muscle tissue) for energy.

This will delay growth and will have an adverse effect on their health.

So we really want to provide our children with a nutritious breakfast that will also ensure they remain full till their next meal.

The foods need to be such that their breakdown takes time and does not lead to severe spikes in blood sugar levels which will leave them tired with no energy to study or to run around and have fun.

Some schools offer breakfast. It is wise to teach our children to opt for healthy food options. For example, we can show them the importance of choosing whole grains instead of refined grains which supply no vitamins or minerals and lead to sharp spikes in blood sugar levels. Moreover, bread made from refined carbohydrates generally also has added oils and sugar, having severe adverse effects on the child’s health, behavior, and brain function. We can teach them to avoid fried foods and go for more natural options and to avoid sweetened beverages.

If school breakfasts are not available, it is quite easy to prepare a healthy quick meal to send with your child to school. All you need is to have the right ingredients at home.

1. Oatmeal is great. You can prepare it the night before in a large batch and portion it into individual servings which you can then store in food storage containers in the refrigerator. By the morning it will have cooled down and can be sent in any lunch bowl with raisins, some chia seeds (that have no flavor but add omega three fatty acids that are great for brain function), and perhaps some fresh fruits, walnuts (also great for brain function), or spices like cinnamon.

2.  Toast is another great option. Just ensure it is made from real whole grains (check the ingredients for E-numbers and anything you can’t pronounce). Aim for bread with as few ingredients as possible. Over six ingredients means that there are probably ingredients in the bread that you do not want your child to be eating. Some healthy sandwich or toast examples include peanut butter (sugar-free of course, preferably made from 100% peanuts – best kept in the refrigerator); Hummus with cucumbers; Avocado and tomatoes; Almond butter with lettuce; Sesame seed paste with sugar-free natural jam.

3. Smoothies –  Although this is not my favorite choice, it is still good for variation from time to time. Pre-make a large batch of your favorite smoothie made with fresh fruits and vegetables. You may also add some spirulina, and chia or flax seeds into the smoothie for their health benefits. Pour into small bottles and store in the refrigerator and send with your child to school. You may also freeze some to make small healthy icicles for dessert.

Water:

Send your kids with fresh water in a bottle that they like to increase their chances of drinking sufficient water.

Snacks:

Send them also some snacks if they stay long days at school or if they go to after-school activities.

I recommend preparing individually portioned snacks in small snack bags or small storage containers.

Some healthy snack options include:

  • Natural nuts – there are so many to choose from and surely you can find some that suit your child’s palette (pistachios, walnuts, macadamia, almonds, cashews are just a few options to consider).
  • Whole grain crackers –  there are many types of great and healthy crackers. But please read the ingredients before choosing and avoid processed versions with sugar, salt, and many preservatives).
  • Popcorn – home made using only a little oil is a great snack.
  • Dried fruits such as dates, figs, pineapples, apricots, bananas, etc., (choose to buy items without preservatives and food colorings).
  • Vegetable sticks such as carrot, celery, cucumber sticks or cherry tomatoes and small peppers are great snack possibilities.

Be a Healthy Role Model

The most efficient way to help your child form healthy habits and to prepare them to make future healthy food choices for themselves is to be a healthy role model, because your kids will most likely model your behaviors sooner or later.

Make sure you are eating a healthy diet full of natural vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, seeds, and nuts.

Aim to eat together with your children as often as possible and lead by example by eating salads and different kinds of vegetables.

Have a water filter system that provides fresh cool water at home to encourage drinking more water.

To make eating healthy easier for you and your kids, aim to have only health promoting foods at home and allow unhealthy options only occasionally when you go out of the house.

Exercise:

Be physically active so that your kids get a good example from you. Sign your children up for after-school sports, or do some physical activity together with your children.

The current physical activity recommendations for children is one hour of active physical exercise per day. This is really not a lot.

You can play ball with your children, take your kids for a walk after dinner with the dog if you have one, go to a skate park, or you can ride a bike together. You may also encourage your children to help around the house and yard with chores requiring physical activity. You could meet up with other friends and do sports together. These are great ways to reduce the amount of screen time they get while being more physically active.

Summary:

Make this back to school season an opportunity to help your kids and yourself get into a health promoting routine. It may not come easy at first, but after the first few weeks, everyone will get used to the new routine, and it will become second nature leading to a healthier and brighter future for the whole family.

 

Feel free to comment below and let me know what you liked best about this article.

 

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