Amid the excitement of finding out which teachers your children have been assigned to and the groans of transitioning back to an early start to the day, families everywhere can take this opportunity to work healthy habits into the school and extracurricular schedules. There are several healthy habits for back to school that you can use year round to help each family member be at his or her peak game-academically and physically.
10 Healthy Habits for Back to School (and year round)
- Protect your child’s sleep. If your child is old enough to have a cell phone or other electronics, keep those items out of the bedroom. Have your children hand over electronics at a time you decide upon so that your children aren’t receiving texts or other sleep-disturbing messages during the night. How much sleep does your child need? Here is a guide. What are some other helpful sleep tips? Have a bedtime routine, try to go to sleep at the same time each night, limit caffeine in the afternoon and before going to bed, and keep kids active during the day so that they are tired at night.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Yes, breakfast really is important. Going to school on an empty stomach can lead to a hungry and grumpy child who may struggle. It’s important for your child to wake up early enough to eat. Find ways to help your particular family dynamics by planning. If everyone, including the adults, typically scrambles in the morning, plan out breakfast over the weekend or when you have time. Precook and freeze egg muffins or other types of muffins, make overnight oatmeal or breakfast bars, etc. so that everyone can prepare their own breakfast if needed. If your child isn’t an early morning eater, you could let him eat in the last 15 minutes at home rather than right away upon awakening. Aim for a healthy breakfast and avoid sugary refined cereals. Some back to school breakfast ideas can be found in the following blog posts :10 Healthy Breakfast Ideas to Help Your Kids Do Well in School and Kid Friendly Power Breakfasts on the Go. Also, this Healthy Breakfast Guide for Busy School Mornings is another tool that you can use when you are planning your breakfast options.
- Use MyPlate as your guide to provide what your children need for growth and development. MyPlate is an excellent guide for showing individuals the types of foods and amounts necessary for optimal nutrition. MyPlate emphasizes the following:
- Eat whole grains. Whole grains, as opposed to refined grains, help your kids to avoid a sugar high and then a crash, leaving them tired and hungry.
- Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Aim to include grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy at each meal.
- Include a variety of foods within each food group.
- Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals leads to hunger and difficulty with concentrating. If you know that your child won’t eat school lunch, pack a lunch. If you know you’ll be at the ball field for the evening, have a plan in place to provide dinner without having to skip a meal, eat ballpark food, or eat fast food along the way. Plan ahead for snacks on the go.
- Establish an after school routine that works for your child. Does your child need a snack after school? Maybe a “brain break” is in order before homework. Whatever works best for your family is fine. We have a snack, ten minute brain break (which usually includes outside play), then the kids get right into homework to knock it out. If someone runs into issues with homework and it takes longer than usual (or frustration starts brewing), we take an another outside “brain break” to have fun and exercise.
- Plan. Planning is so important and doesn’t need to take up a great deal of time. Once a week, write out a meal schedule for the week or sign up for a meal plan, such as the Super Healthy Kids Meal Plan Membership, so that you know what you’ll be serving for the whole week. This allows you to take into consideration your work schedule, after school obligations, etc. to figure out which meals work best on which days. A crock pot meal may be wonderful on a day where you’ll have time to throw it together in the morning to eat after practice, or if you know you’ll have to eat on the run, maybe you’ll plan to pack sandwiches, fruit and pasta salad to eat at the ball field.
- Guide your child when picking extracurricular activities. Your child may have many interests, but help to guide your child in picking activities so that there is still time for homework, free time/play time, family time and sleep. Once you have your plan for extracurricular activities, adjust as needed if you see that your child is struggling to maintain grades, get homework done, get enough sleep, etc.
- Teach good hygiene. The beginnings of good hygiene start with you providing all that is needed, such as bathing your infant and keeping those gums and erupting teeth clean. As your child gets older, you begin to pass along more responsibility as appropriate. Learning to bathe, wash hands properly, floss and brush teeth, independently, comes with time and with instruction from you! These good hygiene habits can take years to learn with a lot of repeated reminders – be patient as your kids are learning. This Hygiene Habits for Kids list is a guide that you can use.
- Exercise. The love for being active can start at an early age, and having caregivers stress the importance of and participate in exercise (rather than being sedentary) can set the stage for a lifetime of physical fitness. Among other benefits, active children are less likely to become overweight, have stronger muscles and bones, have a decreased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and have a better outlook on life. Great information for keeping kids fit can be found here.
- Ask for help. Check in with your child and communicate with one another. If your child is struggling with homework, listen and offer help as appropriate. At the school that my children attend, there is usually a limit of time that should be spent on homework, and if the child is struggling, the teacher asks to be contacted to offer help. There are so many resources that are there to help you when you just don’t know how to tackle a problem your child may be having.
Also, your child(ren) and all family members can have responsibilities for helping the household that are age appropriate. There are mornings where my 7 year old is ready for school very quickly, so he may wash fruit for school lunches or peel and chop carrots. Enlist this type of help so that your family members are a part of the family’s healthy habit routine. Some age appropriate chores are shown here.
Having healthy habits at a young age is a wonderful way to help your child learn the benefits of these habits and continue wanting to practice healthy habits as he grows and matures. Also, starting the school year with healthy habits allows the whole family to achieve a smooth transition from summer fun to classroom success.
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie