Five ways to prepare for a healthier back-to-school

September 8, 2014

It’s time for your kiddos to get back into the classroom and hit the books. As parents, you can help ensure a successful year by developing a regular schedule and teaching your kids healthy habits. But transitioning them from the laissez-faire attitude of summer to a disciplined routine isn’t always easy. Still, with just a little planning, you can implement these five healthy habits so your child can start the school year off on the right foot.
1. Develop a proper sleep schedule
Studies have found that when children don’t get enough sleep, it can affect their school performance. Research has also shown that if you don’t get adequate hours of shuteye, it can lead to higher levels of appetite-stimulating hormones and lower levels of hormones that tell people they’re full.
General sleep guidelines for school-age children are:
• Ages 3 to 6 years: 10 to 12 hours per day
• Ages 7 to 12 years: 10 to 11 hours per day
• Ages 12 to 18 years: 8 to 9 hours per day
Implementing a new bedtime is easier if you start a few week ahead, rather than waiting until the night before school begins. A regular bedtime routine – like reading a book or taking a warm bath – also helps your child know it’s time for bed, which can help minimize the dreaded “I don’t want to go to bed” argument.
2. Plan a meal-and-snack schedule
Set times for each meal, and pinpoint times throughout the day where your child needs a snack. Snacks are mini-meals and should provide nutrients your child needs for proper growth and development (such as protein, calcium, fiber and iron). Children should have two or three snacks throughout the day. Each snack should be about 125 to 200 calories. If you find your child is going five or more hours without food during the day, or they complain at a certain time each day that they are hungry, that is a perfect time to schedule a healthy snack.
3. Teach your child easy kitchen skills
Once children are in school, they should be taught simple kitchen skills so they can put together basic, healthy meals. I’m not saying they should be preparing gourmet meals, but they learn age-appropriate skills such as using a toaster, can opener, measuring cup or spoon, and a blender. They can use the toaster to make a PB&J sandwich and the blender to whip up a smoothie or simple dip for vegetables.
Write out several no-cook recipes on a notecard for kids to master – such as tuna salad and egg salad (have hard-boiled eggs ready in the refrigerator). Once kids learn simple cooking skills, they are able to feed themselves and move on to intermediate cooking skills (and it’s always fabulous to have a kitchen helper!).
4. Limit screen time
Electronic devices such as computers, television, cellphones, video games – and anything else that plugs in – can interfere with your child’s sleeping and eating patterns. In my home, it’s a rule that there are no electronic devices at any meal. I want my children to enjoy the art of conversation (remember what that is?). It’s also a bad habit to eat in front of the television. It is not only distracting, but it can also interfere with children’s ability to tell when they are full, which can lead to overeating.
5. Get active
Once cooler weather sets in, children tend to get become more sedentary. Before they spend too much tushie time on the sofa, enroll them in an activity that gets them moving. Through its Shape Up NYC program, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation offers free fitness classes such as Zumba, Pilates, yoga and aerobics every week at dozens of locations. Many cities offer similar programs, so check with your local community or recreation center.