After weeks of summer camps, road trips and lazy mornings spent in pajamas, it is time to head back to school. The last thing a parent wants to do is worry about children who are sputtering into the new school year with nervous tummies and illnesses. Follow these tips to launch the school year with health in mind.
1. Keep Germs In Check. Dr. Harley Rotbart, University of Colorado pediatrics professor emeritus and author of the book, Germ Proof Your Kids, says that children tend to touch their faces—and each other’s faces—often. Respiratory germs are spread from mouth and nose to hands and then to others” mouths and noses. Encourage frequent hand washing. For the same reason, water fountains can be germy. Help this by having children bring their own water bottles to school. If they must drink from fountains, teach them to run the water for a little bit before they drink, and to not touch their mouths to the fountain itself.
2. Rinse Teeth. In an ideal world, children would brush their teeth after eating lunch, says Dr. Richard Wallace, a Centennial/Aurora-area dentist. Wallace understands that this may not be realistic, but students can rinse their mouths with water while they are at school. That habit will go a long way in washing away sugars, he says.
Wallace explained that although children lose their baby teeth, they are still critical to a child’s overall health. “Dental health impacts the whole body,” he says. “If baby teeth are lost prematurely due to decay, the spacing available for adult teeth can be limited, possibly leading to more serious problems later in life.”
3. Establish Routines. Sinnamon Menke, a Colorado Springs mother of grown children and an 8-year-old son, says that routines have been critical to her family. She says it’s helpful when children know what to expect at mealtime and bedtime. Researchers agree. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that every family needs routines and that children do best when routines are regular, predictable and consistent.
4. Get Back To Bedtime. A week or so before school starts, transition your child into their school-year bedtime. Consider it practice for the whole family. Set alarm clocks earlier so children can start to adapt. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep for school-age children. “For kids who are not accustomed to getting up early the first few days can be tough,” says David Doyle, a technology teacher at Swansea Elementary School in Denver. “It’s helpful if they are already on their school schedule.”
5. Monitor Nutrition. The importance of proper nutrition for children cannot be overstated. Poorly nourished children have more problems fighting infections, according to the Institute for Child Nutrition. As a result, they may be sick more often, miss more school and fail to keep up with their classmates. Give your child the best chance for success by developing healthy eating habits.
The new school year is an ideal time to incorporate new, healthier foods into your repertoire, says Children’s Hospital Clinical Dietician Lauren Furuta. “Include them in decision-making,” she says. “Children are more agreeable if they have some say into what they are eating.” Ask them to pick out new fruits and vegetables from the grocery store, or browse magazines like Cooking Light for new healthy recipes for dinner.
When it comes to breakfast, your kids will have a better day, with more sustained attention and energy if they eat a carb and a protein in the morning. This is simple. Your child can eat a bowl of non-surgary cereal, making sure to drink all of the milk. A cheese stick and a piece of fruit, or yogurt and a piece of toast are also great foods to start the day. “And don’t forget about boiled eggs,” Furuta says. “Many kids love them and they”re a great source of nutrition.”
Parents and children often have strong feelings about school lunches. Some hate the cafeteria food, some love it. In contrast, some kids come home with lunch boxes full of food that hasn’t been touched. Buying lunches a few days a week and packing lunch a few days a week is a good strategy. Make sure fruit and vegetable choices are readily available and invite your child to pick out one or two healthy options. “Every serving of a fruit or vegetable adds up,” Furuta says.
Furuta recommends looking at the overall picture in terms of nutrition. “We eat 21 meals in a week, five of those meals—only about a quarter—are eaten at school,” she says. Encourage your child to make healthy choices at lunch, but “don’t worry too much about what you can’t control. Focus on the big picture.”
If there is work to be done on each of these healthy habits, begin incorporating them one at a time throughout the weeks leading up to the first day back. The kids will begin to adjust and by the time school starts, they will be on a solid path to a healthy school year.
Michelle Ancell is a Denver-based writer and mother.