Parents around the world have developed a deeper understanding of the holistic nature of our children’s health and wellbeing. It’s been a long period of uncertainty, restrictions on the things they love, less time spent building up immunity to the usual colds and flu, and, just like many adults, less exercise and a more forgiving approach to nutrition. All of this takes its toll over time. We weren’t aware how long the restrictions would last, which makes this year’s back-to-school season the ideal time to put optimal health at the top of the agenda. So here are some helpful back-to-school health tips to kick the year off right.
Nutrition is more important than ever, and opting for a whole foods diet that is low in sugar and processed foods is key. Processed foods are filled with excess sugar, preservatives, and other additives. They often contain lower-quality oils such as canola, peanut, soy, and sunflower that can contribute to inflammation when cooked at high temperatures.
A diet high in processed or “boxed” foods can all wreak havoc on children’s gut microbiome, overall health, and immune system resilience, and may even contribute to the development of food sensitivities and allergies. So our first back-to-school health tip is about fixing your kids’ nutrition.
Kid-Friendly Healthy Eating
We recommend focusing on the following guidelines for a kid-friendly, nutrient-dense whole foods diet:
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, making sure to include greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and berries
- Reduce meat and substitute with legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans
- Include some wild fish and grass-fed meat
- Swap refined sugars for maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, honey, and/or healthy alternatives such as stevia or monk fruit powder
- Eliminate refined (white) grains altogether, opting for whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, and sprouted whole grain bread
- Stick to fermented dairies such as yogurt or kefir
- Replace table salt with sea salt which contains more minerals and no additives
- Carrots, celery, snap peas, or cucumber with bean dip, hummus, or baba ghanoush
- Pitted, halved olives
- Fresh fruit
- Air-popped popcorn
- Vegetable-based or whole grain crackers (look out for sweet potato crackers as a yummy option)
- Seeds, nuts, and their butter (check for no sugar, no additives)
- Homemade baked goods made with whole grains and sweetened with unrefined sweeteners
If your child is a picky eater, be patient while transitioning to a whole foods diet. Start small and serve new foods along with your kids’ favorites. Stick with it and continue to serve the healthier choices until they become a natural part of your kids’ routine, and don’t forget that modeled behavior is learned faster (i.e., eat your veggies too!)
Mental Health and Back-to-School
The ongoing stress, uncertainty, and grief created by the Covid 19 pandemic and political instability have weighed heavily on families across the globe. The American Psychological Association reports that more than 80% of adults have reported emotions associated with prolonged stress. The most common were feelings of anxiety (47%), sadness (44%), and anger (39%). 67% of respondents reported that the number of issues America is facing is overwhelming to them.
This stress has inevitably been passed on to our children: from living with parents dealing with unprecedented stressors, the effects of financial instability, adapting to distancing rules at school and the realities of remote learning, social isolation, and the uncertainty of the future.
It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of anxiety in children. Some kids are able to express their own stress and uncertainty, others aren’t. Here are some red flags to pay attention to:
- Changes in mood that are unusual for your child
- Increased fussiness or irritability
- Frequent conflict or tantrums
- Excessive shyness
- Excessive worry
- Changes in eating patterns: eating much more or much less
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulties falling and staying asleep at night
- Stomach aches and digestive issues
- Trembling or shaking
- Compulsive behavior
- Refusing to socialize
- Extreme thinking or concluding the worst will happen
There are many approaches that can be used to address your kids’ anxiety, however, it’s important to do so without reinforcing it. Being cognizant of your own anxiety; teaching your child breathing techniques to help reduce anxiety, focus on the moment, and bring the body back into balance; validating their feelings; practicing gratitude together, and exploring the good things that happen are all helpful habits. If more help is needed, do not hesitate to talk to a licensed mental health practitioner.
Back-to-School Health Tip: Sleep
Good sleep hygiene will help kids get ready to go back to school and adapt to a more structured day. Sleep is especially important for kids as it supports growth, health (including mental health), and physical development, with kids between the ages of 6–13 requiring 9–11 hours of sleep per night to maintain the behaviors needed to learn and excel academically. Parents can support their children by maintaining consistent bedtimes so that they get the rest that they need.
To help your child get a better night’s sleep, we recommend:
- Going to be at the same time every night
- Keeping the bedroom quiet, cool, and dark
- No snacks 2 hours before bedtime
- No screen time (TV, internet) for at least one hour before bed
- Creating a relaxing nightly routine, for example, a warm bath, reading, journaling, and/or practicing gratitude
Alongside the return to in-person school comes our old friend, cold and flu season. And having spent so much time isolating ourselves from one another, the likelihood of catching every little cold that comes along is higher.
Luckily, there are some natural measures you can take to help kids stay healthy as they go back to school, reduce the chance of developing a cold, and, most importantly, increase their body’s resilience when the inevitable germs do spread in class. We recommend the following back-to-school health tips:
- Letting kids play in the dirt to build up their natural antibodies
- Providing a nutrient-dense whole foods diet
- Ensuring they get enough sleep
- Keeping children away from second-hand smoke, artificial fragrances, and chemicals
- A daily fall/winter supplement regimen that includes probiotics, zinc, and vitamin D to promote a healthy microbiome and support immune function
- Lemon balm or chamomile “sleepy tea” for children with persistent difficulty sleeping
Should your child develop a cold, start administering echinacea, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D right away. Natural elderberry syrup is helpful to reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms and get your child feeling themselves faster.
Exercise has benefits that go way beyond strengthening the body. It reduces anxiety, increases self-confidence, and helps children to sleep more soundly at night. It’s imperative to kids’ long-term physical health and has been linked to increased cognitive abilities, immune function, bone density, and cardiovascular health. A habit of daily exercise reduces the long-term risk of developing chronic diseases in one’s lifetime.
Children need at least one hour of moderate exercise daily to reap its benefits. If your child is reluctant to get the exercise they need, the following may help:
- Lead by example. Kids are more apt to exercise if they see their parents do the same.
- Limit TV and screen time for the entire family
- Choose activities that your child enjoys and don’t feel you have to go for a “one-size-fits-all” approach
- Participate with them. From playing tag to group sports to joining a community recreation center together there are loads of options
Seeing clearly is something we may take for granted most years, but the increased screen time kids have been subjected to due to remote learning and social distancing measures have recently been linked to an increase in short-sightedness in children. A 2021 Chinese study pointed to “Near work,” aka watching TV, reading, and using digital devices as the determining factor in increasing instances of poor eyesight in children.
The same study indicates outdoor activities may play an important role in counteracting the potential negative effects of screentime, protecting children’s still-developing eyesight. So, get out there when you can! Make it a priority to ensure your kids spend time outdoors doing anything other than “near work”.
It’s no secret that our kids are dealing with more this year than they are used to, but we can help them to be more resilient in all the ways they need to be. If you would like a more custom approach to helping your child, make the most of this year, you can schedule a free evaluation call here.
Together we can take an in-depth look at your child’s health and wellbeing and develop a back-to-school plan including diet, lifestyle, and supplements that will have them feeling, sleeping, and performing their very best.
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