By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
Between buying new school supplies and squeezing in last minute trips to the pool, the back to school routine is certainly hectic for any family. When September finally arrives, many kids and parents need time to readjust to the school schedule, and there isn’t much time to think about starting the school year on a healthy note. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead to create healthy habits for the rest of the school year. A-Game Sports has 7 easy tips for your family to start the school year off right.
- Get enough sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 6-13 need 9-11 hours of sleep per night. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems, such as ADHD, and cognitive problems that can cause learning problems in school. Skimping on sleep has also been associated with overeating, poor food choices and weight gain. To make sure your child gets enough sleep, set a consistent and realistic bedtime. Try to get everyone in bed within 30 minutes of the set time. Although this may be tough at first, everyone will adjust to this new routine in 2-4 weeks.
- Eat breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially as kids head back to school. Research shows better nutrition — including consumption of healthy foods such as low-fat and fat-free dairy, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins — may lead to better performance in school. Protein rich breakfast options, like eggs and dairy products, will help them feel fuller longer and will keep their energy levels up throughout morning classes. Add a slice of cheese to omelets or create a fruit and yogurt smoothie to get your morning started off right.
- Stay on top of fitness routines. For young athletes who slacked on their fitness routines over the summer, September is the time to get back into shape. Luckily, kids’ bodies bounce back rather quickly, and they should have no trouble getting back into the swing of things. Still, it’s important to stay active with the start of the new school year. (Check out the A-Game Sports programs here)
- Pack healthy snacks for practice. Many athletes will be starting new sports, and it’s important to make sure they fuel properly. Choosing the right type of fuel is essential for athletic performance. Carbohydrates provide the best source of energy for workouts. I always suggest carbs that contain plenty of nutrients, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Here are some great suggestions to throw in your child’s backpack to give them energy that will last throughout practice:
- Dry cereal; low-sugar brands like Barbara’s Puffins, Kix or Cheerios
- Whole wheat crackers and a cheese stick
- ½ peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Make your own trail mix by mixing together a ¼ cup of low-salt nuts, raisins, and ¼ cup of pretzels.
- Apple, orange or banana. Fresh fruit is high in nutrients and they also have a high water content, which is great for hydration!
- Hydration is so incredibly important for children.
Kids have a greater body surface area for their body weight than adults, so they gain heat faster from the environment and feel hotter quicker. They need to drink very frequently during exercise, and cold water is the perfect refresher. A good rule of thumb is that children need about 4 ounces (or ½ cup) of water for every 20 minutes of play. Make sure you teach your children about the importance of hydration, or they might just forget to drink all together! Pack a reusable water bottle in your child’s backpack, so they can fill it up at a school water fountain.
- Prioritize family dinners. How often do you sit down for an hour with your family without phones or television? Probably not too often. Starting the school year on a healthy note is not just about healthy eating and exercise; it’s also a time to consider your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Studies have shown that regular family dinners are associated with lowering high risk teenage behaviors, like smoking, binge drinking, violence and school problems. Also, eating dinner as a family decreases children’s stress levels and encourages positive family relationships that can create stronger connections away from the table.
- Limit screen time. According to recent research, 8-10 year-olds spend nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Sound alarming? The American Academy of Physicians suggests limiting entertainment “screen time” to two hours a day for children ages 3-18. And, for 2-year-olds and younger, none at all. Some research suggests that screen time is associated with childhood obesity, irregular sleep patternsand behavioral issues. To help cut down the screen time, parents can model effective media behavior by keeping their own screen time to a minimum. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values. Make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.
By following any or all of these tips, your family will start the school year out on a healthy note. Try implementing just 1 or 2 tips at first, and as they become part of your routine, add more. Before you know it, these healthy habits will become part of your family’s regular routine.