Back to school used to be a lot simpler in the olden days. Parents bought a couple of new outfits and notebooks, handed the kids a brown bag lunch and their book strap, and off they went. These days, going back to school is a combination of “keeping up with the Joneses” and military maneuvers to make sure all the academic and health bases are covered.
The health bases are the most important, of course, because a healthy child is a happy one who is ready to learn. This includes physical and mental health, and prevention of illness whenever possible. It can also mean immunizations, hearing and vision tests, and special instructions for the school nurse if your child has any particular health issues such as asthma or a severe allergy.
In this guide, you will find a range of important health issues all parents should think about before sending their child back to school. Let’s look first at the steps you can take to prevent illness from arising in the first place.
Preventative Health Care
Children up to the age of 18 are constantly growing, and need to follow a balanced lifestyle in order to stay healthy and grow normally. The cornerstone of good health at any age are diet, exercise and sleep.
We are what we eat, and children need a balanced diet full of nutrition. Learning what the nutritional requirements are for the ages of your children, and planning meals around them, can keep them fit and health and able to deal with the hard work and stress of all the demands placed upon them at school.
There are many free resources available online that can help you plan meals that are delicious and nutritious, such as the USDA’s http://www.choosemyplate.gov/, and the U.S. government sponsored site https://www.nutrition.gov/life-stages/children/food-nutrition.
We can’t completely control what our kids eat when they are not right under our watchful eye, but there are a few strategies to keep them on the right track. The first is to send them off every morning with a solid breakfast. Aim for whole grain cereals like oatmeal and steer clear of sugary ones with lots of food coloring. Make your own breakfast burritos so you can be sure of exactly what’s in them. Wrap them in wax paper, heat in the microwave, and they can even take them with them.
The school lunch program will probably be the most economical choice for feeding them at lunchtime. It also has the added advantage of offering them a hot meal with a view to balanced nutrition, and they can socialize with their friends in a supervised setting.
In terms of snacks between meals or after school, try your own homemade nutrition bars – peanut butter and jelly if they are not allergic to nuts, string cheese and crackers, or your own homemade trail mix. All of these can be taken anywhere without the need for refrigeration.
In terms of beverages, we all need water every day. If your child doesn’t like plain water, add a couple of ounces of fruit juice to a 16-ounce bottle. Most children need milk for sturdy bones and teeth. Aim for skim, and also consider soy and nut milks for variety and for the extra vitamins and minerals these fortified beverages provide.
Milk in all its forms is the ideal base for a healthy smoothie. If you struggle to get your kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, smuggling them into a delicious shake is your best option. Most kids love the sweetness of fruit such as berries and peaches, and the taste is strong enough to disguise vegetables. Try a green smoothie as well; fruit juice and milk with broccoli, spinach and so on. Chances are they will never know just how healthy they are for them.
In relation to dinner, studies have shown that families who eat around the table together each night tend to be a lot closer, and the children are less prone to activities like smoking, drinking, and having underage sex. You can not only see exactly what they’re eating, you can also check in on their day and enjoy interesting conversations.
Avoid nagging or threatening, which can make the dinner table turn into what feels like a trap or cage. Encourage them to eat, but don’t make dinner a battleground. Serve simple, tasty, homemade recipes. If you’re really busy most nights of the week or can’t always be there when the children get home, consider cooking once a week at the weekends and making a range of make and freeze meals that just need to be heated in the microwave.
Also try the roast dinner spinner method of cooking. Roast a chicken, turkey or pork loin for Sunday dinner, for example, with lots of side dishes, and then pack up the leftovers into homemade TV dinners. Reserve about 3 ounces of meat per person as well to put into other dishes, such as stir fries, soups and stews. You can also use a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket if you really don’t have time to cook one from scratch yourself.
In terms of desserts, try to make them at home yourself. They are easy and healthy, and the kids will love helping you make things – even if they are not too crazy about helping you clean up. When the items are cool, portion them out into zippered storage bags and freeze them. Defrost as needed, or put in their schoolbag for a delicious, healthy treat. Try applesauce cookies, oatmeal raisin, and other healthy cookies the whole family will love.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/
children should have 60 minutes of exercise a day, or more. This might sound like a lot, but remember that most kids have a lot of energy to burn and find it hard to keep still.
It can be done easily if you vary the activities. The three types of activities they should engage in are:
* Muscle building
* Bone building
Aerobics is any activity that causes the heart rate to increase. This can include walking quickly, jogging, swimming, playing soccer or tennis, or cycling.
Muscle building can be any activity that develops physical strength, such as calisthenics, push-ups, and sit-ups. Yoga can build muscle quickly and most kids find it fun.
Bone building exercises can also be termed weight-bearing exercises, in which the weight of their body is used during the workout. Walking, jogging and yoga all use body weight to work out naturally, with no fancy equipment.
Sleep is essential to rest and rejuvenate body and mind. It is also important for healing the wear and tear on the muscles after working out. In addition, it keeps the immune system strong so your child will be able to ward off the many germs they will be exposed to each day at school.
The Sleep Foundation recommends the following number of hours of sleep for children based on their age:
- Preschoolers—3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
- School-aged children—6 to 13 years: 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers—14 to 17 years: 8 to 10 hours
- Young adults—18 to 25 years: 7 to 9 hours
This might seem impossible given all their homework as they get older, as well as other demands on their time. However, sleep deprivation (that is, lack of sleep) can leave them feeling run down and much more prone to illness.
Limit the media they are exposed to and don’t allow TVs, DVDs and so on in their bedrooms. The bedroom should be an environment focused on sleep. Have a set bedtime and routine, such as brushing teeth, washing face and getting into pajamas. A bedtime story is up to the child and a good way to help them nod off.
A good diet, exercise and sleep can be difficult to enforce, especially if you are not on top of these areas in your own life, but they are the foundations of good health no matter what your age.