Back to School Health & Nutrition Tips

Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are at the core of school performance. Make heading back to school the healthiest yet with these expert tips!

Back to School Health & Nutrition Tips

School is just around the corner, signaling an influx in school supplies for the classroom. However, we should not discredit other important tools that help kids perform their best…

Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are also at the core of school performance. So make heading back to school healthy with these tips!

Back to School Health Tips

Back to school nutrition involves eating a balanced diet with nutritious meals and snacks. Healthy eating ensures a healthy weight and reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues. A healthy breakfast, especially, can excel in academic performance as well.

Staying mentally sharp and physically healthy also falls in the lap of good sleep hygiene and regular physical activity.

Eating Balanced Meals

Childhood meals should be balanced with the right nutrients to ensure proper growth and development. To ensure this balance, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) offers a framework for individuals ages 2 years and older and their families consume a healthy diet.

More specifically, the DGAs recommend a healthy eating pattern that includes the following whole foods:

• A variety of vegetables from all subgroups, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas. Also, choose lower-sodium options when selecting canned and frozen veggies.

• Fruits, especially whole fruits over juices. If your child does drink juice, make sure it is 100 percent juice without added sugars and limit the number of servings. Try to go for fresh fruits over dried and canned fruits.

• Grains, in which at least half are whole. Whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, and brown rice are excellent whole grains. Limit white bread, pasta, rice, and other refined grains.

• Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.

• A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products.

• Oils, particularly those rich in unsaturated fatty acids such as olive and canola oils.

In addition to including more nutrient-dense foods, limit the intake of products rich in added sugar, salt, saturated and trans fats.

The USDA aims to offer balanced breakfast and school lunches to kids throughout the school year. However, packing a lunch box can also be a viable option, especially when offering a variety of healthy foods.

Healthy Snacking

Though snacking is often viewed as unhealthy behavior, satisfying the body with a healthy snack option can lead to important health benefits, including:

• Appetite control to manage weight maintenance

• Optimize nutrient intake

• Enhance both energy and concentration levels

Instead of relying on bags of chips or sleeves of cookies, keep healthy snacks on deck. These may include:

• Carrot sticks and hummus

• Unsweetened applesauce

• Apple slices with peanut butter

• Greek yogurt and berries or other favorite fresh fruits

• String cheese and grapes

• Hardboiled eggs

• Cottage cheese and peaches

Getting Enough Sleep & Exercise

Just like adults, kids are encouraged to get enough exercise and sleep to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

Sleep Needs for Kids

Sleep is critical to improving memory, cognition, and creativity during school hours. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends school-aged kids get 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night.

However, the NSF also warns sleep problems and disorders are prevalent at this age. To counteract such risks, they offer the following sleep tips:

• Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.

• Continue to emphasize need for regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.

• Make child's bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool, and quiet.

• Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.

• Avoid caffeine.

Exercise Recommendations for Kids

The most current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourages children and adolescents to include 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. They should also include aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises.

It is likewise important to note children vary in their levels and interests of physical activity. Some may not participate at all, while others may exceed the recommendations:

• For those who do not meet the key guidelines, slowly increase their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in small steps and in ways that they enjoy. This may include trying a new sport at school.

• For kids and adolescents meeting or exceeding guidelines, continue doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. What's more, evidence suggests more than 60 minutes of activity daily may provide additional health benefits for school-aged youth. Also, vary activities to reduce the risk of overtraining or injury.

All-in-all, be encouraging and offer variety to kids. Make exercise a family affair after school to also motivate kids to live a healthy, active lifestyle.

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