It’s normal to feel trepidation when students begin a new school year. Even adults can be affected, and back-to-school tips for parents can be especially helpful amidst shifts in routine.
For a healthy back-to-school season, it’s important to be aware of factors from nutrition to sleep. Continue reading for the best back-to-school health tips for parents, including ideas for fitting in physical activity and family time during busy weekdays.
Importance of Back-to-School Health
Ask a group of people what feeling starting school evokes, and you may get mixed emotions. Some individuals look forward to school resuming, while others await that first day with dread. The reality is often somewhere in between, and striking a careful balance in routine can work wonders.
During busy weekdays, parents may struggle to prioritize health practices. However, study after study suggests that health and academic achievement are linked. In other words, time invested in creating healthful habits can also benefit learning outcomes.
Starting the school year right can set the tone for the whole year. Since many children and young adults spend most of their waking hours in school, attention to health during this time is vitally important. Even if you’re homeschooling, these tips can help you stay on top of school schedules while promoting better focus, attendance, and alertness among your students.
As you probably guessed, healthy food and nutrition choices rank at the top of the list regarding back-to-school health tips. Feeling fueled and full is crucial to avoiding stomach aches and energy deficits during the school day. The following tips can help you stay focused on school-time nutrition.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
Each meal during the day is important, but breakfast is especially crucial for growing bodies and developing minds. Studies show that eating breakfast regularly can improve everything from test scores to attendance to muscle coordination.
Try waking up 15 minutes earlier each morning to make time for breakfast, or look into your school’s school breakfast program to see if you qualify for reduced-cost meals.
Pack Enough Snacks for Before- or After-School Activities
Snacks are crucial for fuel between meals and can even help students avoid blood sugar crashes in the middle of the school day. Especially for students with before- or after-school activities, nutritious snacks can provide a welcome boost to sustain energy.
Prepare Lunches the Night Before
It’s easy to skimp on a packed lunch during an early morning rush. To ensure you and your child get a nutritionally-optimized meal, pack work and school lunches the night before so you can just “grab-and-go” in the morning.
If you're in an especially busy season or struggling to afford nutritious options, check out your school’s lunch programs.
Pay Extra Attention to Allergy-Prone Studies
Back-to-school time can seem like a minefield for children with allergies. It’s estimated that nearly one in 13 students have an allergic reaction, making it important for everyone from parents to teachers to notice the signs of an allergic reaction. Luckily, there are plenty of safety measures parents can implement to ensure their children eat safely at school.
First, it’s important to familiarize yourself with staff—including teachers, nurses, cafeteria monitors—and any other adult your child might come in contact with throughout the day. Next, make sure everyone is prepared to respond in the case of an emergency, keeping at least two EpiPens on hand at all times—one in case of emergency and the other as a backup—could literally save a life and prevent adverse health outcomes.
Additionally, on the day of school parties, make sure to double check your child won’t be exposed to any foods they are allergic to—such as peanuts during another student’s birthday celebration. This can often best be accomplished by signing you or a loved one up to volunteer at the party to keep an eye on things.
Physical Activity Tips
Fitting physical activity into an already busy schedule may sound like a chore. However, there are plenty of fun ways to get the whole family on board to enjoy exercise!
Walk to School
If your child’s school is within walking or biking distance, this can be a great way to sneak in some exercise. Walking to school has many health benefits, from improved concentration to maintaining an appropriate body weight.
If you aren’t able to accompany your kids, be sure they adopt the “buddy system” to help keep them safe. Train them how to respond when being approached by an adult appropriately they don’t know or feel unsafe around. Also, have a backup plan for any weather or other situations threatening safety.
Participate in Sports
Sports are a great way to get involved in your community and exercise. Whether as part of an extracurricular program or in the backyard as a family, try and squeeze a sport you or your children enjoy during the day. Even just 20 or 30 minutes can make a big difference in your family’s health.
Build Breaks into Homework Time
Feeling sluggish during study time? Taking a five-minute break to stretch or dance can refresh the brain—not to mention, boost energy expenditure and levels!
Physical activity gets the heart pumping, blood circulating, and oxygen flowing, which may be what you—or your child—need to feel more awake and alert when returning to your studies.
Mental & Emotional Health Tips
Mental health is a growing area of interest among parents and for a good reason. Emotional skills are starting to enter the curriculum, but parents can teach positive skills at home until they become a regular part of the lesson plan.
Teach Relationship Skills
From confidence to consent to conflict resolution, there are many important skills for building healthy relationships that you can teach your school-bound student. Support at-school learning by teaching your child to say “no” to situations that may endanger them.
Additionally, you can teach them how to say “yes” to opportunities to grow, such as budding friendships or advancement opportunities (like classroom jobs or student government positions). Modeling healthy behavior is a great way to lead by example.
Discuss A Bullying Back-Up Plan
Unfortunately, bullying is an all-too-common issue in many schools. Help students identify signs of bullying—such as academic problems or anxiety—and appropriate ways to respond. While they may be unable to avoid a tricky situation, they can learn to control how they react to a bully.
Many schools offer a sort of bullying prevention program for students, and it may be worth looking into this as a parent to understand what preventative measures are being implemented.
Limit Screen Time
It may seem tempting to tune out to TV or social media after a long day of work or school. However, screen time can interfere with everything from sleep to social skills.
Tracking your child’s screen time (and your own) can illuminate areas for improvement— studies suggest more than 1-2 hours a day can harm developing minds.
As mentioned above, modeling healthy behavior can be a powerful way to teach positive skills. Designate a “screen-free day” during the week, or set a limit for screen time that the whole family abides by. Meal times, such as dinner, are a natural time to set devices aside and connect as a family.
Tracking hygiene habits can keep both you and your child informed about serious health threats.
Teach Littles (and Big Kids, Too) How to Wash Their Hands
Hand-washing may seem like a basic skill, however many adults are doing it wrong! To protect your child, yourself, and your family from health threats, it’s important to wash your hands properly.
A helpful tip for smaller students is to teach them to sing the entirety of the “Happy Birthday” song twice to ensure they’ve washed their hands for a full 20 seconds. Hooking a hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol onto their backpack can also provide sanitation when they’re on-the-go—such as on the bus ride home.
In addition, it’s important to teach students of all ages to cover a sneeze or cough by using a tissue or elbow to block particles from the mouth or nose.
Protect Classmates by Staying Home When Unwell
Although it may wrinkle your work schedule, keeping a sick child home from school is often the safest option. Allowing sick children to go to school can open them—and their classmates—up to additional health threats.
In other words, it may actually make your child sick for longer than if you had just kept them home. As a rule of thumb, only allow your child to return to school after being symptom-free for 24 to 48 hours.
Back-to-School Tips for Parents
Your child’s health isn’t the only thing that matters! Healthy parents model good behaviors for healthy students, so it’s also important to keep yourself healthy during school time. Here are a few ways to support your students and your health.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
Prioritizing sleep schedules can make a big difference during the school year for both parents and children. Setting up a standard sleep schedule and aiming for the same bedtime each night can enable both you and your kids to get sufficient sleep—at least 8 to 10 hours.
Plus, it can leave you with a little “me time” or extra time at night to accomplish what went undone during the busyness of the day
Clear Up Child Care in Advance
Sick of dealing with childcare woes in between meetings? Clear up your childcare schedule with partners, after-school staff, or caregivers at least a week (at minimum a few days) in advance. This can prevent day-of confusion and stress and ensure your child’s learning and enrichment are uninterrupted.
Use Meal Delivery for Added Ease
If school schedules overwhelm you, don’t forget about meal delivery! BistroMD can be a hit with the whole family, and can take the task of meal planning away from your list of to-dos.
With options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can lighten your workload while ensuring your family is well-fed.
Other Tips and Tricks
In search of additional tips and tricks? Here are some miscellaneous ideas to make the return to school healthier and happier.
Schedule a Back-to-School Physical
Back-to-school is often a natural time to order up tasks. Instead of checking your student out of school, schedule a physical exam with your pediatrician before school begins. This can help keep children up-to-date on vaccinations, make sure they are meeting developmental milestones, and can even clear them to participate in after-school activities like sports.
Be Proactive About Parent Engagement
Engaged parents are a key part of the educational process. Meet with your child’s teacher when opportunities for interaction arise, and be actively involved in the school’s decision-making process.
Your voice matters, and can be crucial in providing increased educational opportunities for students. Additionally, your continued communication with your child’s teacher can ensure their emotional well-being is attended to throughout the school day.
Celebrate Back-to-School Shopping
Make school shopping a fun event instead of a chore by inviting your child along. All the walking between aisles can count as exercise.
Plus, you can support at-school learning by teaching your children how to budget for new school supplies, textbooks, clothes and shoes, or any other start-of-school year needs.
Give Back(-to-School Supplies)
Gratitude has also been shown to have health benefits, and giving back can become part of your back-to-school routine. Donating unused or leftover school supplies to a cause you care about can create a positive impact.
Many teacher’s supply lists are available online if you don’t know anyone local in need, or you can search “where to donate school supplies near me” in your preferred search engine for other options.
The Bottom Line on Back-to-School Health Tips
Instead of feeling stressed, slide easily back into the school year with simple tactics to keep your family nourished and well. A little bit of planning goes a long way, and even a small snack or five minutes of exercise can make a difference.
If you have some extra time, consider becoming more involved in your child’s classroom or community to ensure students have a safe and healthy environment for learning.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Back to School. Cdc.gov. Published August 2022.
Ellis E, Msora-Kasago C, Derocha G, Escobar SN, Bochi RA, Sheth V. Breakfast: Key to Growing Healthy. Eatright.org. Published May 2021.
Hunt H, Wharton M, Baldwin G, Spivak H. Head Back to School Safer and Healthier this Year! Cdc.gov. Published June 2022.
Kleiner R. 5 Ways Parents Can Keep Children with Food Allergies Safe at School. Eatright.org. Published November 2018.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Back-to-School Health: Tips for Parents Infographic. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Accessed August 2023.
Mayo Clinic Health System. Schedule your child’s back-to-school physical before fall. Mayoclinichealthsystem.org. Published July 2021.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Tips to Reduce Screen Time. Nhlbi.nih.gov. Published February 2013.