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Health Tips

From tips on how to lose weight effectively to ways to combat boredom eating, this collection of informative articles covers a wide range of health topics that matter to real people, like you.

Back-to-School Tips for Health & Wellness

Ready to have the best school year yet? Check out these wellness tips for back-to-school (and to use year round)!

Back-to-School Tips for Health & Wellness


Back-to-school often means back to busy schedules and busy schedules can overshadow the best of healthy intentions. 

However, prioritizing health and wellness leads to less long-term stress, higher test scores, and better concentration. Greater participation in school, meaningful social interactions, and much more also tend to follow. 

Ready to have the best year yet? Check out these wellness tips for back-to-school!

Importance of Childhood Nutrition

Developing healthy habits in childhood is imperative for proper growth and development and for the prevention of negative health conditions. 

Healthy eating tips are not so different from adult recommendations. However, children and adolescents have a few unique needs related to development. 

Bone Health

For one, children require more calcium for the growth and development of bone. The mineral is vital for optimizing bone health throughout adolescence because bone calcium begins to decrease in young adulthood. It is also important for muscle contraction, hormone balance and release, and nerve communication. 

As vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium, it is equally as important to optimize. High calcium foods include dairy, sardines, leafy greens, fortified cereals, grains, orange juice, and soybeans. High vitamin D foods include fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified cereals, breads, and other fortified foods. Yet, the best way to optimize vitamin D is to get enough sunlight regularly.

Female Menstrual Cycles

In addition, adolescent females require more iron due to losses that occur during menstruation. This is even more important if they are active females that participate in sports that involve repetitive pounding like running and soccer. 

Foods high in iron include fortified breakfast cereals, beans, dark chocolate, organ meats, red meat, lentils, soybeans, and spinach. While still iron sources, plant sources of iron are much less bioavailable (less absorbable) than their meat counterparts.

Better School & Life Experiences

Generally speaking, children and adolescents who eat healthfully tend to perform better and participate more in school, have more meaningful relationships and have a higher quality of life. Proper nutrition contributes to concentration, memory formation, social and sports skills, mood, energy levels, and nearly every other aspect of life. 

Conversely, making poor nutritional choices contributes to worse performance in school and sports, lower self-esteem, lack of energy, and lower quality of life.

Yet, children often lack the greatest access to nutrition knowledge. This especially serves true social media, advertisements, and other cultural noise drowning out healthy encouragement. 

Rather, many kids grow up believing they are invincible- that they can eat whatever they want regardless of functional nutrition without future consequences. But this is poor thinking, as the choices kids make today irrevocably affect them down the road.

Parents and the school systems have unique opportunities to educate children about how to lead healthy lifestyles. The following healthy back-to-school tips will help lay a solid foundation for children and adolescents. 

10 Healthy Back-to-School Tips

From starting a healthy morning routine to ending the day with quality sleep, these wellness tips for back-to-school can be applied year-round! 

1. Eat a Nutritious Breakfast

While intermittent fasting provides some benefits to adults, it does not render the same results for kids and adolescents. In fact, research consistently shows that children who eat breakfast have more energy and focus during the school day. However, this is amplified tenfold if the breakfast is wholesome and nutrient-dense.

Skip the sugary cereals and pastries and opt for the first meal of complex carbs and fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Healthy options include:

• Eggs and toast with avocado
• Greek yogurt parfait with seedy granola and berries
• Oatmeal
• Fruit and nuts
• Milk and a lower sugar cereal (aim for less than 7 grams of added sugar)

2. Pack healthy lunches and snacks.

Equally as important as breakfast is lunch! Especially if kids have skipped breakfast, it is important to encourage a nutritious lunch to balance blood sugar and sustain kiddos through the rest of the day. Try to pack a lunch of whole, fresh foods-again, high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

Inevitably, going back to school creates more hectic days and meal preparation can easily fall to the wayside. However, batch cooking can greatly reduce stress surrounding meal planning and cooking. 

Many achieve success by dedicating one to two hours, one to two nights a week, to prepping multiple portions of food. In this way, when busyness strikes, there is no excuse to choose less nutritious choices. Foods that stay well for a week include: 

• Crockpot chicken recipes
• Steak filets
• Salmon
Chilis
Rice and quinoa
• Mashed or roasted potatoes
• Olive oil-based dressings/marinades
• Veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots

3. Reduce Added Sugar Intake

Every child could benefit from reducing added and refined sugar intake. High sugar intake is related to nearly every chronic disease. Wise of type 2 diabetes impacting younger and younger children, skipping the sugar is more important than ever.

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that children and teens limit sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons per day. Typical foods high in added and refined sugar include:

• Desserts and pastries like cookies and donuts
• Crackers and chips
• Cereals and granolas
• Sweetened yogurts
• Many condiments/sauces
• Sports drinks, juices, and soda 

Although fruit is mostly sugar, it provides fiber and plenty of antioxidants, which negate a potential blood sugar spike. All in all, though, the less sugar the better!

4. Get Enough Quality Sleep

Kids and especially adolescents are notorious for skimping on sleep… At least during the nighttime. But not getting enough sleep does a disservice to school performance, mood and attitude. 

On the other hand, achieving the recommended 9 to 13 hours of sleep per night promotes productive mornings, energized school days, and better sports performance. (And not to mention likely less back-talk to parents and school teachers!)

Establishing nightly routines and set bedtimes provides structure and an opportunity to achieve enough sleep. Discuss why sleep is important with children and create a nightly wind-down routine together to make them feel more involved in their wellbeing.

Some great wind-down activities include:

• Drinking a calming tea
• Journaling
• Lighting candles
• Reading
• Playing calm board or card games.

Limiting screen time a couple of hours before bed is also a smart idea. Blue light is associated with a decreased quality of sleep, so reducing exposure can be helpful for quality slumber.

5. Practice Mindful Eating

Unfortunately, school lunchtime often does not offer adequate time for kids to eat. Coupled with their eagerness to play at recess, it is basically the opposite of mindfulness. Thus, exerting mindfulness during other meals and snacks is vital!

Eating mindfully is more than turning off distractions though. It encompasses practicing gratitude for all aspects of the meal or snack from where and how it was grown, transported, and shelved to how it was prepared and eaten. Mindful eating helps eaters slow down, appreciate the preparation and cooking process, and show thankfulness for the privilege to consume wholesome food. 

Unsurprisingly, research shows this practice helps people make smarter nutrition choices. Try introducing and repeating mindful eating practices at home in hopes of carryover at school and for years to come. 

6. Encourage Cooking Participation

Including kids in the preparation of foods offers ample benefits and opportunities. For one, it is an opportunity to spend time with kiddos. Secondly, exposing them to different foods and cooking methods makes them feel more included and part of the process. As a result, they’re more likely to try a larger variety of foods and even enjoy them.

Additionally, this time offers the chance to educate them about the importance of healthy eating. Emphasize how food affects every part of their life and how it can be used to honor their growing bodies. Furthermore, it gives children an advantage when it comes to cooking, a skill that many never develop throughout life. 

7. Gather in the Garden

The farm-to-table movement is surging for great reason. Locally grown food is more sustainable, fresh, and nutrient-dense than any other. So, starting your own garden is a monumentally holistic approach to eating.

Starting a garden is as simple as watching a few YouTube videos and responsibly caring for it thereafter. Given the time, researching your local soil and environment can guide what foods will grow best in the region. 

Since many kids love using their hands and getting a little messy, this is the perfect activity to combine play and knowledge!

8. Learn About Nutrition Together 

Similar to cooking together, learning about nutrition together secure a healthy bond and makes healthy eating a family affair. In this way, the whole family can relish in new information and work together to create a balanced lifestyle.

Besides experimenting in the kitchen, learn more about healthy nutrition by:

• Listening to podcasts
• Taking nutrition courses
• Visiting a dietitian
• Looking for webinars or community gatherings
• Attending farmer's markets
• Reading interactive books 

It can also be a good idea to get placemats with the healthy.gov plate and generally talk about what foods do what in their body. You never know, your child may just end up desiring to become a dietitian!

9. Offer Healthy Choices

Purchasing mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods makes healthy eating quite simple. Skipping the high sugar, processed, packaged, and refined foods sets one up to make healthy choices without much thought. It removes some decision fatigue and a lot of guilt associated with cravings. Plus, tastebuds can shift over time, and after a while, less nutritious foods might not seem so appealing anyway.

Easily shop for nutritious foods by scavenging the perimeter of grocery stores and avoiding a majority of aisles in the center of the stores. Limiting fast food and restaurant outings during the week and generally having an eating plan also helps. 

However, it is important to allow some "fun" foods every so often! A healthy balance lessens binging temptation when those "fun" foods are available during special occasions. 

10. Set a Good Example 

Truly, the easiest way to promote a healthy lifestyle is to lead by example. Kids are slyly observant, constantly absorbing what is happening in their environment. This means that adolescents are likely to eat similarly to their parents and any other major influences within their lives.

This becomes a whole lot simpler when healthy choices are readily available, which is why the above point is so important. Follow the 80/20 guideline and eat your way to health along with the kiddos!

The Takeaway

Although not always prioritized, children can largely benefit from eating healthfully. Not only does it lead to better performance and interactions at school, it greatly improves the quality of life. 

And while it can be difficult to make time for developing healthy habits, there is no greater time to start than before back-to-school. Refer back to these tips to start the school year off on the strongest foot possible.

Reference:

Nutrition Education in Us Schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 15, 2021. www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/school_nutrition_education.htm.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on May 05, 2022. Updated on May 12, 2022.

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