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Natural Awakenings North Central New Jersey

Back-to-School Wellness: Tips to Keep Kids Healthy

Jul 30, 2021 06:30AM ● By Ronica O’Hara
Mom sitting at dining room table feeding kid on her lap piece of fruit from fork

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After a year dealing with the ups and downs of pandemic-era schooling, many parents are anticipating their children’s return to school with mixed emotions. “Families indeed have had a rough time in the pandemic, resulting in increased food insecurity, weakened social skills, splintered attention spans due to constant multitasking and arguments over screen time, yet many families also feel that they grew closer together as they coped with the adversity,” says Jenifer Joy Madden, author of How To Be a Durable Human.

As we wave our children off to classes, we can draw on those hard-won, deeper ties by taking steps to ensure our children’s health and well-being. Here are some suggested strategies:

Hold a family sit-down

Meet as a group to talk about schedules and logistics to make sure everyone’s commitments will work together, recommends Erika Beckles Camez, Ph.D., a licensed family therapist in Temecula, California. “Talk as a family about how everyone feels about going back to school and intentionally tell your student that throughout the year if they are needing support or are feeling overwhelmed or concerned, they can always talk to you to work through the issue together,” she says. 

Reset bedtime creep

“During the summer, bedtime tends to creep later and later. Two weeks before school starts, begin to reset bedtime by reversing the creep by 15 minutes every few nights,” suggests Amber Trueblood, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Culver City, California, and author of Stretch Marks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 6 to 12 years of age sleep nine to 12 hours a night and teenagers 13 to 18 sleep eight to 10 hours. Getting enough sleep, it advises, leads to “improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.” Sleep experts recommend not allowing kids to be on device screens beginning an hour before bedtime, and perhaps storing devices in another room.

Buoy them with breakfast

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children that eat a complete breakfast have been shown to work faster, make fewer math mistakes and show improved concentration, alertness, comprehension and memory. “Get in the habit of a healthy breakfast that contains a mix of lean proteins, healthy fats and unrefined carbohydrates and fiber,” advises Amy Spindel, a functional holistic nutritionist in Plano, Texas.“ That might be something like eggs scrambled with spinach in olive oil; a smoothie with greens, coconut milk, nut butter, cherries and steamed cauliflower; or a small bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with berries and almond butter alongside some turkey sausage. These types of combinations help promote stable blood sugar until lunchtime, which means your child will be able to focus on learning and social interactions instead of their tummies.”

Container of healthy foods for kids including green beans broccoli white rice half a banana and sliced carrots

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Satisfy them with healthy snacks

There’s a metabolic reason students head straight for the fridge when they get home—but it’s best if they can’t grab sweets. “Children need healthy, whole-food, nutritious snacks after school to fuel both their bodies and their brain,” says Uma Naidoo, M.D., a Harvard-based nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef and author of This Is Your Brain on Food. To support optimal brain development and help lower kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity levels, she suggests snacks rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B12 and D, and iron and folate, such as:

  • “Fries” cooked in an air fryer to crisp up zucchini, carrots or green beans
  • Veggie dips or hummus made with chickpeas, carrots, beets or spinach
  • Almond butter on celery sticks, or seed butter for dipping sweet peppers or apple slices
  • Homemade fish sticks made by heating salmon pieces in an air fryer
  • Granola that includes walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds

Take allergy precautions

About one in 14 U.S. children has a food allergyAnisha Angella, an early childhood specialist and author of Zoey Has an Allergy, recommends taking special precautions with an allergy-prone child, including frequent handwashing; carrying an EpiPen for sudden, severe reactions that require an epinephrine injection; and not sharing foods. “Connect with their teachers,” she advises. “They want to help in any way, too. When a child sees an adult that supports their allergy safety in all environments, they feel comfortable, and that lessens anxiety.”

“Readjusting from the pandemic will take patience and perseverance on the part of parents,” says Madden. “Having the family start simple wellness habits can help.”

Health writer Ronica O’Hara can be contacted at [email protected].

5 Top Tips to Finding Your Next Doctor

1 Keep an Open Mind! Healthcare has come a long way. Today, you have access to practitioners that branch outside of traditional medicine and aim to identify the root causes of conditions while using alternative treatments that may help you get the relief you need. Just because it’s not a pill, doesn’t make it pseudoscience.

2 Build Your Health Care Team. There is no one doctor that can be the be-all-end-all for your health needs. Be sure to have a team of practitioners with different “lenses” and areas of expertise who will treat the root cause and not just the symptom(s).

3   Environment Influences Healing. Health is multi-factorial. Your mental and emotional environment plays a pivotal role in your healing potential. Your doctors and their staff should create an office atmosphere filled with positivity so you can get the most out of your care.

4 Your Story Matters.  Before you begin any treatment, be sure to have a comprehensive consultation to discuss your health concerns. Find practitioners who welcome questions and will take the time to listen and treat you with respect.

5 Report of Findings. When it comes to our health, we often make decisions without understanding the risk versus benefits. Knowledge is an important part of the healing process and is essential to make conscious, informed health decisions. Find practitioners who take the time to explain their exam findings and the recommendations for treatment in ways that make sense to you.

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