AMRC has tips to start the school year with a healthy plan

August is here and that usually means it’s time for back-to-school shopping. It’s always important to get all of the necessary school supplies, but there’s more to kids being ready for school than what’s in their backpacks. Parents can and need to help their children prepare from a health standpoint, too.

Packing a Healthy Lunch

Kids can be picky eaters, so don’t be opposed to allowing them to help pack their lunches. Give them several healthy options and allow them to choose a few. It’s important to make sure kids have a variety of foods to nibble on at lunch and snack times. They should eat the following foods throughout the day:

  • Vegetables: 3-5 servings per day. A serving may consist of one cup of raw leafy vegetables, three-quarters cup of vegetable juice, or one-half cup of other vegetables, chopped raw or cooked.
  • Fruits: 2-4 servings per day. A serving may consist of one-half cup of sliced fruit, three-quarters cup of fruit juice, or a medium-size whole fruit, like an apple, banana, or pear.
  • Bread, cereal, or pasta: 6-11 servings per day. Each serving should equal 1 slice of bread, one-half cup of rice or pasta, or one ounce of cereal.
  • Protein foods: 2-3 servings of 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish per day. A serving in this group may also consist of one-half cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, or two tablespoons of peanut butter for each ounce of lean meat.
  • Dairy products: 2-3 servings per day of one cup of low-fat milk or yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese.

It may be hard to resist, but parents are the best supervisors of their children’s sugar intake, so hold off on putting treats in their lunches every day.

“Parents need to be “the gatekeepers” in how many ‘junk’ calories are offered,” Melissa Tolan-Halleck, ARMC registered dietitian, said. “Sugar has plenty of calories, but they are often referred to as ‘junk’ calories because they have very little nutritional value. This type of food may become an obstacle for learning and manageable behavior as it can affect concentration and energy levels.”

Handling Stress

Stress levels are higher for everyone – not just working adults. Children deal with multiple forms of pressure every day from grades in school, to social pressures, to their weight and appearance. Studies have shown that children today face more pressures today than ever before.

“Whatever form of stress children deal with, if the stress is too intense or long-lasting, it can sometimes take a bigger toll on children’s emotions in the long run,” Dr. Tina Hahn, board certified pediatrician, ARMC Medical Group Pediatric Associates, said.

Small stressors help children learn to tolerate stress; however, large prolonged and frequent stressors can pre-dispose children to illness or take a toll on their sleep, appetite, emotions, and school grades. Large stressors (like losing a family member) can have lasting effects on children’s psychological health and well-being.

“The change in family structure from the large, supportive, extended families of previous generations, to the present high incidence of divorced families, single-parent families and stepfamilies has drastically altered the experience of childhood,” Hahn said.

Parents can help ease the emotional burden of children’s stress by slowing down at home, allowing children time to play (and playing with them), and not over scheduling their “free time.” It’s important to engage with kids, read to them, help them with their homework, encourage make-believe, get them away from the TV, and give them homework times and bedtimes. By keeping children’s schedules structured (but not over-full), they will learn to handle stress and manage their time appropriately.

Sleeping Habits

National experts revealed a survey during which they asked kids about their sleeping habits and 70 percent of kids wish they could sleep more, 71 percent said they felt sleepy when it was time to wake up for school, and 25 percent said they felt tired at school every day.

While it can be hard to create a bedtime and stick to it every day (even weekends), it’s imperative to children’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being. On average, preschoolers (ages 3-5) should sleep 11-13 hours per night, school-age children (ages 5-12) should sleep 9-11 hours per night, and teenagers should sleep 8.5-9.5 hours per night.

Some tips to help kids fall asleep faster at night include laying out everything for the school day the night before (clothes, backpack, etc.); slowing down before bedtime by reading or relaxing; making the bedroom a quiet, cozy environment for sleep; and not having a TV in kids’ bedrooms.

“At the end of the day, it’s important for parents to allow their children flexibility within their routines, but keep things under your control by limiting the choices available,” Hahn said.

ARMC Medical Group Pediatric Associates is accepting new patients, call 356-0504 to schedule an appointment with Drs. Leah Conboy, Tina Hahn, or Jonathon Nicholson.