Bells are ringing across the country as kids settle into classrooms for a year full of fun, friendship and plenty of learning.
While exciting, adjusting to new school schedules is a hectic time. Healthy habits are often forgotten as the focus shifts to studies, assignments and extracurricular activities.
"Parents and caregivers can make a big difference in helping kids lead a healthy lifestyle during the back-to-school season and beyond," says Deanna Segrave-Daly, a mom and registered dietitian. "A few proactive steps can set kids up for success in and out of the classroom."
Segrave-Daly offers six easy ideas you can try to help encourage your kids to build healthy habits that last a lifetime:
Sleep is something families often sacrifice due to busy schedules. Remember, kids need significantly more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical development, according to the National Sleep Foundation. School-age children should strive for nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. Establish a nighttime routine and prioritize sleep every night.
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day — especially for our kids. Help them jump-start their day with a quick breakfast of healthy foods like fruit, eggs and whole-grain cereal. For those busy mornings, grab fridge-free, low fat yogurts, made with and fruits, for a wholesome option they can easily eat in the car or bus with a banana, toaster waffle or whole-wheat toast.
Kids should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hopefully some of this physical activity can take place during the school day, but there are lots of easy ways to build healthy activity into daily life at home. Make a habit of going on a family walk after dinner (a great chance to unwind and reconnect) or challenge kids to bring their books up the stairs or to another room one at a time. Take 10-minute “dance party” breaks during homework or see who can jump rope the longest.
Manage screen time
It's important for families to be mindful of screen time for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids ages 2-5 limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. For children 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media and monitor the types of media used.
Kids love to snack, and it’s important to keep nutritious options on hand for when hunger strikes — it helps them avoid emergency vending machine stops. Stock your pantry with healthier snacks like applesauce pouches. Fridge-free pouches, are easy to grab on the way to soccer practice, music lessons or the playground. They’re also an easy lunchbox addition!
Adjust the attitude
Mental wellness is part of overall wellness. Keep in mind the power of a positive attitude toward education. Encourage kids to look at issues from different angles, appreciate diversity and be resilient. Have conversations with children and truly listen to their concerns to build trust and solve problems.
Finally, it's the adult role models in a child's life that really set them up for success.
"If you model healthy habits, your child is likely to follow your lead," says Segrave-Daly. "Try to routinely eat well, sleep well, exercise and have conversations about the good and bad parts of your day. Your kids are paying attention even when it seems like they aren’t!"