By Rosie Main
Editor’s note: If you’re still trying to play catch-up for the new school year, this article is for you, with helpful hints for all things school-related – from a healthy perspective for both body and mind.
Transitions can feel like a challenge for everyone. One minute, you’re relaxing by the pool or returning from a stress-free vacation. The next, you’re stocking up on the upcoming year’s school supplies and registering your child for classes.
And then, before you know it, the first school day begins.
A new school year means back to basics and a renewed mindset toward focus and functionality. Life becomes a lot more structured come late August or early September. Shifting gears might feel challenging, but transitioning from summer bliss to fall’s formality shouldn’t feel very difficult.
These strategies can help as your child – and you! – make that pivotal transition from relaxed, carefree summer days to the structure of fall and a new school year.
Get the Right Backpack
Whether your child prefers a fashion-forward or fitness-forward backpack, weight matters. Many professionals recommend children carry no more than 10-15 percent of their body weight in their backpacks, but many carry a bag above that weight.
How your child wears a backpack matters too. Wearing one incorrectly – on only one shoulder, or straps too tight or loose – or lugging a poorly designed backpack can lead to spinal compression, and create shoulder, neck, and back pain. Poorly designed backpacks or backpacks carried incorrectly can also create bad posture and potential injury.
You and your child can feel better with the right backpack using these four tips.
- Buy the right one. A good backpack helps properly carry gear while preventing injury. Invest in quality and spend the time to find the right one. A waist strap can add extra support. Alternately, consider a rolling backpack. Read reviews online to ensure you’re buying a well-designed, built-to-last bag.
- Ensure the right fit. Make sure the backpack has equally distributed weight. Encourage children to use both straps, properly positioned. Remember that different thicknesses of clothing might require your child to readjust the straps.
- Support good posture. Being mindful about posture goes beyond just finding the right backpack. Standing up straight and avoiding slouching can mean less back pain, reducing the potential for injury, and fostering a healthier spine. Plus, remind your child they look a lot better when they stand up straight.
- Encourage an as-needed basis. Backpacks weren’t intended to be worn for hours on end. Whenever they can, encourage your child to take off the backpack. They’ll feel more comfortable and their spine will appreciate their effort.
Pack a Healthy Lunch
Research shows lunch programs that include fruits and vegetables help reinforce a child’s preferences for these foods. They have healthy options to choose from, and their peers eat those same healthy foods.
Unfortunately, not every school presents that option. Some offer less-than-stellar food options, while other schools might not provide lunch at all. These four tips can make lunchtime healthier for your children and less stressful for you.
- Get your kids involved. Packing lunches makes a great opportunity to establish healthy habits your kids will use for life. Be creative and make healthier versions of their favorites. You can always use a lettuce wrap or gluten-free tortilla to replace bread. Sliced carrots or apples with little servings of almond butter also pack well. So do little bags of healthy trail mix or raw nuts.
- Foster mindfulness. Studies show children eat lunch too quickly. Time constraints and peer pressure contribute to this, but so do the habits kids learn at home. Encouraging kids to eat slowly and mindfully at breakfast and dinner can carry over into their potentially rushed school lunchtime. Remind them to chew slowly. It helps with digestion.
- Create a lunch co-op, and share in the work. If you’re among health-minded moms and dads, you might consider designating lunch duties to one person in the group every week. This takes some financial planning and commitment, but it can also make healthy lunches easier while saving you time.
- Teach kids to do the best they can. Even the most well-organized parent forgets to pack lunch or finds their kids having to choose unhealthy school lunches. Teach your child to make the healthiest option. That might mean pulling the grilled chicken breast off the bun or eating sweet potato fries rather than regular fries. Every little effort counts towards a healthier lifestyle and fosters the right attitude for life.
Eat Healthy Snacks
Packing a healthy lunch or eating one at school should keep your kid full and focused all afternoon. But everyone gets the munchies, and a healthy snack can provide an energy boost and mid-afternoon satisfaction.
Unfortunately, snacking is where children – and adults – get in trouble. You know the scenario: You send your kid a healthy lunch, but they visit their friend’s home after school, where they serve homemade brownies or potato chips.
Try these four ways to avoid unhealthy foods from entering your kids’ pathway.
- Pack grab-and-go bags. You can pack nuts, seeds, healthy trail mix, and apple slices with almond butter in baggies that kids can conveniently grab whenever they want something to munch on. A little prep work will save you money while ensuring your kids aren’t reaching for candy bars or corn chips for snacks.
- Upgrade their favorite foods to healthy ones. Healthy snacking doesn’t mean deprivation or eating boring foods. Nearly any food can be “healthified.” Take crackers: Our Gluten-free, Grainless Crackers provide the perfect munch without junky ingredients in boxed crackers.
- Make a protein shake. This fast, filling snack or mini-meal also provides you the opportunity to slip in healthy ingredients like leafy greens and freshly ground flaxseed that your kids wouldn’t normally eat. Blend healthy fats like coconut milk and avocado with grass-fed whey protein and frozen berries. Play around with consistency and texture until your child finds a shake they love.
- Make healthy popsicles. Nothing quite satisfies on a hot day like a popsicle. Blend grass-fed whey protein with unsweetened coconut milk and berries, pour into molds, and freeze. These will go quickly so make several batches.
Become Engaged Socially, Academically, and Creatively
Kids deal with a lot of stress these days: They may feel the stress to excel academically, they undergo peer pressure, and they experience the stress of our fast-paced life. As adults, that probably feels like a lot of pressure. Imagine what it might feel like for your child.
The answer involves taking things gradually, mindfully, and cultivating a routine they can use for life. Being involved – with academics, with family and friends, and in extracurricular activities – plays an important role in a child’s upbringing. These four tips can help.
- Identify, but don’t label. Calling a child “shy,” “anxious,” or other terms can reinforce labels and amplify those labels. Encourage children to develop their own personality, teach them that it’s okay to feel socially awkward sometimes, and foster the encouragement to develop socially rather than isolate themselves.
- Cultivate community. Some children thrive in social situations. Others need encouragement. Even the most introverted child needs some sort of social outlet. That might be volunteering, creating a book club, or finding an age-appropriate Meetup group with like-minded people.
- Find ways to make learning more enjoyable. “Do your homework.” If that elicits a groan or sigh from your child, you’ll want to find ways to make the work less cumbersome or frustrating. Consider rewarding effort rather than the outcome, and allow them to make mistakes. For older kids, encourage seeing the big picture. You can find something interesting in even the most seemingly boring subject, and even if that feels like a struggle, everybody has to do things they don’t like sometimes. Tell them that making the effort to achieve a goal can create a sense of satisfaction.
- Be aware of underlying feelings. Some children have trouble expressing the anxiety, depression, or stress they feel at school, home, or otherwise. You can’t take away these emotions, but you can identify them and help children cope with them. If your child feels stressed out, for instance, you can help them learn to better manage their time and take better care of themselves. Getting good sleep and not over-scheduling can also alleviate those feelings. Remember to be the example you want them to learn.
With the right mindset and these strategies, you can create a healthy school year for your kids.
If you have questions or need more information, text Rosie Main at (208) 859-6170 or email her at [email protected].