Back to School with Healthy Habits

By Beth Cline

As the leaves begin to change and children trade the playground for the classroom, excitement over their back to school lists, pencils, notebook paper and new erasers may provide an energizing charge. This year, add a few new habits to help boost your child’s back-to-school routines, like eating healthier, attending an annual check up with your family pediatrician and maintaining the summer exercise level.

One of the best ways to ensure your child charges confidently into the school year is to begin each day with a healthy breakfast. Recent studies show as many as 48% of girls and 32% of boys do not eat breakfast every day. A nutritious breakfast helps children stay full and focused until lunchtime. Breakfast could consist of eggs, whole grain toast and a piece of fruit. Lean meats and low sugar cereals, like oatmeal, are also good choices. Avoid offering sugary cereals, white flour pancakes with syrup or white bread at breakfast. The high sugar content leads children to be hungry again sooner, and more likely to over eat at the next meal.

During the school year, lunchtime is often the biggest obstacle in the way of a healthy lifestyle. School cafeterias have recently begun to confront a negative reputation for only offering foods like pizza and french fries. Schools are actually required to offer meals that meet with USDA recommendations and strive to go above and beyond. As such, many cafeterias are now offering salad bars for children to create their own vegetable-rich lunch.

“School lunches are planned with children in mind. We offer our students a wide variety of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats, so everyone can find something healthy,” said Serena Suthers, Director of Food Services for Prince William County Schools in Virginia. “Recent studies have indicated that children actually eat healthier when they buy a school lunch, as opposed to bringing their lunch from home, because cafeterias can offer a wider variety of nutrient-rich foods in a temperature controlled environment.”

Some children, however, prefer to bring a lunch from home. This can cause a big challenge to parents. Here are tips for packing a healthy lunch:

• Always help children pack their lunches to ensure they include more than cookies and candy.

• Make home-packed lunches fun by adding variety and alternating sandwiches with healthy leftovers.

• Include foods from all five food groups. Satisfy a child’s sweet tooth with a piece of fruit or graham crackers.

• Invest in a good lunch bag and containers to help keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold throughout the morning.

With a healthy breakfast and nutritious lunch, children may still need a small snack after school before exercise or study time. Offer a few low-fat cheese cubes, fresh cut veggies with a low-fat dip, or simply an apple or handful of nuts. Then, reinforce healthy eating all day long with a balanced dinner.

Along with healthy eating, start the school year off with a child’s annual check-up with the family doctor. Use this appointment to make sure the child is at a healthy weight and activity level, ask the doctor pertinent health questions and update any necessary shots. Once children are deemed healthy, help them incorporate fitness into their back-to-school habits.

While long summer days are filled with plenty of swimming, running and all-around play, school days tend to be less active. Be sure to schedule exercise time along with after-school commitments like scouts, piano lessons, and studying. Set a 30-60 minute black-out time where the computer, television and video games are turned off. Use that time take the dog for a walk, play a touch football game with friends or simply run outside. As little as 30 minutes of physical activity a day helps keep children physically fit.

For children looking for a physical challenge, try signing them up for a local sports team. The fall offers plenty of opportunities for soccer and football teams through a local recreation center. Or help children aim for a specific goal, like completing the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run. Open to children ages 6-13, the one-mile fun run is not a timed event; rather everyone is a winner just for participating. The run begins at 8 a.m. with plenty of pre-race warm ups and lots of great post-race fun at Camp Miles featuring interactive challenges and games focusing on health and fitness. The entry fee includes a t-shirt, participant’s ribbon and snacks at the finish line. Get the whole family involved in training and work on increasing the running distance together. Regardless of what activity children choose, make exercising a priority for the whole family.

Back to school lists help children get a fresh start on the school year. Take advantage of the clean slate and start fresh with healthy habits.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Registration is now open at www.marinemarathon.com.  No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.

For more school lunch information:

Make School Lunches Fun and Nutritious

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