As the end of summer approaches us, the back to school blues rises for both kids and parents. For kids, this means back to studying, early bedtimes and less play time. For many parents this means, back to the regular routine of getting the kids ready for school before heading to work; helping them with homework; taking the kids to extracurricular activities; and making sure they eat well balanced meals!
Spontaneity during the summer months obviously has its perks but downfalls of it include, loss of regular routine and less strict dietary choices. So, shifting mindsets at the end of summer can be quite stressful and challenging while trying to get into the groove of routine and structure, once again. Instead of a rough start to the school year, there are a few steps that can be taken to better prepare before the first day of school as well as the year ahead to ensure your kids are successful academically, mentally and physically. Let’s get this school year off to an amazing start and make it the best school year yet!
STEP ONE: Clean Eating
Hundreds of years ago, food was prepared very differently than it is today - it was simple and clean. In the last several decades, food processing technology has really grown and flourished. As a result we see a lot more canned, frozen, packaged and microwavable foods which are all “quick-fixes”. It’s most definitely easier and way more convenient to pop in a frozen dinner or add some water to a package. However, this is not the best in terms of your health!
Many of these packaged foods contain chemicals and preservatives which only stress the body out, especially for children whose bodies are still developing. The best way to avoid this is to prepare fresh, whole foods. Children learn to eat what their parents prepare and what is stocked in the pantry and fridge. Eating for a healthy brain includes: keeping blood sugar levels balanced, eating the rainbow while limiting refined sugars and processed foods. Now, this is easier said than done but here are some tips to help get you started.
- Plan recipes the week before to avoid spending too much time thinking about what to cook/prepare everyday. Once the recipes have been planned out, grocery shop according to your recipes.
- Meal prep 2-3 times a week. Coming home after a long day of work can make it hard to want to cook whole foods that are fresh. So, make your life easier and do as much preparation on the days that are lighter for you (ex. Sunday). This makes the work week less daunting. A great example would be marinating chicken breasts or steak ahead of time so all that needs to be done is popping it in the oven.
- Prepare foods simply - Foods that are steamed, boiled, baked or broiled are easily digested. Use water, lemon juice, broths and herbs. Avoid frying foods as this can make the food difficult to digest.
- Offer a diet that is about 50-65% complex carbohydrates, 15-25% protein and 20-25% fats
- Complex Carbohydrates - Whole grains (wheat, rye, barley, rice, oats, millet), fruits, vegetables and legumes. Sugars in complex carbohydrates are gradually absorbed into the bloodstream than those from processed and refined sugars. This can help kids to feel more energetic THROUGHOUT THE DAY!
- Proteins - Eggs, meat, fish, chicken, nuts, nut butters, chia seeds and legumes. Proteins are essential for growth and repair of all body tissues, including muscle, bone, skin and nerves.
- Healthy Fats - Flaxseed oil, coconut oil, avocados, pumpkinseed. Fats are necessary for growth and development, helps to regulate digestion and maintains healthy skin, hair and nails. Remember that not all fats are created equally, use unrefined, minimally processed, cold pressed organic oils.
- Breakfast: Start the day off with a low glycemic index, high fiber, high protein meal. This allows for sustained release of glucose to the brain allowing children to stay mentally and physically active throughout the day.
- Example of a well balanced breakfast: Eggs + Fruit + Whole grain toast with nut butters OR
- Smoothies are another great breakfast option. Add some frozen berries, chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts and spinach for a full balanced breakfast!
- Lunch: Pack lunches full of healthy snacks like raw veggies and hummus, almond butter and celery, baked apples and some fruit. These are the top immune boosting foods that are high in phytonutrients and important for brain health. Make sure to include iron rich foods like meat, eggs and spinach. Iron deficiency has been associated with poor cognition and lower attention span and fatigue.
STEP TWO: Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is necessary for our little one’s bodies to regenerate, repair and grow. School aged children need about 10-12 hours of sleep a day and teens need about 9 hours of sleep each night. Growth hormone is secreted while we sleep and this can affect mood, energy and appetite.
As children learn to master new tasks and experience changes in their lives difficulty sleeping is a common problem. Lack of sleep can lead to anxiety, low focus, decreased memory, increased susceptibility to infections and trouble maintaining weight. Here are some ways to optimize their quality of sleep:
- Establish a routine with the same bedtime every night. Kids need a well-established routine that is being enforced everyday.
- No electronics before bed. This allows melatonin to be released and reduces mental stimulation before bed.
- Spend about 20 minutes with them before bed. This makes them feel safe and loved allowing them to fall asleep quicker and with ease.
STEP THREE: Supplements
When it comes to supplementation, being selective is best, especially for kids. The following 3 supplements can help support digestive, immune, and mental health:
- Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be produced in the body and therefore must be obtained through the diet. Supplementing with a good quality fish oil can be a great choice. The DHA component of the Omega-3 fish oil is super important for brain development, focus, skin health, and proper mood. Fish oil can boost the immune system and improve concentration/focus in kids. Typical dose for kids: 500-1000 mg/day
- Vitamin D. Living in Canada we do not get enough Vitamin D due to reduced exposure to sunlight in the fall and winter months. Fall is a great time to start supplementing with Vitamin D. It is important for hormones, bones, skin health and a healthy immune system. Typical dosage for kids: 500-1000 IU/day
- Probiotic. I’m sure you have all heard the saying, “It all begins in the gut”. This is especially true for kids who’s gut’s are still developing. Children are naturally born with under developed digestive systems. While in mommy’s tummy they get their nutrition from the umbilical cord and after birth, they get most of their nutrition through breast milk. After breastfeeding, it is hard to get the healthy bacteria we need through diet due to modern food practices. Probiotics as a supplement can help to populate the digestive tract with healthy bacteria. Healthy bacteria can help to make a healthy gut which in turn can help to regulate the immune, digestive and nervous systems. Typical dosage for kids: 10,000 CFU of a multi-strain probiotic/day.
For most, the end of summer means back to strict routines. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing! Enjoying those 2 months off is great for both kids and parents. However, back to school time does not have to be stressful or sad. Too long without a routine of daily life and regular eating patterns is not optimal for children! Don’t let this time of year be a stressful experience. It is simply a matter of being prepared and establishing regular routines of healthy eating, regular sleep times and supplementing right that can make this year the most successful one, yet!
** Disclaimer: The advice is in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.