Note: This article was originally published on August 16, 2018 by The Pratt Clinics. You can view the original article here.
Summer has flown by, and a new school year is just around the corner! While academics and extracurriculars may be the last things on your kids’ minds, this is the perfect time for you to begin preparing them for the new school year by optimizing their health and nutrition. Engaging in health-supportive behaviors and eating habits now and throughout the school year can improve your child’s concentration and school performance, support immunity, and even help them thrive in social situations and athletics. In this two-part blog series, I will discuss six steps you can take to optimize your children’s nutrition and wellbeing so that they can have their healthiest, happiest school year yet!
Create structured mealtimes
During the summer, kids are often free to graze on food throughout the day; this eating pattern contrasts sharply with the stricter mealtime schedule many face once the school year is in full swing. Some kids have difficulty adjusting to the new eating schedule, especially if they must wake up early for school and are given very little time for lunch. These issues may lead to skipped breakfasts and rushed meals, which cause blood sugar swings and poor digestion, respectively. As parents, you can ease your child’s transition from summertime eating habits to the stricter school year schedule by creating structured mealtimes in the weeks preceding the start of the school year. Begin by serving meals at times that more closely reflect when your child will eat during the school year. Emphasize the importance of eating a complete breakfast, which sets the stage for your child’s mood, focus, and energy throughout the day. Structured mealtimes also have a side benefit: They can help your child hone his appetite regulation skills, setting him up for a lifetime of healthy eating and living. (1)
Prepare balanced meals
If left to their own devices, many kids would eat meals consisting primarily of carbohydrates. However, eating a diet high in carbs and lacking in healthy protein and fats can impair your child's blood sugar regulation, gut health, and immunity. When these aspects of health suffer, a child may be predisposed to infections, poor focus, and behavioral problems in school. Start preparing balanced meals for your children today (or teach them how to make such meals themselves!) so that their bodies have all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and perform well throughout the school year. A balanced meal should consist of protein, complex carbohydrates, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats.
A healthy protein intake stabilizes blood sugar, supports growth, and boosts academic performance in children. (2)(3) Incorporate organic meat and poultry, eggs, dairy, and seafood into your child’s diet as sources of high-quality protein. Be sure to include protein at breakfast, as it will stabilize blood sugar and improve attention and focus throughout the day.
The consumption of complex carbohydrates, rather than refined carbs such as those found in processed foods, supports healthy blood sugar control, optimizes growth, and even improves short-term memory and attention in school. (4) Sprouted grains (gluten-free if necessary), oatmeal, sweet potatoes, legumes, winter squash, and whole fruits are versatile, nutrient-dense carbs that can be whipped up countless ways for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When purchasing fruits, try to buy organic because this will reduce your child’s exposure to harmful pesticides and herbicides. If all-organic produce is not an option, refer to the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists to learn which fruits are safe to buy conventional and which are best bought organic.
Veggies are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that kids need for healthy bodies and minds. Kids should have at least three servings of non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, bell peppers, and leafy greens per day.
Healthy fats support growth, immunity, satiety, mood, and focus in children. Every meal a child eats should include some healthy fat such as coconut oil, ghee, butter, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids from wild seafood and fish oil are in a class of their own, as they serve as the building blocks for a healthy, happy brain. In fact, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has been found to improve focus, learning, and behavior in children, making this one supplement that you’ll definitely want to add to your kids’ back-to-school nutrition plan! (5)(6) I recommend Kid’s Omega Swirl Fish Oil and Nordic Naturals DHA Junior for kid-friendly sources of omega-3 fats.
The human brain needs sufficient water to work correctly. When the body is low on fluids, brain chemistry is thrown off, resulting in impaired cognition and focus that may adversely impact your child's academic performance. The consumption of juice and sodas, available in many schools, only make the situation worse; these beverages further dehydrate the body and cause blood glucose swings due to their high sugar content. Have your child take a reusable stainless-steel water bottle to school so that he can stay hydrated throughout the day. Kids who are very active in sports and losing water through sweat have even higher water needs and may need to supplement their water with an electrolyte supplement that is free of sugar and artificial colors and flavors.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series to learn how to support your child’s immunity with nutrition and incorporate adequate movement and sleep into your child’s busy school year schedule!