One of the most common questions I get asked by patients is, “how can I keep my son or daughter healthy during the school year?”
Kids are inside the classroom for most of the day interacting with many other classmates – germs can spread fast and easily. Pre-teens and teens are also often stressed with packed schedules outside of school, filled with homework and extracurricular activities.
Tips for healthy kids during school year
Here are my tips to keep your kids healthy and happy so the school year doesn’t mean frequent trips to the doctor’s office.
1) A good night’s sleep
Children need to be regular with bed and wake up times.
The younger the child, the more sleep they need. Preschoolers should get between 11 and 13 hours each day (including naps). Kids ages 6 to 13 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep. And for teens, I recommend a minimum of 8 hours of rest per night.
This allows proper time for the brain to recover and function optimally and stay energized at school the next day. Getting the right amount of good quality sleep also is vital for fighting off all of those germs.
A 2011 study by the University of Tübingen in Germany found that the more and better sleep you get, the better the immune system functions and the less likely you are to get sick.
2) Healthy meals, especially breakfast
For everyone, and children in particular, I do believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It sets the tone and function for the entire day. The National Institute of Health (NIH) also notes eating healthy is a hallmark of healthy back to school habits.
Kids who eat a nutritious breakfast do better in school overall.
I recommend a breakfast high in healthy whole-grain carbohydrates (such as steel cut or rolled oatmeal) and fruit, combined with a protein source such as eggs.
Kids should not be drinking caffeinated beverages at this, or any time, during the day. Water is always the best option.
Lunch and dinner should be light meals consisting of whole, organic, preferably plant-based foods, that are low in salt and sugar.
Soda should never be a beverage option. Again, always stick to water.
I advise that snacking between meals be done carefully and thoughtfully. Always consider whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and nut butters (if no allergy), low-fat cheeses and whole-grain sources.
If your child or teen is very active and/or and plays sports, a protein bar low in sugar and minimally-processed may also be a good choice.
A healthy balanced nutrition means healthy kids during school year – and all year round.
3) Time for running, jumping and playing
Along with sleeping and eating healthy, physical activity is vital to keeping your children healthy. It is also an important tool for fending off childhood obesity.
Children of all ages need to get at least 60 minutes of physical exercise according to the US National library of Medicine- whether in school or outside of school. It doesn’t necessarily need to be with an organized team, sport or activity either. An hour of running around outdoors or on a playground with their friends will do wonders for not only their physical, but mental health, as well.
4) Wash hands
I can’t say it enough. Before, after, and during school, as well as always before you eat hands should be washed. Washing your hands frequently and following the six steps below will greatly reduce your and your children’s chances of getting sick.
- Wet your hands
- Add soap
- Lather and scrub for 15-30 seconds (focus between fingers, under nails, and on top of nails!)
- Rinse off soap for ten seconds
- Dry off hands
- If possible, use a towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet.
If you aren’t near a sink, wash your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Good hygiene, especially hand-washing when done properly, can be the single best defense against germs and common diseases during school year.
5) Talk to your pediatrician
Before and during school year, you may have the chance to visit your pediatrician to evaluate your child’s health. This is the time when you should discuss any health concerns you have about your child.
Ask your doctor if your child is up-to-date on vaccinations, depending upon his or her age, and if a flu shot is recommended.
Also talk about backpack safety. Carrying backpacks that are too large and/or too heavy can put a big strain on your child’s muscles, back and neck. A backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight.
6) Connect and spend time with family
As a doctor of integrative medicine, I take into account the whole person (mind, body and spirit) when treating patients. This approach should also be used when addressing the health of your family.
Unfortunately in today’s world, mental and spiritual needs sometimes get put on the back burner in order to keep up with the demands of juggling hectic schedules.
I think it is very important for families to eat dinner together at the end of the day whenever, and as often, as possible. A family that talks, spends time together, prepares food and eats together in the evenings and weekends, and also observes their spiritual and/or religious beliefs together, are much healthier in the long run than those who don’t.
By following these suggestions, I hope the school year continues to be a healthy one for you and your family.