A Healthy Start for Back to School
This article appeared in Victoria’s Times Colonist newspaper last week. It’s full of some of my best ideas for back-to-school health and wellness, so I’m sharing it here, too. I hope the return to school, schedules and chilly mornings is treating you all well!
With the AMAZING summer we have been having so far, it’s hard to believe that school is just around the corner. But between trips to pick up school supplies, we are frequently reminded of how important healthy food choices are to help support improved energy, concentration and academic performance for a successful school year.
Often parents find it challenging in today’s fast-paced society to ensure that their kids are living a healthy lifestyle and exercising regularly. Childhood obesity is reaching near-epidemic highs, with over one-third of Canadian kids overweight. Typically this trend will continue into adolescence where in fact, many continue to gain excess weight. If current trends continue, by 2040 up to 70% of adults aged 40 years will be overweight. Research also shows that Canadian children and youth are spending an average of 8.6 hours per day, or 62% of their waking hours, being sedentary. Yikes!
Fruits and vegetables, along with a whole foods diet, have been shown to increase immune function – which means less sick days at school. With the abundance of commercially processed and high sugary foods available at the grocery stores and seen in the media, it can be very difficult to teach children about healthy and nutritious foods rather than low nutritional foods.
The best way to shift the above trend is to get your children excited about eating a whole foods diet with a balance of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes. Lean meats, free-range chicken, eggs and fish are great choices for proteins as well. These foods are high in vitamins, minerals, essential nutrients, fiber, proteins and healthy fats.
Breakfast is often a missed meal amongst children and even adults as the morning can be so chaotic that we run out of time to prepare something to eat. Statistics show that as many as 48% of girls and 32% of boys do not eat breakfast every day.
Why is breakfast so important, you ask?
Breakfast helps fuel the brain and muscles after a nightlong fast. If you child does not eat when he/she wakes up, then their body lacks the energy it needs to perform all of its daily functions. Studies show that eating breakfast helps kids manage their weight because when they skip breakfast it sets your child up for extreme hunger later in the day, leading to poor foods choices, excess caloric intake and major stress on blood sugar balancing and metabolism.
Easy Breakfast Ideas Include:
- Protein SMOOTHIES! Blend fruit, protein powder (whey or plant based), plain organic yogurt, greens, flaxseeds and water in a blender until smooth.
- Homemade granola and plain organic yogurt.
- Sprouted grain bread/rice cakes with nut butters (almond, hazelnut, pumpkin seed) with cut up apple slices.
- Plain rolled oats or quinoa cooked on the stove top with fresh fruit and nuts.
- A hardboiled egg on sprouted grain bread or quinoa and fresh fruit.
6 Quick Snack Ideas include:
- Veggies and dips (hummus, bean dips, guacamole) *Try adding a little color by mixing in a steamed beet, yams, spinach or kale to your hummus!
- Mixed nuts and dried apricots or apples
- Hardboiled egg wrapped in lettuce leaf and drizzled with honey mustard
- Apple dipped in almond butter topped with shredded coconut
- Make healthy homemade cookies or granola bars using raw nuts and seeds, dried fruit and sweetened with apple sauce, dates or stevia (a natural sugar found in most grocery and health food stores).
- Kale chips!
A recent study found that 55% of five year olds consume less than two servings of fruits and vegetables per day: focus on having fruits and vegetables as key ingredients in every snack and meal.
Essential vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper growth, metabolism, digestion, immune system function, muscle and nerve function and detoxification processes in the liver. It’s possible that many of us are deficient in many essential nutrients because of poor dietary habits and other factors such as caffeine, drugs, stress or pollution. A daily multivitamin can help to keep your child’s energy and concentration levels at their best!
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are very important for everyone, especially children. Much of the gray matter of the brain is made up of fat, specifically the omega-3-fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA protects and maintains healthy brain cell function because of its important role in the composition of the protective covering (myelin) around nerves. Protecting the myelin helps to improve the signaling of chemical messages between nerve cells in the brain.
Choose a good quality fish oil that is pharmaceutical grade, free of pollutants and heavy metals. Friendly bacteria, such as acidophilus and bifidobacteria sp. live in our digestive tracts and are essential for a healthy immune system, as well as cognitive function. Healthy bacterial balance is easily affected by poor diet and by the overuse of antibiotics. Remember that over 70% of our immune system is in our digestive tract!
I hope that you find these simple tips useful for creating a successful school year for you and your whole family!