Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links which means I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.

When my daughters go back to school in a few short weeks, I’m trying to prepare myself for what happens every school year: they get sick.

Within weeks of returning to school last year, my older daughter would get a fever one day and then be fine the next. Despite my nagging to “wash your hands” and “keep your hands out of your mouth,” she missed several days of school.

I don’t want her to be sick of course, but as a working mom, all those sick days at home makes work challenging and adds another layer of stress to my already chaotic life.

It turns out, I’m not alone in feeling the back to school stress, especially when it comes to everything that has to get done. According to a survey by Coupons.com, 50 percent of moms with kids in school say shopping for and packing school lunches makes them feel stressed.

So here’s the good news: there are some easy, healthy back to school tips that can go a long way in helping to keep your kids healthy and you from pulling your hair out. Here are 10.

 

 

1. Don’t overthink healthy back to school lunches

Those photos of beautifully crafted bento boxes for school lunches that fill up your Instagram feed can definitely give you some inspiration, but who has time to make fruit into animal shapes and sandwiches into pinwheels?

Instead, stick to the basics.

Have a list of go-to foods that are healthy and quick, re-purpose leftovers, batch cook ahead of time, and set aside individual portions of grab and go snacks.

Also, focus on whole foods instead of processed foods: fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, beans and legumes, whole grains and calcium-rich foods.

Related: 7 Hacks for Stress-Free School Lunches

2. Teach kids to wash their hands

Kids under the age of 6 in particular get 8 to 10 colds a year, not including the countless fevers, infections and stomach bugs they’ll get this year.

Although it’s probably inevitable that your kids will get sick, one thing you’ll want to do your best to avoid is the flu.

Last year, despite my entire family getting our flu shots, we still got the flu and it was horrible. In kids under 5, the flu can be dangerous, even deadly.

The flu spreads quickly, especially because at school, kids are in close contact.

So one of the best healthy back to school tips to garner is to teach your kids the importance of washing their hands.

Teaching your kids proper hand washing can prevent the spread of infection and cut down on the amount of times they get sick.

Show kids how to wash with warm water and soap, wash all surfaces of their hands including their fingernails and in between their fingers, and wash while singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Also, remind kids to sneeze in their arm—not their hands—to prevent the spread of germs.

3. Don’t forget about healthy back to school snacks

According to a survey published in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 children don’t eat enough fruit and 9 in 10 don’t eat enough vegetables.

Yet studies show eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, balance blood sugar, prevent weight gain and childhood obesity, reduce the risk for eye and digestive problems, heart disease and stroke, and prevent certain types of cancer.

Of course, when kids eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables it lays the foundation for healthy eating throughout their lifetimes.

So when it comes to healthy back to school snacks, do your best to swap crackers, pretzels and fruit gummies for fruits and vegetables.

 

Looking for crazy, easy ways to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Check out my video:

 

 

4. Add probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods

Another way to boost your child’s immunity is by serving up plenty of foods with probiotics, or the healthy, live microorganisms found in the gut. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and naturally fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut and pickles.

It’s also a good idea to include foods rich in prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that work with probiotics to boost your child’s immunity.

Prebiotic rich foods include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas and Jerusalem artichokes.

5. Making sleep a priority is one of the best healthy back to school tips

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America poll, many kids don’t get enough sleep and some get less than their parents think they need. 

Not only can lack of sleep affect your kid’s energy levels, mood and behavior, and performance in school and on the field, sleep deprivation can also affect their weight.

When kids are sleep-deprived, the hormones that affect appetite can get all out of whack.

Ghrelin, “the hunger hormone” which tells our bodies to eat, ramps up while leptin, a hormone that decreases appetite, slows down, making it more likely that your kid will overeat.

Power down devices 1 to 2 hours before bed time, use black-out shades and help your kids wind down before bed with a story, prayer and some snuggle time.

5. Carve out time for breakfast

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.

Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.

Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

If your kids don’t have an appetite in the morning or don’t have enough time, try moving back their bed time and getting them up earlier.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

6. Carve out time for breakfast

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.

Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.

Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

If your kids don’t have an appetite in the morning or don’t have enough time, try moving back their bed time and getting them up earlier.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

7. Move more

My kids are constantly in motion and although I take them to the park and for bike rides, I still find getting them 60 minutes exercise a day a challenge.

Nevertheless, I do my best to make sure they get some form of exercise in every day.

Exercise has so many benefits for kids, and as it turns out, can improve their gut health and immunity. In fact, a study in the journal Gut shows exercise may diversity gut microbes.

During the dog days of winter or on snow days when you can’t get out, put on music and have a dance party or enjoy a game of Twister.

8. Help kids cope with anxiety

Most healthy back to school tips focus on physical health, but let’s talk about mental health for a second.

According to a June 2018 study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, between 2007 and 2012 the amount of children between ages 6 and 7 with anxiety increased by 20 percent.

There are a lot of factors that play into a person’s propensity to develop anxiety and depression like genetics and family history, trauma and environment.

As someone who has had anxiety since childhood, I can tell you it’s not a crutch or a character flaw.

Anxiety is real so recognizing the signs is key.

Teaching kids techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can all be helpful. If you suspect your child has an anxiety disorder or you simply need help coping, seek out a therapist who can offer treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Related: 5 Reasons Why Healthy Eating Makes Kids Happy

9. Make an appointment for an eye exam

Since vision problems can sometimes look like problems with focus and concentration or reading difficulties, and they can go undiagnosed. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a routine eye exam.

Another factor to consider is the effects electronic devices are having on kids’ eye health. According to a 2015 survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA), 41 percent of parents say their kids spend three or more hours a day using digital devices.

Digital eye strain can cause burning, itchy or tired eyes, headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain, according to AOA.

Research also suggests that the blue light these devices emit may affect vision and lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can cause blindness down the line.   

Related: 5 Best Foods For Healthy Eyes

10. And finally, one of the best healthy back to school tips? Learn to say “no”

Between homework, after-school activities and coordinating schedules, if you’re like me, you don’t stop all day.

I also find nearly every week there are extras that the schools ask you to help out with like school fundraisers, classroom parties and field trips.

I particular dislike “crazy hair day,” and “silly socks day,” that I just don’t have time for.

My advice is to get good at saying no. Sure, homework is a priority, but running the bake sale? Not so much.

Also, carve out some me-time anywhere you can get it.

Maybe it’s your favorite early morning class at the gym, meeting a friend for coffee on Saturday morning, or just taking 10 minutes to meditate after the kids go to sleep.

Whatever me-time looks like for you, put your oxygen mask on first. It will make you a better mom and better equipped to handle the school year. 

Author Details
Julie Revelant teaches parents how to raise children who are healthy, adventurous eaters. Through blog posts and videos, her goal is to shift the conversation from short-term, problem picky eating to lifelong, healthy eating and healthy futures.