Just over a week of summer vacation left before kids across B.C. slip on those new runners, fill up backpacks and pose at the front door for the token, "first day of school" photos. As much as parents are often grateful for the return to regular routine around the house, it can be like herding cats in an effort to have everything set and ready to go in time for the big day. No kids? Keep reading. The same principles apply to adults going to work.
With only one shopping weekend left, it's important to prioritize what your kid(s) will need to stay focused and on track, to learn and to contribute each day in class, regardless of age. Although new clothes, gym shoes and hair cuts do rank right up there, nothing helps your child function better in class like healthy, balanced nutrition. With a background in special needs and behaviour intervention, there was a time when my kids were young that I worked in classrooms for close to 15 years, and I can tell you first hand food makes a difference. What kids eat/don't eat or drink/don't drink before arriving at school, pretty much sets the mood for the morning. And the food that comes with them in the back pack (or doesn't) sets the direction for the day.
School, no matter the age, can be an exciting, stressful, happy, sad, confused – sometimes all at once. So anything you can do as a parent to set them up to feel good and do good, is good for them. Here are a few tips and suggestions I've put together to help your child not only survive this year, but thrive right through it.
1. Breakfast is a must. Eating within that first hour of waking is important for everyone. For a growing body expected to sit still, focus, concentrate, learn, contribute and regurgitate information, it is essential. Breakfast including a protein source (eggs, greek yogurt, protein smoothies) stabilizes blood sugar meaning kids are better able to attend to the teacher. Protein protects and helps build muscle rather than storing fat, and will keep your child feeling satisfied until recess. A growly tummy only distracts from learning and causes frustration as the day progresses.
2. Ditch the packaged foods. Nutritional value in packaged foods, including things like juice boxes, yogurt tubes, fishy crackers, Ichiban noodles, is minimal at best. I highly doubt any parent would knowingly give their child several teaspoons of sugar, add dye, artificial ingredients, or douse their food with several times the recommended daily allowance of salt. At some point quality must prevail over convenience and we all know preservatives do not preserve health. FYI, if you want to know how much sugar is in an item, take the number of grams listed on the package and divide by four to get the teaspoon equivalent. Try it with a few items in your pantry. You'll be shocked.
3. Hydration is key. Invest in a cool water bottle and challenging your child to drink two or three per day. According to a study done several years ago in Edmonton, kids who had water bottles on their desks and drank regularly, increased their ability to concentrate and focus by 28 percent. And the water bottle means you're no longer spending money on flats of juice boxes.
4. Yogurt tubes are a cool idea I must admit, and no spoon required - genius! Why not make your own out of greek yogurt, you fav fruit, stevia and zip-sicles - a very cool item I found a while back at Bed Bath and Beyond. Combine a tub or two of plain greek yogurt, a few drops of stevia to taste and some fresh or previously frozen fruit puree in a large Ziploc bag. Cut one corner and pipe your filling into the zip-sicles, refrigerate or freeze. You save money, your child consumes a much higher quality food without the junk. A win/win!
5. Lunchables, one of my least favourite of all packaged foods. I see the appeal having everything all in one container and there's even a treat. I give it an A+ for product marketing, but nutritionally it's an F. The good news is that again, this is easily replicated in your kitchen. And yes, it is ok to add a treat now and again. Turkey pepperoni, cheese sticks, raw veggies, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit are all great choices and having your child help to prepare it will ensure he/she eats the good stuff and not just the treat.
6. Pack extra. After making sure your child has enough balanced nutrition for each food break, adding an extra is often a good idea. An extra snack covers those times when your child suddenly has a growth spurt and seem to never stop eating. Or that last minute play date, or sports practice reschedule. Having that extra snack is also great for those times that you need to do a few errands on the way home. A car full of hangry kids is not fun.
So this year, set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier and make a point of sitting down to breakfast as a family. And as you do your school grocery shop, I invite you to think outside the box (and the wrapper, and the packaging...). Choose one packaged food you can successfully replace in your kids' lunches this fall, adding another every few months until they're all gone. We already know our kids will survive the year, why not set them up to thrive?
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