Creating a Healthy Back-to-School Plan
Going back to school can be a shock to the family system. After a summer of long, leisurely afternoons, the shift in pace, expectations and weather can set up big and little folks alike for crankiness at the least to illness at the worst. A little advance planning with the support of your naturopathic doctor (ND) can help! Together you can set goals and make a plan for action, easing into it over the last few weeks of the summer.
Getting good nutrition can be tough in the midst of a busy routine. Menu planning is your friend! Sit down as a family to make a list of everyone’s favourites, including leisurely family meals and grab-and-go options. Once you have a master list, use it to create a menu for the week based on activities planned each day. Shop for what you need and do any necessary pre-prep (veggie chopping, grains cooking, etc.) to save time on the nights when there are two music lessons and a cub scout meeting. Planning meals not only promotes sanity, it also improves nutritional intake and reduces expense and food waste. Try adding a new item or two to the master list each week! Talk to your naturopath about the qualities of an ideal diet (think lots of veggies, lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains), and ask if anyone is a candidate for nutritional supplementation. Vitamin D is critical for everyone, especially as the days get shorter.
School-aged kids should be accumulating at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, but most kids do not get enough. Not only does exercise keep them fit, but it helps them stay sharp in the classroom too! Look for ways to build activity into your family routine; kids are more likely to be active if their parents are - hint, hint! Get outside and throw a Frisbee; go for an after-dinner bike ride; try cross-country skiing - being outside has bonus benefits! Your naturopath can help set goals, and is there to support you in case of injury. Ask about acupuncture or natural anti-inflammatory products that can get you back in the game!
Sleep is critical for growing bodies. Inadequate sleep interferes with metabolism, hormone production, mood and learning. Most school-aged kids do not get enough; they need as much as 9-11 hours of sleep per night in order to be at their best. Some strategies to promote sleep include keeping a predictable routine; having a dark bedroom; building in a “wind-down” time before sleep; and minimizing screen-based media, especially in the 30 minutes before bed. Under no circumstances should your child be using screens in his/her bedroom - it is one of the strongest predictors of poor sleep. Talk to your naturopath if anyone in your brood struggles with sleep; a combination of sleep hygiene strategies and relaxing herbs or supplements can help carry you or your little one safely off to dreamland.
Stress levels can increase for everyone as kids head back to school, affecting sleep, immunity, weight and mood. Perception of control is an important factor; hold regular family meetings to ensure everyone is doing okay, and problem solve if anyone is struggling. Kids feel stress more than we sometimes realize; listening empathically and non-judgmentally helps foster attachment, which reduces stress and builds resilience. Sharing gratitude at family meals, or trying meditation or yoga together can help everyone cope when the pressure begins to rise. If stress becomes unmanageable, your naturopath may help through counselling or natural health products that can gently boost resilience. Do not forget the power of sleep, physical activity and time outside to reduce stress!
Ask your naturopath if there is a need for additional immune system support, since fall also marks the onset of cold and flu season. However, if nutrition, physical activity levels, sleep and stress management are all under control, your family should sail through fall with flying colours! These are the pillars of great health, and will keep your family strong - though your ND is on standby if you or your little one comes down with that awful head cold come November. Happy fall!