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5 Tips for having the healthiest school year yet

Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, Canada covering a wide range of  topics for several online lifestyle publications. She is a regular contributor for SheKnows, covering travel, style, relationships, health and...

Happy, healthy students

Another school year is here (don’t worry, we’re wondering where the summer went, too) and it’s time to start thinking about homework, lunches, clubs, teams and after-school activities. Summer may have felt simple compared to the stress of sending your kids back to school, but we’re here to help you make this the healthiest school year yet. Read on for our best tips and tricks for making sure your little students are happy and healthy all year long.

Little girl on fall playground

1Power-packed lunches

The first step toward a happier, healthier school year is packing nutritious lunches that your kids want to eat and that give them the energy they need to get through the day. It may be tempting to give them a weekly lunch allowance to spend at the school cafeteria, or give them pre-packaged foods in a bag and call it lunch but that isn't the most beneficial course of action for you – or them. First off, pre-packaged lunches (you know, the ones that come in a plastic container with several compartments filled with various parts of the meal) will end up costing you a lot more than fresh, homemade items. Not to mention anything in a box is likely filled with preservatives, and cafeterias usually serve things like cookies, French fries and other junk foods that aren't healthy on a consistent basis.

What to do instead: Wraps, pitas and sandwiches (whole wheat, please) are all good options if you fill them right. Fresh vegetables (grated carrots and beets, sliced cucumber, diced bell peppers, kale and spinach all make great fillings), lean meat (grilled chicken from the night before), tuna, boiled egg and hummus can turn any bread product into something worth biting into. Pair with fresh fruit, trail mix or homemade granola bars.

2Healthy after-school snacks

Say goodbye to chips, cookies and other fat- and sugar-laden snacks. They're costly and they offer no nutritional value to speak of so it's time to knock them right off your shopping list. Instead, offer snacks that are filling but that pack an energizing punch. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Mini apple sandwiches: Slice one apple into several rounds, being careful to remove seeded section. Take two rounds and fill with nut butter, drizzle of honey and sprinkle of crushed raw nuts.
  • Yogurt parfait: Fill a tall glass with alternating layers of low-fat plain yogurt, honey, frozen blueberries and granola. Keep alternating until glass is full.
  • Fruit kebabs: Skewer various types of fruit in bite-size pieces (whatever is in season) with cubes of cheddar cheese.
  • Pita chips and dip: Make pita chips by brushing olive oil on one half of a whole wheat pita, seasoning with salt and pepper and toasting in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp. Break up the pita (you can do this the night before) and serve with hummus.

3Scheduled down time

The school year can amp up very quickly. What begins at a leisurely pace can easily escalate into a whirlwind of homework, team practice, club meetings and social activities before you know it, which can tax even the most energetic and well-adjusted kids. To avoid ending up with a stressed-out student, try to monitor the daily load your kids are dealing with. If it seems like your kids have a busier schedule than you do, you might want to schedule some enforced down time. No, we're not suggesting you banish your overachievers to their rooms, but do make it clear that taking some time to relax amid the plethora of commitments is a good idea.

4Limited screen time

Homework assignments make it tough to monitor and limit screen time, but at the same time, staring at a laptop for the better part of the afternoon and evening does not a healthy student make. Have a designated homework time built into the family schedule and depending on the scope of the project or research being done use your judgement where timing is concerned. But once homework is done, the laptop or tablet goes away. Knowing how and when to disconnect from the digital world (and all those gadgets) is important, and a skill that should kids of all ages should learn (with you setting the right example, of course).

5Good old-fashioned exercise

No school year can be counted as healthy if there isn't any physical activity involved. If your kids are into sports and other pastimes that burn calories while fun is being had, you're in the clear. But if your offspring look at video games as an "activity" it may be time to get them moving. Encourage exercise and spending time outdoors getting fresh air, ideally 25 to 30 minutes a day. If your kids are young enough (i.e., not yet embarrassed to be seen in public with their parents), plan post-dinner walks and bike rides. Any time spent in motion and getting fresh air is a good thing.

More healthy living tips

6 Blues-busting strategies
Healthy kids: Back-to-school nutrition basics
Kids fitness: The power of positive thinking

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