Back to School? Back to Basics…

Somehow, suddenly summer is coming to an end and many of our children and their teachers will be returning to their school campuses in the upcoming weeks. 

Going back is more than buying new shoes, notebooks, yellow Ticonderogas, and a lunchbox. 

Outside of COVID concerns, back to school time is an opportunity to return to a routine that supports our children’s health and wellness and fuels them for a successful academic and sociable year with their friends.

Setting Kids Up for a Successful School Day 

Tweak the Diet

One of the most helpful things to do to set children up for success at school is to ensure good nutrition.

Eating well maintains focus and attention, improves behavior, and helps children succeed academically. Research has shown that regularly eating breakfast plus adequate vegetables, fruits, and dairy during the day increased school performance while frequent soft drinks, fast food, instant noodles, and sweets were associated with poor school performance (Kim et al., 2016). Furthermore, eating a high sugar breakfast increased hunger by lunch time and encouraged children to consume more calories at lunch (Warren et al., 2003). Interestingly, hungry children were found to be more likely to have poor behavior and academic issues at school (Murphy et al., 1998). 

We can set our kids up for a good school day by feeding them balanced meals with unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods. This goes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all snacks.

Maximize nutrients while minimizing refined foods, particularly those with high carbohydrate contents:

  • Eat the rainbow every day! Lots of color = lots of nutrients. 
  • Choose whole fruits instead of juices
  • Choose true whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal, millet, quinoa)
  • Include lean proteins 
  • Reduce the amounts of foods made with flours, and choose 100% whole grain flours when consuming

Minimize added sugars

  • Read labels. Some food processors are listening & making lower/no sugar added products
  • Wean down portions of ketchups, sweeteners 

Sweets are ok occasionally, with an emphasis on whole fruits, whole grain flours in baked goods, and minimal added sugars. Whole fruit popsicles over Poptarts. Dark chocolate nut clusters over Twinkies. Etc.

Some balanced breakfast component ideas:

  • Protein: eggs, full fat cheese, plain Greek yogurt with a little honey, organic or natural sausages or bacon, cold cuts without nitrates/nitrites, beans, bone broth 
  • Fat: full fat dairy, avocado, nut butters (explore beyond peanut), butter (not buttery spreads), olive oil
  • Carbs: from fruits & veggies (2-4 oz smoothie with greens or beet powder, or a 1/4 carrot), or from no-sugar-added whole grains (non-instant oatmeal, 1 slice whole grain toast, or 1 corn tortilla)

Nutrient-packed foods to consider throughout the week within a typical diet: 

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods are powerhouses of immune-supportive vitamin C, folate, magnesium, beta-carotene
  • Nuts, nut butters, seeds. High in vitamin E, which supports healthy cells from damage. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium for promoting glutathione, a very powerful antioxidant that can counter cellular stress from infection.
  • Beans, dark meat poultry, and red meat. Great sources of zinc and copper, iron, and B vitamins, all of which are critical in immune system function. 
  • Whole grains. Contain B vitamins and a variety of minerals and trace elements. 

Modulate Lifestyle to Promote Health

You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again. Some foundations to good health, for all walks of life: 

  • Adequate sleep. Depending on the age of your child, he or she may need 10-12 hours of sleep a night. Inadequate sleep creates susceptibility to illness. 
  • Sunshine. Keep that vitamin D production ramped up! 15-20 minutes of time in the sun without sunscreen is a great way to do this. 
  • Fresh air. As much as possible. Being outside and especially in nature is very calming to the system. This is tied in with…
  • Breathing and oxygenation. Address any mouth breathing and snoring to decrease stress on the body. This stress can cause adrenal problems later on. And mouth breathing can promote increased allergies, dental carries, and nervous system imbalance (read: increased risk of ADHD, anxiety). This is especially important for those that will be masked for most of the day.
  • Joy and laughter and play. Kids are so great at doing this. Encourage and embrace the silly!
  • Handwashing over sanitizing and over-sterilization. Our immune systems need constant priming with bacteria from the environment. If your child is in an overly sanitized environment during the day, make sure he or she has time to play in the dirt, or splash in puddles…

Nutritional Supplementation

The “what to supplement for school” question comes up a lot at the start of a typical year, and so I’m guessing it’s on the minds of most of us even more so now. 

I prefer to find nutrients through foods over pill bottles unless there’s an acute, therapeutic need to supplement higher doses of nutrients. My recommendations will reflect this. 

The foundations to health are mentioned above. But if you find you want to do a little extra to support your child’s academics, mood, and immune system, you might consider researching the following: 

  • Probiotics and fermented foods. Excellent at continuously priming the immune system and keeping it in tip-top shape, at the ready for any harmful microbes they might encounter (and we encounter over a whopping 1 billion helpful and harmful microbes a day regularly). 
  • Vitamin C. This can be a lifesaver when first starting to come down with an illness, though it can also be good to include daily, especially if your child has some strong opinions about fruits and vegetables. If supplementing for baseline, MyKind Oragnics Vitamin C spray is a nice food-based formulation, though it’s not intended for high dose supplementation. For high dose, an ascorbic acid chewable or powder mixed with applesauce may be more appropriate. 
  • Cod liver oil. A wonderful food-based source of vitamins D and A, both of which are immune-supportive. I really like both the Rosita and Green Pasture brands for this. If small noses upturn at the thought of this, a liquid D3/K2 supplement such as by Thorne plus a separate micellized vitamin A drop might be in order. 
  • Fish oil or flaxseed oil. Different than cod liver oil, this contains a high content of brain-supportive, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Barlean’s and Nordic Naturals make some nice formulations.
  • Epsom salt baths or magnesium oil. Magnesium is wonderful for soothing first day jitters, supporting the immune system, helping with bone growth, and promotes quality sleep and a positive mood. Natural Calm is another option. 
  • Greens powder. Whose kid actually gets enough greens in their diet regularly? Added to smoothies, tomato sauce, soups, meatballs, brownies, you name it, this is a concentrated source of immunosupportive vitamins A, C, and folate. Amazing Grass Green Superfood. 
  • Zinc lozenges. I would only use this for kiddos when they feel a scratch in their throat or something else brewing; this is not necessarily an every day supplement and I’d rather see them get their zinc from food. But if they’re coming down with something, I really like the Perque Throat Guard lozenge zinc and supporting nutrient blend. 
  • Gelatin. Made into gummies or gelatine, this fun snack also supports the gut lining, which ultimately supports the immune system. Bone broth is a great source of natural gelatin. Vital Proteins or Great Lakes brands. 

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