It’s back-to-school time, which means it’s a great time for some back-to-school tips from a Deaconess Clinic pediatrician.
Learn more about getting into a routine, helping your child sleep at night, and school-smart nutrition.
Q: How early should I start establishing the “back-to-school” routine?
A: The biggest challenge is often bedtime, and then getting up in the morning. I recommend working on a new sleep/wake schedule at least a week before school starts—so there’s no time to waste!
If your child is used to going to bed at 9:30 p.m. and getting up at 8:00 a.m., then that’s obviously going to need to change for school. My recommendation is to back up bedtime 10-15 minutes per day until you get to the “normal” school bedtime. This would then also mean to wake them up 10-15 minutes earlier each day. Waiting until the day before school starts to try to reset their schedule will likely result in some sleepy, grumpy kids!
Q: How early should children go to bed during the school year?
A: It really depends on their ages.
- Children starting school in kindergarten are still really little kids, and need a lot of sleep. Some are still even napping during the day, so school can be a big change. Children ages 3-5 years old need 11-13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, on average.
- Children ages 5-10 need 10-11 hours out of every 24, but they’re no longer napping, so you have to consider that when making decisions about bedtime.
- Kids ages 10-17 benefit from around 9 hours of sleep (give or take). As kids enter adolescence, they often want to go to bed later and sleep later, as their ‘circadian rhythm’ changes.
If your child has to get on the school bus at 6:30 a.m., they may need to go to bed between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. to get enough sleep.
It may still be daylight when you’re putting them to bed, which makes the process even more difficult sometimes. So you may need room-darkening shades/blinds to help kids fall asleep when it’s still light outside.
Q: What are some healthy after school snacks for kids?
A: Refueling kids after school but before activities is really important. Notice I said “fuel.” I want kids to eat snacks with good lean protein and complex carbohydrates, but yes—limiting the bad fats, sodium and sugar. This will give them quality nutrition, and help them have long-lasting energy for their activity.
Some good things that require minimal preparation are a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, yogurt and a piece of fruit, carrot sticks and hummus, hard-boiled egg and fruit, or a peanut butter sandwich.
Also, try to minimize any sugar sweetened beverages. Plain water is great for the body, and “electrolyte” beverages are only really needed in cases of high heat/sweating.
Q: What are some good breakfast foods to feed children?
A: Help your kids get some nutrition from all of the food groups. Protein and complex carbohydrates will help them feel full and fueled longer. Here are some examples:
- A fruit and yogurt smoothie with whole grain toast.
- Scrambled egg, banana and a whole wheat English muffin.
- Whole grain cereal, milk, and berries.
- Whole grain waffles/pancakes with fruit.
- Peanut butter toast with a banana.
It doesn’t have to be complicated to be healthy. I know that some convenience foods, such as bars and other pre-wrapped items, can be really easy to grab on the way out the door. But watch for overall sugar grams in comparison to fiber and protein.
Q: What are healthy foods to pack for lunch?
A: A turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, yogurt and a piece of fruit, carrot sticks and hummus, hard-boiled egg and fruit, or a peanut butter sandwich are a few ideas. Other things to consider packing include a thermos of healthy soup; dried fruit; lean meat sandwiches; cut up vegetables; tuna or chicken salad made with light mayo; etc. Simple is often best.
A few tips to help plan ahead and make life a little easier:
- Spend a couple of hours on the weekend on prep. Make a list, buy ingredients, and do some advanced chopping, browning, etc.
- Make one or two things ahead on weekends—a casserole, soup, etc.—that only needs to be warmed up on a rushed evening.
- Keep it simple. Sometimes the most nutritious meals will have fewer ingredients. Look for simple recipes, rather than overwhelming yourself with complicated meals.
- Pack foods in singles. Little baggies prepared on weekends, thrown into a basket in the fridge or counter, can make packing lunches quick and easy.
On a final note: Going back to school is a good time to also remind your kids about safety. Talk with your child and do some “practice runs” together regarding how to safely get off and on the bus. Help them understand how to be seen, watching for traffic, and overall safety. As the days get shorter, kids will be getting on and off the bus in the dark, so be prepared to be there with them to make those boarding’s safe.
Also discuss safe pick-ups and drop-offs with them, so they know to watch for cars, be alert to their surroundings, etc.