Our children are heading back to school and, whilst it is great that they will be with their friends and learning face-to-face once again, both parents and kids are experiencing a range of emotions at the prospect.
These emotions range from elation to sadness, joy to trepidation, anticipation to fear and it is useful to have simple strategies to help us deal with these feelings.
Tomorrow, we will publish lots of ideas for healthy eating around the school day, including ideas for breakfast, lunch and after-school snacks. Today, we are going to focus on some basic tips for helping to keep our children healthy, both emotionally and physically, as we start to experience some sort of normality once again.
- Eat enough ‘good’ calories – this is particularly important for children and ensuring we all eat a varied diet that includes as many different healthy foods as possible is key to supporting health. Consider both macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients). Fat is particularly important and is often ignored – it is needed for us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and foods containing fat often also contain these vitamins.
- Adequate water intake is also vital as even mild dehydration can lead to tiredness, lack of energy, low mood and an inability to concentrate. Make sure your child has access to lots of water throughout the school day.
- Supporting sustained energy throughout the day requires foods that release energy slowly and including complex carbohydrates with healthy fats and protein with every meal and snack is key. Sugary foods and snacks (such as cereals, chocolate, sweets, crisps and cereal bars) might give us a quick energy boost, but that will be followed by a rapid dip in energy and the need for more sugar to bring our energy back up.
- Our brains need fat to function properly and this is particularly important for developing brains. Including healthy fats with every meal and snack can help – think real butter, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados and eggs.
- Developing bodies and minds require a good night’s sleep every night and particularly before a day at school. 5-8-year old’s need around 10-12 hours per night, 9-12-year old’s need 9-12 hours and teenagers need 8-10 hours per night. Quality sleep is best achieved with a familiar routine and bedtime pattern that may include bathing, reading (or being read to), a cool and comfortable bed and no additional light or noise sources from TVs or game consoles. If possible, keep electronic devices out of the bedroom at night.
- Helping our children to cope with the additional stress placed upon them has been a key feature of the past 12 months. Exercise, sleep and a healthy diet all help and considering specific stress-reducing techniques may also help – ideas include yoga, meditation, deep breathing, playing and lots of laughter wherever possible.
- Daily exercise is crucial for children of all ages and identifying as many different ways as possible to include movement and activity in your child’s day can help them to sleep better, eat better and feel better generally. It can be easier to get young children outside running around than it is for teenagers, and it can be a full-time job encouraging them to go for a run, walk the dog, lift some weights or play some football, but it is definitely worth it.
- Our gut is particularly important and it is likely that many of us will be experiencing some kind of gut feeling related to anxiety, trepidation or excitement. Some children might even experience tummy aches and/or diarrhoea. Supporting their gut function relies upon all the elements listed already – a healthy diet, hydration, sleep, stress-management, exercise – and can be further supported by serving up lots of vegetables and some fruit and helping to balance the microbiome by adding friendly bacteria to our diet (via fermented and pickled foods) or in supplement form.