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Published on June 09, 2020

Establishing Healthy Back-to-School Habits

little boy eating lunch

Kids dread it.

Parents kinda look forward to it.

Back-to-school time.

Primary care provider Dr. Janet Larsen shares some advice for helping school-aged kids put their healthiest and best foot forward for the first day, and following weeks of the new school year.

Tip #1: Get the right amount of sleep

Dr. Janet Larsen: Many students over the summer shift their sleeping habits to staying up late and sleeping in. This can create a great deal of stress during the first few weeks of school as they are re-acclimated to an appropriate sleep schedule.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute to difficulty learning, poor concentration, and decreased problem-solving abilities, not to mention increases in aggressive and/or inappropriate student behavior.

It’s recommended for most school-aged children (age 5-12) to get about 9 to 11 hours of solid sleep per night.

Teens (age 12-18) should get about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. 

Tips #2: Manage back-to-school stress/anxiety

Dr. Larsen: Establishing a consistent sleep routine can help minimize the occurrence of back-to-school stress in students.

Sources of anxiety vary with age – and can affect kindergartners to teens leaving for college.

In many cases, the source can be attributed to social concerns – making new friends – or worries around performance.

Parents can help manage stress by helping their students prepare well in advance of the first day – include students in attending orientation sessions, school tours, purchasing supplies, and doing morning routine run-throughs.

Tip #3: Achieve balanced nutrition, especially at breakfast

Dr. Larsen: Children who regularly eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:

  • Meet daily nutrient requirements
  • Be at a healthy body weight
  • Have better concentration and be more alert
  • Miss fewer days of school

However, not all breakfast is created equally.

Eating many high-glycemic-index foods – which cause powerful spikes in blood sugar – can lead to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

The basics of a healthy breakfast for students include:

  • Whole grains. Examples include whole-grain rolls, bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, low-fat bran muffins, crackers, and Melba toast.
  • Avoid sugary cereals though, and look for cereals with at least of 5 grams of fiber
  • Lean protein. Examples include peanut butter, lean meat, poultry or fish, and hard-boiled eggs.
  • Low-fat dairy. Examples include milk, plain or lower sugar yogurts, and low-fat cheeses, such as cottage and natural cheeses.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Examples include fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, 100 percent juice drinks without added sugar, and fruit and vegetable smoothies. Choose low-sodium versions of beverages, though.

When kids are hungry that they tend to act out more...many teachers will tell you that both teaching and behavior control are most difficult in the hour before lunch

Janet Larsen Meet the Expert

Janet Larsen, MD

Dr. Janet Larsen is board certified in family medicine and also practices pediatric primary care at EvergreenHealth Primary Care in Canyon Park.

Read Dr. Larsen's full bio

Visit Dr. Larsen's website

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