It’s September! It’s back to school, work, routine, and long days. It’s a big adjustment for us all, and an even bigger one for our little people.
As parents, we do our best to help our children slide back into the school routine without too much upheaval. We make sure they have warm clothes that fit, get them to bed early, get them up in time to catch the bus, and keep them well fed. Sure sounds easy! But truthfully, it’s exhausting and can go pretty freakin’ sideways in a hurry.
A few tips to help the wee ones get back into the swing of school:
- Start early: If the first day of the week is dreadfully hard, then start one day earlier. Prepare for Monday on Sunday. Wind them down by keeping this day low-key, get them to bed on time, and encourage them to get out of bed at a decent time in the morning.
- Give them lots of notice: Kids do not generally like to be surprised by a change in plans. Let them know, far in advance, about how it’s all gonna go down (what times, who’s driving, what’s happening after school, etc). Advanced notice helps kids stay calm and feel safe.
- Stick to a fairly rigid routine throughout the school week: Adaptation happens quicker and with much more success when a new routine gets established and stays that way. Getting wobbly on snack times, after school play dates, homework, and bedtimes, only encourages further chaos. Keep it simple, but keep it the same.
- Do not over-schedule them: I see this a lot. Parents get super excited about the new afterschool offerings and don’t want their kids to miss out on all the fun stuff. Understandable. Problem is, the next thing they know, their child is having melt downs, falling asleep in their dinner, and not able to concentrate at school. Trust me, there will be time for loads of exciting activities, but after they are settled in their new routine. Allowing them to adjust in a slow and calm fashion ensures more balanced moods and teaches them patience.
- Limit the screens: I am not a big fan of screens to begin with, I’ll admit, but it does have a time and place in this 20th century life. Especially for young people, and particularly during times of change and possible stress, it’s better to keep unnatural stimulation to a minimum. Keeping the environment quiet and calm after a very busy and over-stimulating day at school can help re-balance the brain and the nervous system, increasing recovery and preparing for rest. Try going for walks, playing a board game, or reading.
Wait a sec…
I’m not done with you yet!
Although I have occasional moments of brilliance when it comes to parenting advice, I admit it is not exactly my area of expertise. So here’s your dietary blurb on getting your kids bodies, bellies, and brains all geared up for another fantastically challenging year at school.
The Key To Balanced Kids at School: Blood Sugar Stability
Children are much more volatile than adults when it comes to food. They react more to irritants, they often show signs of deficiencies and intolerances that adults don’t generally have, and they are much more affected by fluctuating glucose (blood sugar) levels.
Incase this is unclear, I am happy to scream it from the mountaintops (cause I live in the country and that’s easier than climbing on somebody’s roof): the biggest key to keeping your kids happy, healthy, and focused at school is stabilizing blood sugar!!. Funny thing is, it’s a very simple thing to do (don’t you love that!).
What is blood sugar stabilization?
Simple sugars are carbohydrates that are quickly absorbed by the body to produce energy. Present in both natural (honey, maple syrup, fruits, and dairy) and processed foods (boxed cereals, cookies, crackers, candy, chocolate), these sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose), bypass the digestive system and speed their way into the blood system. This results in energy spikes that, in turn, plummet quickly. We call this the blood sugar rollercoaster, much more obvious in children. By avoiding processed sugars, and consuming natural simple sugars in moderation, at the proper times, and combined with other nutrient dense foods, blood sugar levels can easily be moderated and balanced in a way that prevents much of the ups and downs and long term issues.
Common problems with fluctuating blood sugar include:
- Mood swings
- Disruptive behavior (like swinging fists, screaming, whining, and general wee-little-pains-in-the-you-know-what)
- Energy spikes and crashes
- Lack of concentration
- Poor food choices
- Increased risk of developing diabetes and other degenerative diseases
Recognize anything here?
Easy Ways to Tame the Crazy-Eyed Blood Sugar Dragon:
- Macronutrient Balance: Always the first on my blood sugar stabilizing advice list! Rule of thumb: carbohydrates + protein + fat = happy kids. Humans need all three of these macronutrients, which is why they are the big guns when it comes to food departments. Carbohydrates give us energy, protein helps us to build and repair (cells, muscles, organs), and fats enable proper brain function, nutrient absorption, and insulation. Since our kids are growing so fast, it is of utmost importance for them to get all three macronutrients in abundance and regularity. It just so happens that the best way to ensure stable blood sugars is to feed them all three at every meal and snack time.
- Breakfast: I know, I know, you’ve heard it so many times before. Ok, but let me explain why breakfast plays such a crucial role in blood sugar stability. We wake up low because we haven’t eaten for at least 12 hours and don’t generally have any leftover fuel to get us through the morning. So what we put in next can either slam us into the roof with fast absorbing glucose (think muffins, sugary boxed cereals, store bought granola, fruit yogourt loaded with sugary syrup, you get the picture) or set us up for a calm and focused morning (eggs + avocado + kamut toast, chia pudding + homemade granola + fruit, banana almond butter oatmeal with chia). Think long-lasting energy and nurturing.
- Ready Made Snacks: This sounds a little easier than it tends to be for busy parents. My advice here is to keep it whole foods and easy. Have a few cut up vegetables, washed and ready to go, on hand. If you have the time, a protein-dense veggie dip would be ideal, but nut/seed butters or salad dressing would work. Have a nut mix handy, these are easy to make at home, simple, and free of additives and unnecessary sugars, or a homemade energy cookie/bar. Fresh fruit, toast and avocado, rice crackers and homemade (or organic store bought) hummus, are some other good ideas. If there isn’t anything ready for afterschool, they will reach for anything and everything and snack themselves silly on chips, crackers, and whatever else they can find. Try my latest power cookie recipe!
- Have Dinner Early: Kids are hungry afterschool, period. Having a ready made snack should tie them over for a couple of hours, but given too large a gap in time, their blood sugar will drop and they will either snack their way to suppertime and miss the main event, eat too quickly, which is hard on the digestive system, or miss their window and just be too tuckered to bother spooning it in. Try to be diligent on school nights and serve supper by 5:30/6 and have weekends be a little more free and flexible.
- Talk to Your Kids About Blood Sugar: Kids are smart and the more they know now, the better equipped they will be for the rest of their eating lives. It is SO important for our littles to not only understand the difference between good quality whole food and the poorer options out there, but WHY eating a certain way will be advantageous or detrimental to their body and their life quality. Kids want to know why, it’s the reason they ask us a million questions a day. Little drops of information here and there and consistency in teaching is the best way to get the big message across.
- Ensure They Are Drinking Enough Water: Kids should, ideally, be consuming at least 1 – 1.5 litres of water every single day and slightly more during the summer months. By water, I mean water! This does not include juices, pops (ugh! did I even say that?), or water containing foods.
- And Lastly, Be A Good Example: Your kids will eat what you eat and eat the way you eat. Be aware that you are modeling for them every moment they are with you and even when they are not. Be your best eater, your kids can thank you later (but, don’t hold your breath), and see health improvements in yourself along the way!
For more information on this topic, great meal and snack ideas, samples, a 3-day meal plan, and endless awesome food advice, join me for my upcoming workshop “Feeding Healthy Kids”