Yes, here we are: a new school year! Like our children, we will have forgotten some of what we knew when school let out, making this an important time to renew the good habits of ‘last year.’
One of the most important lessons to remember is the value of healthy food choices. School is where children go to learn, play and develop skills so it is particularly important for them to be properly ‘fueled’ for success. That means making sure they have a healthy lunch and snacks for school-time. Dietitians of Canada remind us that during their school career, your child will eat as many as 2,400 school lunches — help by making them healthy! Because many kids could have as little as 15 minutes to eat their lunch, make it easy for them by keeping it simple: peel oranges, slice fruit, include small servings and use easy-to-open containers.
Creating tasty, nutritious school lunches can be a challenge, but there are ways to improve the odds they will be eaten. Start by getting your child to help. They are more likely to eat a lunch they were involved in making. Let your child choose some of the foods to include. As you do, teach them to include foods from at least three of the four food groups of Canada's Food Guide. Remember that more than any other meal, your child controls what they eat for lunch. Make it easy for them to choose an apple over a bag of chips or chocolate bar.
Now that your child has a healthy lunch, consider how they will carry it. We don’t mean a bag or lunchbox, rather, this is a good time to review how much a child will be packing on their back to and from school. Many students carry school backpacks every day containing books, supplies and yes, lunch. As children begin to enter middle school, they will likely need to carry more and more. This is the time to remember that a too-heavy backpack will not only be uncomfortable, but may also lead to physical problems now and later in life.
How much weight can they carry? At most, 15 to 20 percent of their body weight. If you see your child showing discomfort putting on or taking off a backpack, that is a sign that the backpack is too heavy or the weight is badly distributed. Teach your children to lift with their knees and how to organize items in the pack. Place heavier items low and toward the center, and remind them to carry only items that are required for the school day or for homework.
Now that your student has a healthy lunch and a suitable way of carrying their stuff, let’s discuss transportation. For many children, the bus is the primary option for getting to school. Teaching them a few simple rules early on will help your child stay safe. Start by getting them to the bus stop at least five minutes before pickup time — they should never run after the school bus to try to catch it. While waiting, he or she should stay on the sidewalk, well away from the roadway until the bus has come to a full stop and the door opens. For younger children especially, teach them to take two big steps away from the bus when they get off.
For some children, Mom, Dad or older sibling will be the transporter. In this case, it’s the driver who should remember the rules. Make sure to use designated drop-off and pick-up zones, Go Slow! — a few seconds will not make you late and it could mean a child doesn’t get hit in the congestion. Remember, they’re excited to be at school and won’t be watching out as much.
Back to school is an exciting time for children of all ages. Help them by making sure they eat healthy and stay safe every day.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.