Alabama Extension agents help parents and students get back into a healthy school routine
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — After a few months away from the classroom and a regular school routine, the summer fun is winding down and it’s time to get back to alarm clocks and school bells.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) can provide healthy lifestyle tips for helping students start the school year off strong.
Get Enough Sleep
The catalyst for a good routine is getting enough sleep each night. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most school-age children (ages 6 to 12) need between nine and 12 hours of sleep each night. Additionally, the CDC recommends at least eight to 10 hours of sleep each day for teenagers.
Torie Ennis, SNAP-Ed regional Extension agent for Etowah County, said sleep is important for daily functioning.
“If you think about how you feel after a good night’s sleep and then the opposite, a bad night’s sleep, you realize there is a correlation,” Ennis said. “If you sleep well, you should feel rested when you wake—energized for the day.”
Good morning routines start the night before, Ennis said. Start the routine about an hour and a half before bedtime with a bath or shower, reading a book or talking without television or electronic devices.
“Try to avoid any screen time during this wind-down phase. This tricks our body into staying awake,” Ennis said. “Moreover, be consistent. Schedules shift and life gets hectic, but keeping a consistent time for bedtime helps tell your body when it is time for rest.”
Meals at School
The National School Breakfast Program provides more than 12 million balanced breakfasts each day to students throughout the country. Research shows that children who eat breakfast at school have better attendance, fewer missed school days and better test scores.
Michelle Puckett, SNAP-Ed regional Extension agent in Barbour County, said for parents or caregivers who opt for breakfast at home, it is important to include whole grains, fruit and lean protein in the morning.
“Limit super sugary foods, like donuts or breakfast cakes because they will cause a spike in blood sugar, giving kids temporary energy and they’ll crash later that morning in class,” Puckett said. “Things like whole grains, dairy and lean protein will stick with them longer and keep them full until lunchtime.”
For an example of a breakfast recipe, check out the Sunrise English Muffin recipe on LiveWellAlabama.com under the recipes section.
As a parent, Puckett said lunch is one thing she doesn’t worry about because the National School Lunch Program provides what students need.
“As a parent, I always felt good about my child eating school lunch because I knew they would get everything they needed in that one meal,” Puckett said. “I knew all the food groups were going to be offered.”
After School Snacks
When students get home from school, an after-school snack is a great opportunity to provide additional healthy nutrients that help hold them over between the final bell and dinner.
Ennis said a little planning can go a long way to ensure everyone is satisfied between meals.
“The best trick in the book is to take time before the week begins to prepare fruits and vegetables so they are accessible to your kids,” Ennis said. “It only takes 15 minutes to cut up and place a few fruit or vegetable options in the door of the fridge for your kids to reach. This way they can choose what they would like and you have your hands free for cooking dinner.”
Puckett said the key here is to keep the snack light so they will be hungry for dinner. Also, allowing children to prepare a snack with healthy options will give them ownership, increasing the chances of making a good choice.
Keep Them Active
The Alabama State Department of Education requires a minimum of 30 minutes of daily physical education instruction for kindergarten through fifth grade. The minimum requirements increase to 50 minutes each day for grades sixth through eighth. The CDC recommends children have at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity.
Puckett said the easy option is to get them back outside after school before dinner. If the weather doesn’t cooperate with high temperatures or rain, think about an activity with a movement component. She said instead of a stationary card game, look for a game that has them stand up and move to play.
“The more physical activity they can do the better because they’re going to sleep better. They’re going to get more energy out,” Puckett said. “Also, they’re going to be hungry when they sit down for dinner. Any type of physical activity will be beneficial to children.”
Ennis said other ideas could include keeping a walking nature journal by giving children a notebook or camera and encouraging them to document things they find in their environment.
“This allows them to use their senses, work on vocabulary and keep moving,” she said.
Ennis said YouTube also has plenty of age-appropriate physical activity games that will keep young ones moving and laughing.