How to develop healthy habits at the start of a new school year

By Jill Carter, EdM, MA
Health and Wellness Executive Director, Boston Public Schools

As summer comes to an end and your children are settling back into their school routine, it’s the perfect time to help them develop healthy habits they can carry throughout the year. With the creation of a new Wellness Department, Boston Public Schools (BPS) is making your child’s health a top priority this year. We are trying to foster a school environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice.

Research shows that healthy, well-rested children learn better. Healthy habits at home can help children get as much out of their school day as possible. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure children get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep
  • Have your children brush their teeth twice a day, everyday
  • Have your child eat breakfast every morning
  • Eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day. If your kids eat a fruit or vegetable at every snack and meal, they can fit in 5 a day.
  • Limit recreational screen time to fewer than 2 hours a day, and no television for children under 2
  • Be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. Go for a family outing on the weekends. Even including your children in household chores counts as physical activity!
  • Drink lots of water (tap water is fine) and 4 servings of low-fat or skim milk a day
  • Avoid sugar sweetened beverages, like soda
  • Try whole fruits instead of fruit juice
  • Limit fast food to once a week
  • Talk to the school nurse about any medical conditions your child might have

If you’re sending your child to school with lunch and a snack, here are some healthy options:

  • Use whole or multi-grain bread
  • Kids like to eat pieces, so cut up fruit for a snack
  • Try dried fruits, celery, peppers, carrots, low fat yogurt or cottage cheese, pretzels, crackers, and whole wheat pita with hummus

BPS is working hard to ensure your child has healthy options at school by developing Wellness Action Plans. Here’s what BPS is offering to help your kids learn how to eat well:

  • Whole fruit at breakfast everyday
  • 50% of all grains served are whole grains, such as whole grain pizza crust, whole grain and low sugar cereals, and whole grain breads
  • Vending machines only sell water or 100% juice. BPS does NOT sell any sugar-sweetened beverages!
  • Salads
  • Non-fried fish once a week
  • Only skim and low-fat milk
  • Harvest of the Month, which highlights seasonal vegetables such as corn on the cob or sweet potatoes. This program is educational and delicious!

We also want BPS students to be physically active, so we’re making it a part of their daily routine. This year we are using the SPARK (Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids) curriculum with our Kindergarten through 8th grade students, promoting lifelong physical activity and fitness.

“JAMmin’ Minutes” will be incorporated into elementary school classrooms. A JAMmin’ Minute is a one-minute fitness routine that includes simple exercises that students can do while either standing at their desk or sitting on a chair. They are fun, easy to do, and help get the blood flowing again so your child can refocus and get back to learning!

And for older students, the Department of Extended Learning Time, Afterschool, and Services helps kids manage their out-of-school time through academic support and after school activities. Middle and high schools offer sports and intramurals, and frequently link with community partners like New England SCORES, which combines creative writing and soccer.

Together, BPS and families can help children build healthy habits and be the best students they can be.

To become more involved in your child’s healthy home and school habits, please contact your school parent council, wellness council, or school site council.

Image courtesy of The Truth on Health.

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