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Start the School Year Strong—As a Family

Five ways to keep your family healthy and happy as you adjust to the new school year Christian Weaner

Healthy Family

Summer has come to an end and a new school year is upon us once again.

A new year means new beginnings for your children, whether they are heading off to pre-K for the first time this year or entering their senior year of high school. But a new school year also brings new opportunities for the whole family to develop healthy rhythms and routines that will define the next nine months of early mornings, packed lunches and extracurricular activities.

So, I’d like to make a few suggestions—five, to be exact—that will help your family stay happy and healthy together throughout this new school year.

Eat healthy (and local!) together. With the kids off at school during the day, evening meal times provide an important opportunity for your family to connect and create healthy eating habits together.

Studies show that children and adolescents’ eating habits are largely shaped by their family. One 2017 study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that better diet quality and regular family meals improves overall family satisfaction.

If possible, try to have at least one meal per day where the whole family can eat together distraction-free.

Also, as parents or guardians, it is essential to model healthy eating habits for your children. Give your kids healthy snack options, like fruits or vegetables, that are as easy to access as other sugary or salty snacks.

For example, instead of having cereal or crackers sitting around, try leaving fresh apples and oranges on the counter or placing small bags of carrot sticks in the fridge for kids to grab when they are hungry.

Another way to support healthy eating habits in your family is by shopping locally for produce and making home-cooked meals as often as possible.

For those living in North Idaho and Eastern Washington, Idaho Food Works has a number of helpful tools to help you find locally sourced food options in your area. You can use their “Taste of Home” tool to find local farms, community gardens and retailers, or check out their seasonal recipes to get inspired this fall.

Turn OFF the technology. Another helpful routine that goes hand-in-hand with family mealtimes is reducing screen time as a family. With the increased use of technology during the school and workday, kids (and adults) need a break from media consumption.

According to the CDC, children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen. It goes without saying that statistics like this have a myriad of potential negative consequences for children, including sleep problems, academic struggles and poor self-esteem.

Therefore, choose to make your evenings technology-free, or at least limit your family’s screen time to two hours or less per day. Turning off your electronics will help your family connect with one another and learn how to have fun without needing digital entertainment.

The importance of family fitness. Once you cut back on your media consumption, your family will have more time for building other healthy habits together, like exercising every day.

This school year, find time in your family’s daily routine for 30 minutes or an hour of family play time. Consider some enjoyable family fitness activities, like playing tag or hopscotch with your younger children or riding bikes and shooting basketball with your older kids.

Making time to stay active can help you set and achieve health and fitness goals as a family. Maybe your family will plan to stay active this fall in order to run or walk in your local turkey trot race together in November?

Think of some ideas that might work for your family and be creative! The important thing is that you, your spouse and your children can enjoy your time being active together.

Sleep is SUPER important. As I am sure you are already well aware, a consistent sleep schedule is paramount for increased energy, creativity and happiness in adults and children alike.

If your family’s sleep habits were stretched or adapted during the summertime, I would recommend getting back to a normal routine as soon as possible this school year. A recent University of Washington article suggests that teenagers need nine to 10 hours of sleep per night, while school-aged children require 10 or more. And of course, do not neglect your own sleep routine either.

It’s tempting to want to stay up late and unwind after the kids go to bed, but remember that the recommended sleep time for adults is seven to eight hours. Modeling healthy sleep hygiene is important as a parent or guardian. Not to mention that the extra shuteye will give you an added boost to help get you through the afternoon lull without needing that third cup of coffee.

Make memories that matter. If you have not noticed, most of these healthy family habits are all correlated and interconnected in one way or another—and that is on purpose!

Creating rhythms and routines that lead to a healthier and happier family is not so much about the specific actions as it is about cohesiveness, support and encouragement. When everyone in your family is on board with a few simple initiatives like these, everyone will be encouraged to learn and grow together.

So, my final suggestion to you is simply this: Make memories together.

Whether you are embarking on a road trip for the weekend or enjoying a family game night, let every moment together be a reminder of the blessing it is to have your family alongside you.

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