Dr. Jim Sears Shares Healthy Back to School Tips

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Backpacks are packed with shiny and sparkly new school supplies (they can put glitter on ANYTHING these days) and your kids are bouncing off the walls with glee. 

School is starting soon!  And because you’re a fabulous mommy, the number one thing you’re worried about it how to keep your kids healthy now that you’re sending them off to spend their days in a building full of strange germs and “mystery meat” school lunches.

Have no fear, the doctor is here! We sat down with Dr. Jim Sears (from the hit medical show “The Doctors”) to discuss his favorite ways to keep his own kids healthy once the school year starts.

Getting on Sleep Schedule

First things first.  Convincing your children to crawl from the depths of their beds at six a.m. (and sometimes earlier) is a daunting task, especially after a few months of lazy mornings and vacation.  Once school gets back in full swing, will your kids be willing to pop up from their pillows before the sun every day?  If not, Dr. Jim recommends shifting to that sleep schedule NOW before the first day of school arrives.

“One of the best ways to re-establish the school sleep schedule is to concentrate less on the bedtime and more on the wake time,” he says. “Start a week or two before school starts and wake up earlier and earlier so that by the time school starts, they’re waking up at seven thirty of six thirty, whatever time they have to be up for school.  Normally, the bedtime will follow by itself.”

He also noted that a consistent wake-up time will help you to feel more rested because your body gets used to the routine.  Finally, he recommends less sugar and caffeine during the day, which will help your body adjust to a sleep schedule because you won’t be wired when you’re supposed to be growing sleepy.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Once the kids are up and dressed and ready to head out the door, it’s your job to put something nutritious into their bodies so they’ll be focused on school, not hunger, all morning.  But let’s face it – on some mornings breakfast can be a bigger struggle than getting them out of bed!  Dr. Jim was all over the problem:

“I’ve gone through this myself with my kids and waking up in the morning and suddenly everybody’s trying to decide what they want for breakfast, and you’re running late, and it’s very stressful!  So, I make it a point to decide the night before as we’re tucking them into bed.  What’s for breakfast?  What’s for lunch?  We have it all planned out.”

To help with the process, do as much as you can the night before.  Pack lunches, set out stuff for breakfast, whatever will help.  Also, have a certain time that breakfast will be served, so your kids know they have to be dressed, groomed, and prepared for school by that time – in order to eat before heading out.

What are two healthy breakfast ideas in case you miss the breakfast window and have to eat on-the-go?  Dr. Jim recommended a breakfast smoothie.  He has travel cups for his kids with lids and straws lined up on the counter, and fills his blender with frozen berries (strawberries or blueberries, which he keeps frozen in individual serving sizes for just this purpose), protein powder, and some form of milk, be it cow’s milk, almond, rice, coconut, or soy milk.  He whips a large batch, pours some into everyone’s cup, and they’re out the door.

Another option is a yummy PB&B (peanut butter and banana) sandwich.  Dr. Jim says whole wheat bread, peanut butter, bananas and an optional drizzle of honey has the perfect balance of complex carbohydrates and protein to power his children through morning classes.  He calls this balance “brain food” and says it keeps your blood sugar even, so you don’t crash before lunch.

What’s the worst thing you could do at breakfast?  Sugar.  Donuts, muffins, and sugary cereals give your body a bunch of sugar so you get a short burst of energy, but then almost right after getting to school, your blood sugar crashes and the sugar cravings start.  It’s the recipe for a day of low productivity and unhealthy cravings.

Tackling School Lunches

So, you’ve given your family a breakfast that you feel proud of.  They’re pumped with healthy fruits, protein, and complex carbs and ready to make good choices all day.  But what about the cafeteria?  How can you make sure your kids are getting a good healthy lunch?  It’s a shame that cafeteria lunches have gotten so questionable over the years.  The good news is that there are a lot of health initiatives to improve the quality of the school lunch.  By teaching your children which foods to eat, you can rest assured they will have a healthy meal.

Dr. Jim recommends teaching your kids which foods to pick through a traffic light system.  “Green light foods are the ones that help you grow and run fast and red light foods are the ones that are the opposite; they make you feel sluggish and gross.  The yellow lights are the ones in the middle that you can have just a little of.  This helps your kids go, ‘Well, those are fruits and veggies and I can have a lot of those, but that’s fried, so I’m just going to skip that.’”

He also noted that there is more emphasis on having healthy breakfasts and dinners at home if there is question about the quality of their lunch. For the days when you do have the time to pack lunches for your kids, the best way to make sure they have a healthy meal that they will actually eat is to get them involved.  Dr. Jim recommends that you write up a list of about ten meals that you can circulate through three times each month.  It keeps it interesting.

You can make veggie sticks more appealing by including a fun dip, but stay awake from ranch.  Three dips that Dr. Jim loves are guacamole packed with healthy Omega-3s, hummus full of protein, and a tasty homemade dip made from Greek yogurt mixed with a packet of French Onion dip mix. 

Keeping Your Kiddos Healthy

Food talk aside, it’s tough to keep your kids healthy when you’re aren’t around to make sure they’re washing their hands and blowing their nose in a tissue.  The big things to remember are (1) take them to the doctor for a check-up annually, (2) teach them good hand-washing skills from the start and (3) know when to keep them home from school.

First off, it’s hard to take your kid to the doctor when there is nothing wrong with them.  However, according to Dr. Jim, this is very important because there are always new vaccines and tests to make sure your child is healthy.  For example, doctors are now checking cholesterol levels in children.  Also, a recent whooping cough outbreak has doctors recommending that everyone gets a vaccination.  It’s especially important if you have or are involved with itty bitty kids.  Whooping cough in babies is spread most commonly from adults.

If you’re concerned that your child won’t wash his hands enough, make sure you’re setting a good example.  You can encourage them to sing the ABCs or Happy Birthday twice through to make it like a game, but the most effective way to get them to scrub up is to do it yourself.  Dr. Jim says, “If they see you eating fruits and veggies instead of cookies and chips, they will.  If they see you drinking water instead of juice or soda, they’ll do it.  If they see you washing your hands, they’re going to do it too.”

Finally, Dr. Jim knows that it’s tough to keep your child home because then you have to take off work, too, but it’s very important that you know when your child shouldn’t be around other children.

How do you gauge if your kid is well enough to be around peers? “The majority of the time, a child may be a little sick and seem well enough to go to school, but the problem is they’re contagious.  Then, they’re going to get everyone else sick.” Dr. Jim says.  

If your child is running a fever, they should be home because a fever is a sign their body is warding off an infection.  Also, if there is a lot of mucus coming from either the nose or they’re coughing it up, they should be home.

Remember, bacterial infections are easily spread between children.  “If you send them to school, suddenly a couple days later, there are ten more kids whose parents have to make the same decision about sending their kid to school you did.  “If your child seems contagious, fever or mucus coming from anywhere, or diarrhea, keep them home so they aren’t spreading it around school.”

Want more great advice from Dr. Jim Sears? Tune into “The Doctors!” The fifth season kicks off with all new episodes starting on September 10th!

(Photos courtesy CBS Television Distribution / Stage 29 Productions LLC)

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