Everyone wants their kids to be able to do their best in school, but today’s schools often have lunchrooms filled with poor food choices, vending machines full of high-sugar sodas, and too little physical education time or sports activities…and we wonder why they can’t sit still at their desks. To give your children their best shot at getting a good education, let’s focus (no pun intended) on what you can do to help your children’s brains and learning ability:
- Sleep: It all starts with sleep. Children’s brains (and ours too!) are much better at mental functioning, attention, computation, and memory when they get enough sleep. Their moods are better and they behave better when they sleep enough. Recent studies have supported this by showing that kids’ brains do much better with the structure of a consistent bed time.
- Breakfast: Did I say it all starts with sleep? Well, after a good night’s sleep, it’s time for a good breakfast too. Starting kids’ days off with a good protein source, fresh fruits, or even vegetables is key to giving their brains the energy they need. Try yogurt with granola, breakfast burritos with shredded carrots, or protein-packed smoothees with frozen blueberries for extra brain power.
- Healthy food options: Once you get them out the door with a good breakfast, don’t stop there. Packing your child’s lunch is generally healthier than relying on school lunches. At home, put a fruit bowl out so they walk by it often. Keep soda out of the house (besides all the problems with excess calories, a recent study suggest that kids who drink soda are more aggressive). Keep processed foods to a minimum; certain food additives have been associated with hyperactivity.
- Physical activity: Want to get really active? Try watching the movies Two Angry Moms and Lunch: What are Kids Munching On? to learn how we can take back the lunchroom and provide our children with lunches that are nutritious.
- Good nutrition: To make sure your kids are getting enough nutrients, consider a daily multivitamin. The omega-3 fish oils (especially DHA) are important for brain development and a must for growing kids.
- Less screen time: Television, computers, tablets, and phones all have our kids sitting and staring at one screen or another. In fact, a recent report suggests that kids average eight hours of screen time a day. When my children were in elementary and middle school, we had a 30-minute television limit on school nights. As a result of that TV limit, I found them outside shooting hoops in the driveway or playing kickball in the backyard. I also strongly advise turning off all electronics an hour before bed—this will greatly help calm their minds which will help them get to sleep faster.
- Get moving: Since schools are cutting back on physical education, parents have to take the time to make sure their kids spend at least some of the day doing something active. Exercise is great for kids’ brains; it helps them sleep better, have more confidence and better thinking skills, and improves their moods. When kids are having a tough time with their homework, send them outside to run around in the backyard for 15-20 minutes; it does wonders.
Our children’s brains need to be gently nurtured in order to perform their best. Taking simple steps can really pay off big for our children’s brains.
Let me know what you think of the movies for taking back our lunchrooms and what you are doing to help your children live healthier lives.
*Jamie McManus, M.D., FAAFP, Chair of Medical Affairs, Health Science & Education, Shaklee Corporation.