Back-to-School Tips

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Aug 25, 2009 9:05 AM
By Anne Wareham

September brings a plethora of thoughts into the average parental mind - school supplies, homework, rushed mornings, new clothes, packed lunches, sports and activities, money and more. But is anyone thinking about the importance of a healthy lifestyle?

To lead well-balanced, healthy lives, we need to make time for nutrition, activity and mental health. In order for our children to live healthy lives, we must show them how by modeling it. This is an excellent time of year to change old habits or create new routines. This year, try the following tips to help get your family on the right track to eating well, being active and feeling good.

Remember that small changes matter. It will not only add years to your lives, but life to your years!


Be mindful of the amount of processed food you eat. Processed food is usually high in sodium and preservatives and low in nutritional value. Also, be aware of how often you eat fast food. Even the "healthy" options are higher in saturated fat and sodium than what you would prepare at home. Instead of eating out, make your own "fast food" - low fat burgers with whole-wheat buns, spaghetti sauce and whole-grain spaghetti, or even French toast.

Research shows that more than 80 per cent of children don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, so include one with each meal and snack. We should all try to eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Eating enough fruit during the day may eliminate the craving for sweets at night.

Eat family meals together at least three times per week (with the TV turned off). There are so many reasons why this is important. For example, we tend to eat slower, healthier and in smaller portions when we are relaxed and together at mealtime. This is also a time to laugh, connect with family members and get kids involved in meal choices and preparation.


Choose one to two activities for each family member that they enjoy doing and do it. Activities need to be based on the interests of the child (not what other children are doing). Over-programming children makes them irritable and stressed. Similarly, choose an activity for yourself that is based on what you enjoy, not on how many calories it burns. If you enjoy an activity, you will do it...and keep doing it. Otherwise, it becomes a passing fad.

Reduce your screen time. Computer, video and TV time shouldn't total more than two hours per day, excluding work-related activities. This is true for all family members. Long hours of TV viewing are particularly bad for your health as you are cued by commercials to eat unhealthy snacks. You are also less receptive to internal cues that tell you when you are full. As a result, you tend to overeat on nutrition-poor food.

"Wiggle" more. As a society, we wiggle less on a minute-to-minute basis. Try to build in daily habits that increase your wiggle factor. Sit on an exercise ball while you watch TV, stretch every hour, take the stairs, park farther from the door. Some of these things can also reduce your stress level.

Feel Good

Have fun with your family members on a regular basis. This builds good relationships. Liking your children as well as loving them is very important to your child's self-esteem and to your enjoyment of your child. Try to do things together for enjoyment value (not to discuss problems).

Schedule down time. "...unstructured child's play - the kind with no rules, few gizmos and a little or no adult direction - packs a powerful developmental wallop." (MacPherson, 2002). Playtime helps kids develop imagination, problem-solving skills, social skills and more. It is often undervalued in today's society, which favours structured physical activities and directed learning. However, both structured and unscripted play are important to children's development and need to be balanced. Consider allowing your child to choose just two to three extracurricular activities, so there will be time for free play.

Find peace or joy in the mundane moments. We all have them - the first sip of coffee in the morning, a cool breeze on a hot day or an unexpected hug from your child. Some people find this through meditation, spirituality or activity. Begin writing these moments down and notice how they increase in frequency.

Anne Wareham is a Clinical Psychologist and Coordinator of the Janeway Lifestyle Program in St. John's. She is also co-chair of the Body Image Network (NL). The Janeway Lifestyle Program is committed to helping all children in the province eat well, be active and feel good about themselves.