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Back to health and nutrition: Experts offer tips to help students return to in-person classrooms

Back-to-school time means it’s time to return to healthy habits to boost student learning.

It’s also a good time for parents to have check-in conversations with children to help ease anxieties – especially following more than a year of changing school schedules, virtual learning and cohorts, thanks to COVID-19.

Dena Klein, a West Valley School District counselor, said parents know their children and what they can comprehend. Expect a lot of questions this fall.

“Do have conversations with your children about what’s going on at their level,” Klein said. “Be honest with them.

“They’re going to have a lot of questions about things that happened over the summer, about COVID, why they have to be 3 feet apart or 6 feet apart, why they have to wear a mask. I would be honest and upfront and remind them that everybody’s in it and hopefully we will get past this stage in life.”

Other talking points can include reminders that school is where they get to learn but also where fun activities happen. Klein encourages parents or guardians also help children learn about the use of mindfulness practices:

• Talk about being mindful about your body, such as do you feel hot, shaky or hungry?

• Teach children skills such as mindful breathing, requesting breaks or drawing out their emotions on paper so that adults around them can better understand. Mindful breathing is taking a slow, deep breath in through the nose while counting to five, then exhaling through the mouth at a count of five. “Train your children to slow their breathing down so their heart rate goes down, and they feel less emotions in their bodies,” Klein said.

• Maybe encourage use of a stress ball or something they can do with their hands while learning.

A good time to have a short check-in talk with children is when they get home from school, Klein said. “It could be a simple conversation about some anxieties. Ask them what are the fun things they did or what are they looking forward to the next day.”

The many adjustments following online education could mean that fitness and nutrition also have slipped. Darius Howard, a MÜV Fitness district manager in Spokane Valley, has tips he gives to families for this new season, including:

Exercises. If children don’t have a gym class at school, Howard said there are some quick activities to encourage before school and in the afternoon when they return home.

“Some of my favorite exercises I like to do with my kids to get them moving include jumping jacks, getting them to run by playing tag or freeze, bear crawls, crab walks and body weight squats,” he said. “These are easy and fun ways to get their heart rate up and activate their muscles.”

Nutrition. Howard hears the question about what is the best breakfast for students or how to serve up energy snacks that will offer the best nutrient-rich boost. He starts off with produce.

“For breakfast, you can make a fruit and veggie smoothie or protein shake and sprinkle in flax and chia seeds packed with omega-3s,” Howard said. If there isn’t an allergy, add some peanut butter for protein and flavor.

A bowl of fruit is another great way for them to start their day, Howard said. For snacks, he recommends yogurt, popcorn, celery with peanut butter and raisins or trail mix if there isn’t a nut allergy.

A recent blog from Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. has tips to select and prepare the best produce for school snacks or lunches:

• When picking apples, select one that is firm with smooth skin. The apple should smell fresh. Get creative when preparing apples for a kid, rather than cut up slices, by making them into animal shapes, such as a duck, for a fun lunchbox surprise.

• Bananas should be firm and without any bruises. The greener a banana is, the longer it must ripen on the counter. Keep bananas in a paper bag or unsealed produce bag to aid ripening, but avoid placing them in direct sunlight. Bananas can be used in homemade acai bowls. Blend up the banana to create your base, then you can add berries and sliced bananas to the top.

• Avocados should be firm but give gently to some pressure when ripe. Unripe avocados can be ripened at home in the same way as a banana. For a snack, spread mashed-up avocados on a piece of sliced celery and top with halved cherry tomatoes.

• Pineapples and melons: Pineapples should be hard or firm and have fresh green leaves. Avoid soft or dark spots. These fruits typically are ready to eat when purchased. With pineapples, make your favorite pancakes, and before flipping over, add a slice. Melons should look spherical, feel waxy and heavy for size and be firm. The melon’s color doesn’t affect quality. Cut your melons into balls and add them with other fruits to a stick for an easy kabob.

General health tips. MultiCare Rockwood outlined ideas in a recent newsletter, including the reminder that with a new school year, it’s time for students’ physicals if still undone. Annual child wellness visits keep children updated on immunizations, developmental screenings, mental health checks, dental assessments and refills on prescriptions, inhalers and more.

Additionally, MultiCare offers these ideas:

• Try to eat a rainbow of colors every day. Different colors of fruits and vegetables offer a broad range of vitamins and minerals that help support a healthy immune system. Opt for whole fruits and vegetables instead of juices, gummies and pouches.

• Ensure plenty of sleep. Depending on the age of the child, kids should be getting anywhere from eight to 12 hours of sleep daily. Chronic sleep deprivation can have an adverse effect on the immune system and contribute to depression and learning difficulties.

• If gathering with friends or family, choose outdoor venues and social distance as much as possible because of COVID-19 variants that remain in the community. With the delta variant prevalent, avoid confined spaces with others.

• Wear a mask over your nose and mouth when in indoor areas with others even if you are fully vaccinated.

• Continue coaching children on a proper hand-washing technique (20 seconds) and remind them to avoid touching their faces – especially eyes, nose and mouth. Pack a hand sanitizer bottle in their backpack and lunchbox for an easily accessible option at school.

• As soon as eligible, ask about getting children vaccinated against COVID-19. Any concerns or questions about the vaccine can be directed to your child’s pediatrician.

Spokane Public Schools also has frequently asked-questions around COVID-19 and staying healthy at spokaneschools.org/backtoschool2021.

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