There's nothing like that first minute after your youngest child is out the door and on their way to school. The sudden quiet, the peace that comes over the house, and the very welcome chance to take a breath can be one of the most relaxing moments of the day.
Of course, the minutes leading up to that can be an entirely different story...
From the scramble to get everyone to eat breakfast to the, "but Mo-om, I don't have anything to wear!" crises, going back to school can feel hectic, to say the least. When simply getting everyone to school on time feels like your win for the day, important things like health can unintentionally slip down the priority list, opening the door to those dreaded home-bound down days.
Let's be honest, between extracurriculars, school projects, and family time, your calendar's already full, and it can be tough to keep up with complicated health advice. Instead, simple plans for keeping your kids healthy and happy as they go back to school—that don’t make you feel like you're adding one more thing to your (or their) plate—are the keys to a smooth transition.
These eight tried-and-true, Mom-tested back to school tips will ease you and your kids into a happy, productive school year.
8 Secrets for a Healthy Back to School Season
1. Practice mindfulness.
How your morning goes tends to set the tone for the rest of the day: ideally, you'd have a smooth, calm start that sets you and your kids up for a great day at work and school.
Of course, that's sometimes easier said than done. Busy mornings where you're prodding the kids out of bed, through breakfast, and out the door can leave everyone frazzled, but a simple mindfulness practice may help.
Before you start wondering how on earth you're going to get your kids to sit down and say "Om" for a half-hour at a time, don't worry. You can practice mindfulness simply by encouraging them to observe their surroundings. For instance, try having them go through their senses one by one and talk about what they discover. The act of deliberately paying attention like this can help ground them in the moment and keep them calm, even if they're feeling bored or upset.1
This type of practice also works wonders for back-to-school jitters, reducing the fidgets that make it hard to sit through the day, and helping kids keep their equilibrium if they tend to get swamped by strong emotions, so give it a try!2
Another good way to help kids cultivate a grounded, positive mindset is by teaching them to have a gratitude practice. Every morning or night, have them think of three things they're excited about or three things they appreciate. It sounds incredibly simple, but this type of habit can have big ramifications on their mindset, keeping them happy and giving them a go-to list of things to think about when they're feeling overwhelmed or down.
2. Encourage healthy eating habits by packing gut-friendly lunches and snacks.
School takes a lot of energy, which means that your kids need to have the right nutrition to stay engaged and focused throughout the day. But sometimes it's hard to get kids to eat a solid breakfast that will stick with them until lunchtime, not to mention come up with gut-healthy lunches and snacks they'll actually eat.
The stakes are high enough that it's worth making the effort, though. Eating a filling breakfast is great for your kids' overall health, plus it's closely tied to better performance in school, so do your best to have your kids eat a healthy breakfast that's high in protein and vegetables and low in sugar.3
Likewise, make sure you're packing a variety of foods for their snacks and lunches so they can get a mix of prebiotic fiber and probiotic bacteria. Since most lunches served at schools aren't the healthiest, and because a less-than-ideal diet can change the microbiome fast, it's important to pay attention to what your kids are eating throughout the day.
One great way to help them stay healthy is by adding some gut-friendly snacks to your repertoire. Things like carrot or jicama sticks, apple slices with nut butter, yogurt or kefir containing live cultures, and kiwifruit are all excellent choices, as are bananas or fermented pickles. (Want more healthy snack ideas? Check out our recipe archives for kid-friendly recipes.)
3. Prep for gut health on the go.
Between school, sports practices, music lessons, and all the other extracurricular activities that come along with the school year, afternoons and evenings can be absolutely crazy. That's why it's important to keep stocked up on healthy snacks and water so that nobody has a meltdown––parents included!
Try packing portable gut-healthy snacks for kids to eat en-route to practices or on the way back home. Prebiotic fiber bars are particularly convenient choices, as are smoothies amped up with a scoop of prebiotic powder. And don't forget about water! Staying hydrated plays a big role in your health, moods, and stress levels, so make sure you've got a couple of bottles of filtered water in the car.
While it may seem like a relatively small thing, having a convenient, healthy option makes it that much easier to stick to a gut-friendly choice instead of succumbing to the convenience of fast food.
4. Make time for family dinners.
Family dinners can be an oasis of calm during an otherwise busy day, and multiple studies have shown that eating family dinners together regularly is associated with doing better in school.4
While conflicting schedules might not allow for a long family dinner every single night, do try to have everybody come together for a few minutes as often as possible, even if it's just over something quick and simple. Spending time together helps foster connection, which is hugely beneficial to your health (and your microbiome), while also giving you a chance to catch up with what everybody's doing.
5. Plan tech-free time.
While it's usually not possible to go totally tech-free in the evenings or weekends (with many schools requiring students to do their homework on iPads or similar devices), having even a short break from screen time can be good for your kids' health and academic performance. As you might have heard, spending all day on screens isn't great for kids' development. But did you know why?
One issue is the effects that excess screen time can have on kids' brains. Several studies show that spending a lot of time looking at screens affects the functioning of the prefrontal cortex as well as the brain's in-built reward system, making it harder for kids to concentrate, increasing behavioral problems and moodiness, and leaving them in a chronic state of low-level stress.5
What's more, screen time can interrupt kids' sleep patterns, and a good night’s sleep is directly connected to both gut and overall health. With many kids busy almost right up until bed and then having to get up early to get to school, healthy sleep patterns can easily go out the window unless you make it a point to prioritize them.
6. Talk about tips for connecting.
Sometimes we forget what it's like to be a kid, assuming that our children will naturally make friends or know how to interact with other people. But it's not always that straightforward. Feeling lonely, stressing over making new friends, being isolated from a peer group, or not having strong connections with teachers can make going back to school tough, and it can be really damaging to your kids' health and school performance.6
Research shows that feeling accepted and having a strong friend group (even if it's small) can make a big difference in kids' grades and behavior at school, and having close relationships is key for health, too. Spending time in close contact with other people can also increase your kids' microbial diversity, boost their levels of IgA to give their immune system an extra advantage when it comes to fighting invaders, and reduce their stress levels.7
So if your kids aren't naturally bonding with those around them, it’s a good idea to talk about some tips for connecting. While the best tips are going to vary depending on the age of your child, it's generally beneficial to give them some pointers on starting conversations (for instance, trading likes and dislikes), as well as working on active listening. Younger children may also benefit from some tips on reading facial expressions––children who struggle to read faces accurately are more likely to have trouble in school and when it comes to making friends––but using tools like expression flashcards can help.8
7. Make sure to get outside.
It's not too hard to get kids outside during the summer, but when they're in school all day, then going to extracurricular activities or coming home to several hours of homework at night, it can be harder to make outside time happen.9 It's worth the effort though: spending time outside naturally exposes your kids to more bacteria, which increases their microbial diversity and supports good health. This also "trains" the immune system to react appropriately to stimuli instead of overreacting to every little thing.10
What's more, children who spend more time outside tend to have less stress, fewer behavioral issues, and research has shown that simply living near a green space correlates with maintaining a healthier weight.11,12
8. Pay a little extra attention to immunity.
In many houses, back to school season is also sniffles season. All that extra time spent indoors means exposure to all kinds of bugs, and that can easily translate into a couple of days out of school and in bed.
It's enough to make you want to break out the industrial-sized bottle of hand sanitizer! But before you do, you should know that being overzealous when it comes to hygiene can be just as damaging. Cleansers, especially those that contain antibacterial ingredients like triclosan, can devastate the beneficial bacteria in your kids' microbiomes, leaving them at risk for a number of health issues.
So instead of getting hypervigilant with your cleaning, try using natural cleansers and taking a proactive approach to supporting your kids' immunity. Having them take a premium probiotic like PRO-Kids (and PRO-Kids ENT if they're prone to dental or upper respiratory issues) can also help boost their immune system so they can experience more healthy days.
For all its hustle and bustle, back to school season really is one of the most exciting times of the year. So enjoy it while it lasts––and rest easy knowing that you can keep your family's health top of mind, even when things get busy.
1. Weare, K. (2012). Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People. The Mindfulness in Schools Project.
2. Semple, R.J., Reid, E.F.G., Miller, L. (2005). Treating Anxiety With Mindfulness: An Open Trial of Mindfulness Training for Anxious Children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(4). doi: 10.1891/jcop.2005.19.4.379
3. Adolphus, K., Lawton, C.L., Dye, L. (2013). The Effects of Breakfast on Behavior and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(425). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00425
4. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (2005). The Importance of Family Dinners II. Columbia University: New York.
5. Pearce, R. (2016). What is Screen Time Doing To The Children? Education Today Term 3.
6. Osterman, K.F. (2000). Students' Need for Belonging in the School Community. Review of Educational Research, 70(3). doi: 10.3102/00346543070003323
7. Sternberg, R.J., Weis, K. (2006). The New Psychology of Love. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
8. Goodfellow, S., Nowicki, S. (2009). Social Adjustment, Academic Adjustment, and the Ability to Identify Emotion in Facial Expressions of 7-Year-Old Children. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 170(3). doi: 10.1080/00221320903218281.
9. Galloway, M., Conner, J., Pope, D. (2013). Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools. The Journal of Experimental Education, 81(4). doi: 10.1080/00220973.2012.745469
10. Azad, M.B. Konya, T., Maughan, H., Guttman, D.S., Field, C.J. . . . Kozyrskyj, A.L. (2013) Infant Gut Microbiota and the Hygiene Hypothesis of Allergic Disease: Impact of Household Pets and Siblings on Microbiota Composition and Diversity. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, 9(15) doi: 10.1186/1710-1492-9-15
11. Toftager, M., Christiansen, L.B., Ersbøll, A.K., Kristensen, P.L., Due, P., Troelsen, J. (2014). Intervention Effects on Adolescent Physical Activity in the Multicomponent SPACE Study: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial. PLOS ONE, 9(6). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099369
12. Amoly, E., Dadvand, P. Forns, J. López-Vicente, M. . . . Sunyer, J. (2014). Green and Blue Spaces and Behavioral Development in Barcelona Schoolchildren: The BREATHE Project. Environmental Health Perspectives, 122(12). doi: 10.1289/ehp.1408215
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.