With the first day of school right around the corner, it’s a busy time of the year for parents and children alike. Between shopping for school supplies, picking the perfect backpack, finding an outfit for the first day, and trying to make the most out of the remaining days of summer—there’s a lot going on!
This is one of the most important times of the year because getting your children off to a great start for the new school year, no matter their age, will help set them up for success all year long. That includes laying a foundation for optimal health too! Here are back to school tips for parents to help younger children, teens and college students with wellness all year long.
Back to School Tips for Younger Children
The transition from carefree summer days to school-year schedules is never easy, especially for younger children. They may be used to staying up later, sleeping in longer, and having less structure in their days overall. Here’s a helpful list for getting healthy a start to the school year.
Get Back on Track with Sleep
Don’t wait until the night before classes start to adjust bedtimes. Start at least a few days ahead, or even a week in advance if possible, to help them adjust to new sleeping patterns gradually. Set bedtimes and wakeup times that slowly shift back to the school year schedule so they won’t be tired in class. If you've let the bedtime routine slide (like we do in summer), start re-establishing their bedtime routine about 7-10 days before school starts. One of our hypoallergenic, plant-based favorites for bath time is Calming Baby Bubble Bath & Wash - Lavender Meadowsweet.
Limit Device Time, Especially at Night
The light from electronic devices can disrupt the body’s melatonin production and make it more difficult to get to sleep.1 Set a screen-time cutoff an hour before bedtime and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. To help make bedrooms a "No Cellphone Zone," create a designated charging station in the kitchen or living room where devices can be placed at night.
Go for a Vision Check
Scheduling annual eye exams for children ahead of the school year is a good idea. Don’t assume that your child’s vision is great if he or she hasn’t complained about it. Healthy vision is important for a successful school year, and making it a part of your back to school checklist is a great way to make sure it doesn’t get forgotten.
Start Thinking About School Lunches Early
If you pack lunch for your children, check with the school in advance to get updated allergen policies so you can plan lunches that are healthy and safe for everyone, and stock your pantry with nutritious, healthy options to pack. Opt for protein-rich options since protein will keep your little one feeling full for longer during the day.2 It’s difficult to concentrate with a rumbling tummy! Sometimes it's hard for children to finish their lunches as they settle into the new school routine. Pack a few of their favorite meal items, and think snack-size bites for protein, fruit and vegetables to help encourage eating.
Read Pack Your Pantry: How to Make a Real Food Pantry for ideas on healthy staples to keep on hand.
Refresh Your Children on Basic Hygiene Principles
Remind young children about hygiene principles while at school like washing their hands after playing with shared toys, playing outside, going to the bathroom, and before eating. Also, remind them to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue or arm if they cough or sneeze. You might consider keeping some hand sanitizer wipes and a few tissues in their backpack for emergencies. When your children arrive home from school, it's a good idea to get them in the habit of washing their hands after they take of their shoes and store their backpack. Check out our bestselling hand soaps, including Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, Dr. Bronner's and more.
Stock Your Vitamin Cabinet with Healthy Essentials for Children
Growing bodies need a range of nutrients to stay healthy. Fill in nutritional gaps with an age-appropriate, daily children’s multivitamin. And stock children’s immune health essentials like zinc and vitamin C, elderberry syrup, and echinacea drops.
Back to School Tips for Teens
Many of the tips above are great for teens too, including resetting sleeping schedules, limiting screen time, going for an annual vision check, and keeping immune health essentials on hand, but here are some additional back to school tips for teens.
Get a Healthy Start Every Day
Your teen may be in charge of his or her own breakfast by now, and that’s great! Encouraging independence is important, but so is a balanced breakfast to get the day started right. Stock healthy, easy to make options like yogurt with granola and berries, and if cereal is on the breakfast menu make sure it’s high in protein and not just full of carbs to avoid a midmorning crash and related brain fog.
Make Time for Real Talk
If your teen is in the habit of just replying “it was fine” when asked about the school day, dig a little deeper to get him or her talking more. Teenage years can be stressful. And emotional health can affect overall health and concentration, so make sure your teen knows you are there to listen and that he or she isn’t alone in dealing with life’s challenges. During car rides and before bed can be a good time to try to engage your teen in a conversation about their day.
Encourage Healthy Habits
The habits developed now will follow your children into adulthood, so be an enabler of good habits that will affect your child’s health long term. Teach him or her how to prepare balanced lunches for school, how to manage stress, and how to stay organized and establish a helpful routine (which will also help mitigate stress). And if your child isn’t involved in sports or getting regular activity, help him or her make daily activity a habit too.
After school activities are great, but if your teen is always busy with homework and scheduled activities with little room for downtime, it may be time to rethink some of those extracurricular activities and limit them to what he or she truly enjoys. It’s important for children to have time to rest and recover, spend time with family, and to exercise their own imagination.
Nutritional Needs for Teens
Children of all ages, including teens, should fill in nutritional gaps with a multivitamin. Modern diets aren’t always up to the task of meeting our nutritional needs even for adults, and this can be compounded by the fact that teens can be picky eaters.3
Multivitamins aren’t a replacement for healthy habits and a diet rich in nutritional foods, but they do help cover the bases. Also, consider adding an omega-3 supplement to your teen’s wellness routine. Studies show it may help with focus, concentration, mood and overall wellbeing.4 Magnesium may be a good option as well, since it helps mitigate stress and anxiousness.5 But talk with your doctor before giving supplements to children.
Back to School Tips for College Students
Seeing your child off to college this year? Whether it’s the first semester or final year, you can help your college-aged child thrive this school year. Here are some tips for staying healthy in college.
Make it Easy to Eat Healthy
Teach your child how to keep a dorm room stocked with healthy options like nuts, seeds, nut butters, dried fruits, and easy to prepare foods like soups, canned tuna, chicken and veggies, whole wheat pasta, tomato sauce, tortilla wraps, etc.
Students will be less likely to reach for unhealthy vending machine snacks or order pizza as often with quick options readily available.
Send a quick note with a care package of healthy snacking options a few times a year. Want an easy way to keep healthy food stocked? Check out Swanson’s EasyRefill. You can schedule regular deliveries of healthy essentials and pantry items in a snap, and it’s simple to change the delivery schedule, swap out items or cancel anytime.
5 Favorite Snacks for College Students
100% Certified Organic Freeze-Dried Strawberry Slices: Strawberries are good in so many ways. They satisfy a sweet tooth. They're high in healthy fiber. But they aren’t always in season and they don't keep very long in the fridge. The solution? Fresh, freeze-dried organic strawberries that keep in the cupboard and plump up when you're ready for them.
Whole, Raw Cashews – Unsalted: Cashews are a natural source of fiber and iron and offer 5 grams of protein per ¼ cup serving. Often mistaken as a nut, this seed is nutritious and a great snack to keep on hand at college.
Kameda Crisps - Sweet Chili: Kameda Crisps are the perfect savory snack. They’re baked and have a delicious, savory flavor with a hint of sweetness. The zingy taste and crunch make it a great replacement for traditional, high-fat potato chips.
Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew Bars: These bars are an amazing alternative to candy bars. They pack in irresistible flavor plus antioxidant fruits and nuts. They’re wheat and gluten free, non-GMO, very low in sodium and provide 3 grams of fiber per bar.
Peanut Chocolate Chip Handcrafted Energy Snacks: Made with nuts and seeds, these snacks are a delicious, chocolaty way to keep you energized. They are bite-sized, so they're perfect for on-the-go eating. These snacks are also gluten free, certified USDA organic and vegan.
Reinforce Good Habits & Energize Healthfully
College puts a lot of pressure on young minds to succeed. That can add up to late nights fueled by caffeine, followed by early mornings struggling to focus in class. Many students don’t know there’s a better way, or that pulling all-nighters may actually hurt their performance instead of help.
Teach your college student productivity tips and tricks like studying in focused bursts of 20-30 minutes followed by a 5-10 minute break. And remind him or her that exercise, healthy eating, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep helps more with overall productivity, concentration and energy levels than caffeine and all nighters.
Set the Stage for Healthy Learning & Restful Recovery
Spending a lot of time studying in a small dorm room or college apartment can be mentally draining, and it may even have physical repercussions if the environment isn’t optimized. Make sure your student has a desk for studying to discourage slumping over while studying in bed. Encourage a change of scenery now and then like studying in a library, park or coffee shop.
And help him or her make the most out of a dorm bedroom to promote restful sleep. Provide alternatives to overhead lights so the lights can be dimmed at night to help the body wind down and prepare for sleep, and add a folding privacy screen to help block out light from other roommates that may stay up late.
Stay Tuned in to Mental Health Needs
College years mark a transition into adulthood, and this transitionary period comes with plenty of stress and emotional challenges. Make sure your child knows that while you may not be there in person, you’re still there to talk.
If your child seems to be struggling, schedule an appointment for him or her with a counselor or therapist. It’s usually more effective to work through major challenges with a qualified professional than a close family member alone. College and universities usually have staff available at their wellness centers to help students. It's a good idea to research these options when your child enrolls in school to better understand the resources available to them on campus.
Build & Support Self-Care Routines
Teach your college student about the importance of self-care and how to create a self-care routine. Learning how to nurture their best self will help keep students feeling healthy and happy, and allow them to perform at their best. Read Take Care of U: 6 Ways to Take Care of Yourself, 11 Best Self-Care Tips for Mind & Body for ideas to share, and pack a college self-care starter kit including sleep essentials like a sleep mask, essential oils and chamomile tea.
5 Supplements for College Students
Noisy roommates, cafeteria meals and endless studying can take a toll. A daily multivitamin is important for meeting core needs, and other supplements may also help. Here are our top 5 supplements for college students.
Real Food Multivitamin: Despite our best efforts, students’ diets aren’t always the healthiest. Fill in nutritional gaps with a multivitamin sourced from whole food ingredients.
Magnesium Supplements: Magnesium is wonderful for helping ease stress, and it has other perks too. It supports cellular energy, healthy bones, better sleep, mood and more.5,6
Omega-3 Supplements: Essential fatty acids promote many areas of health, but students may benefit most from the brain-supporting benefits omega-3s. Studies show omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help improve focus, memory and mood.4
Probiotic Supplements: Digestive health affects overall health and immune function, not to mention digestive concerns can be uncomfortable and distracting.7 Help keep your college student’s system balanced with a probiotic for digestive health.
Melatonin Supplements: Between roommates that stay up late and keep the lights on, to studying on device screens late into the evening—sleeping patterns can easily get disrupted on college campuses. When college students have trouble sleeping, a low dose of melatonin may help. Read Melatonin Dosage: How Much Melatonin Should You Really Be Taking to learn more.
Before your child heads off to college, it's a good idea to schedule an annual checkup with their doctor and discuss how to support their nutritional and emotional health.
Healthy Back to School Tips
By planning ahead you can help make this the healthiest, most successful school year yet for children of every age. Do you have your own healthy back to school tips to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.
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Lindsey is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for ice cream. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food.
Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.
1 Blue Light has a Dark Side: Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side (Accessed 11/06/2017)
2 The Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness: A Meta-Analysis and Its Limitations. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(16)00042-3/pdf (Accessed 08/22/2018)
3 Missing Nutrients in Your Food. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/missing-nutrients-in-your-food#1 (Accessed 08/22/2018)
4 The top ingredients for cognition, focus & mood. NUTRAIngredients USA. https://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Article/2017/07/14/The-top-ingredients-for-cognition-focus-mood?utmsource=copyright&utmmedium=OnSite&utmcampaign=copyright (Accessed 08/22/2018)
5 The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/ (Accessed 08/22/2018)
6 Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ (Accessed 08/22/2018)
7 The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/research/advancements-in-research/fundamentals/in-depth/the-gut-where-bacteria-and-immune-system-meet (Accessed 08/22/2018)
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.