Back to School Campaign focuses on improving student performance
WASHINGTON -- "A ready and resilient Soldier needs a ready and resilient family," said Maj. Bethany A. Belanger, registered dietician, nutrition lead for Performance Triad System for Health.
A great way to make this happen, she said, is by getting parents and children engaged on the importance of sleep, activity and nutrition: the three pillars of the Performance Triad.
With August being Performance Triad month, what better way to kick it off than with a Back to School Campaign that focuses on getting the entire family involved in setting up their children for success, she added.
Belanger offered some useful tips that will increase children's health and performance in school.
School-aged children need more sleep than adults. About eight-and-a-half to 11 hours per night, Belanger recommended. Roughly 30 to 40 percent of children are not getting enough.
Because kids can be high-strung, especially in the evening, it's important to create an environment conducive to sleep. An hour before bedtime, parents should initiate "winding down activities," she said.
Turn off the TV, end social media and computer game time and cease physical activity at least an hour before sleep. These activities are stimulating and make it difficult for children to fall asleep. Instead, she offered, have them read a book or take a warm shower, things that induce relaxation.
Throughout the day, children sit way too much, she said. Sedentary behavior can lead to weight problems and hinder their school performance. Regular physical exercise activates children's brains, helping them to focus and pay attention in school.
Rather than recommending specific exercise regimens, Belanger said the basic idea is to get kids to move and burn off excess energy. They should accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
Besides formal exercise plans and school sports, Belanger said kids can go to the playground, walk the dog and have recreation time with their parents. These simple recreational activities are fun, easy to plan and increase time spent together as a family.
It's been said many times that breakfast is the most important meal, and that's true, Belanger said, especially for children heading out to school.
Breakfast will boost students' energy levels, thereby improving their cognitive performance and help them focus better on their lessons, she said.
The best plan is for the entire family to eat breakfast together -- and other meals as well, she said. Having family time together at meals promotes good nutrition habits, as well as social development.
To save time, prepare part or all of breakfast the night before and spend a few hours on the weekend preparing foods for weekly family meals, she said.
For children, healthy meals and snacks should include about 50 percent fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, dairy, lean protein and healthy fats such as nuts. Food choices from each food group should be natural as opposed to processed, she said, adding that's the same advice for adults.
Parents also need to monitor their children's caffeine intake.
"You can get caffeine from many sources besides coffee," she said.
Soda, tea and energy drinks are other common sources and their effect is cumulative. Many sources can also be high in sugar and calories. Consuming caffeinated drinks regularly impacts children's health and their ability to pay attention and focus in school.
Caffeinated beverages also impact a child's sleep. Belanger recommends children not consume caffeine at all, and especially not within six to eight hours of bedtime.
Instead, she offered, drink milk or water. For the sweet tooth, she said a good replacement for soda is fruits, which are naturally sweet and contain vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Parents also need to get into the habit of reading labels on food products, Belanger said. Fat, calories, salt, sugar, additives, and ingredients should all be monitored.
Finally, Belanger said that while it's a tall order for parents to monitor their children's sleep, activity and nutrition, they have the "biggest influence" on their kids. Also, it's not just enough "to tell your kids what to do. You have to be the role model."