Back-to-School Health Boosters for Kids

July 10, 2018
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    Summer’s winding down. Parents are busy buying school supplies, preparing for the daily challenge of packing lunches, and getting ready to set alarm clocks. It’s a hectic, stressful time for parents—but it’s even more stressful for kids. Their sleep time is about to go way down; after a summer of fresh air they’re about to be cooped up indoors with increased exposure to germs; they’ll be rushing through breakfast or skipping it altogether right when school sports are starting up and they need extra fuel; they’ll run the risk of constipation from too little fiber; they’ll be running out of brain power when homework is looming. NOW is the time to pay close attention to what kids eat and drink and which supplements they take, to keep their bodies and brains in tip-top shape from the minute the school bell rings.

    Liz Weiss, MS, RDN

    Liz Weiss portraitLiz Weiss, MS, RDN, is a mom of two grown boys with a specialty in family nutrition. She’s the voice behind the family food podcast and blog, Liz’s Healthy Table, and her site is filled with easy, flavorful, and nourishing recipes that appeal to both kids and adults. Liz has written several cookbooks, including the playful new coloring e-book series, Color, Cook, Eat!, No Whine with Dinner, and The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers.

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    Pass the Brain Power, Please

    All summer long, your kids used their brains to power their muscles as they ran and played. Now it’s time to turn all that brain energy toward learning, so turn to omega-3 fats, a category of good-for-you fats that fuel healthy brains.* Fish is abundant in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, which also makes up a large percent of the human brain and helps support brain health during all stages of life.* Calcium is to bones as omega-3 is to the brain; it’s needed for optimal brain development.*

    Eating seafood twice a week should cover your family’s needs, but if your diet falls short on salmon, shrimp, trout and other fatty fish, consider supplementing with DHA Kids Chewable Softgels to keep your child’s brain boosted.* You can explore plant-based sources of omega-3s too—chia, hemp, and flax seeds all have these brain-supporting fats, and they’re all in this Triple Omega Seed Mix.* Sprinkle some on your child’s morning bowl of cereal, or incorporate into these Holy Omega Granola Bars.

    *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.

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    Give Breakfast a Healthy Makeover

    Children who eat breakfast do better in school. They’re more likely to get along with their peers, have better behavior in the classroom, and even have fewer absences. Kids who make time for their morning meal are less likely to be overweight, and they consume more nutrients, including fiber, folate, calcium, and protein.

    Make breakfast more enticing and bring skippers back to the table! At the same time, shift away from sugary, carb-heavy foods like cereal or toaster pastries and pack more protein in. Protein has staying power, and it’s best to distribute it evenly over the course of a day to keep muscles well fueled versus eating most of it at dinner. Need ideas? Try these:

    • Make a conventional breakfast healthier with NOW’s Gluten-Free Baking and Pancake Mix, adding eggs and milk to increase protein. Top with chopped pecans for crunch and even more protein (3 grams in one handful, to be exact.)
    • Try an easy-to-make yogurt parfait that’s great for on-the-go, made with an Organic Quinoa Q Cup™.
    • Smoothies are irresistible and portable. Look for inspiration on NOW’s Top 7 Smoothies Slideshow. And when they’re made with fresh or frozen fruit, Greek yogurt, milk, baby spinach, and even avocados, they provide important nutrients like fiber, protein, and calcium. To give them even more nutritional value, add a scoop of vanilla protein powder to smoothies and smoothie bowls. It’ll give them 22 grams of protein as well as kid-friendly flavor.
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    An Armed and Ready Immune System

    Getting sick is no fun. Washing hands, eating fruits and veggies rich in immune-boosting vitamins A and C, and getting plenty of rest are first-line defenses against bad bugs. But you know what else can support optimal immune function? Good bugs—the trillions of bacteria that live in and on us, known as the microbiome. They’re invisible but powerful, and most live in our intestinal tracks (AKA, gut). Research shows that a healthy microbiome may help to support healthy immune function.

    A daily probiotic supplement like BerryDophilus Chewables added to your arsenal can help to keep your child’s immune system in tip-top shape.* Some probiotic foods to also add to your family’s diet include kefir, kimchi, and the yogurt used in this Toasted Cinnamon and Pecan Quinoa Granola Parfait. For extra defense, try Vitamin C-500 Orange Chewable Tablets.*

    *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.

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    Snacks with Benefits

    Snacks don’t have to be mindless empty calories like salty chips, cookies, and sugary drinks. Instead, think of eating between meals as mini meals or snacks with benefits, and look for foods that fill the nutritional gaps in your child’s day. Those gaps can lurk in all sorts of places. For example, depending on your child’s age and activity level, they might need as much as 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables each day. And half of the grains you and your kids consume should be whole grains. So look to your family’s mid-morning or late-afternoon snack as a way to round out their diet for the day. By simply choosing more fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, and other whole foods, you’ll provide important nutrients to keep kids fueled for after-school sports and afternoon homework.

    Crunchy Clusters Cran-Blueberry snacks are made with nuts and two types of dried fruit. Eat them right out of the bag as a stand-alone snack or add them to yogurt as a crunchy topping! Fill in the whole grains gap with Whole Wheat Sesame Sticks packed in lunchbox or backpack. They also work perfectly as a foundation for a homemade trail mix—just add dried fruit and nuts and you’re good to go. For protein and fat in a tiny, delicious package, you can make these chocolatey, nutty, portable energy bites featuring chia seeds, almonds, and raw cacao nibs.

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    Put the Kibosh on Occasional Constipation

    Occasional constipation is pretty common with kids. In fact, it’s the most common specific diagnosis kids receive when they go to the ER. To promote healthy digestive habits and regularity, encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially water; consume fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and stay active to keep things moving inside and out. If fiber is your biggest hurdle, consider the numbers: The daily recommended fiber intake is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, and boys and girls need close to the same. Toddlers 1–3 need 19 grams per day. Studies show that most Americans need to double their consumption to meet these recommendations. Over 90% of us aren’t getting enough. No wonder kids are having trouble in the bathroom! NOW is here to the rescue with ideas for adding more fiber to your child’s day. (As for hydration, click through to #6 in the slideshow for ideas.)

    • Oats are a whole grain. Use them in muffins, pancake batter, or a recipe for Banana Bread Overnight Oats. Each serving has an impressive 6 grams of fiber. Prep in a mason jar and you have an on-the-go option for busy kids.
    • Get a fiber boost by adding a few teaspoons of Apple Fiber into your child’s favorite smoothie, or simply mix into apple juice or water. You’ll get 4 grams of wholesome fiber per tablespoon.
    • Chia seeds are also a surprising source of fiber. A heaping tablespoon has 3 grams of fiber and can easily be blended into a smoothie or better yet, into a chia pudding.
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    Hydration

    Water is one of the most essential nutrients. It supports every system in the body. Kids’ water needs vary by age, weight, and activity level, anywhere from 5 to 11 cups a day. (Check your children’s needs.) Instead of reaching for a juice box or sports beverage, rethink your kids’ drink by filling a reusable water bottle that’s easy to sip from and packing in their lunchbox or backpack. Zero waste, total sustainability. You can bust boredom by adding slices of citrus and a few sprigs of fresh mint, or slices of cucumber and strawberries. Looks fancy, but it’s super easy to assemble! You can also jazz up plain old water with Slender Sticks. Sweetened and flavored naturally and with just 10 calories per serving, each stick provides 50 percent or more of 9 daily vitamins and comes in 5 fun flavors, including Active Grape, Tropical Punch, and Pomegranate Berry. When kids get home from school, quench their thirst with a Berry Blast Smoothie made with coconut milk, blueberries, and banana, or set out a variety of smoothie ingredients and let your kids create their own.

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    Stress Busters

    Are your kids stressed out with all the homework and to-dos? Try helping them through with some mindfulness and relaxation exercises, like taking a few minutes to close their eyes and concentrate on their breath. You can find family yoga classes on YouTube, and even just doing Child’s Pose for a few minutes can calm a child’s nerves. If the homework is causing stress, take ten-minute breaks to run around the backyard or have a dance party.

    Just your presence can help reduce your child’s stress. Take your kiddo’s mind off their worries by baking together, or make some hot chocolate with Cocoa Lovers Organic Cocoa Powder and taking some time just to chat and color. If you want to teach your kids about healthy foods while you chill together, try my downloadable mandala coloring cookbooks.

    I also love using an essential oil diffuser near the end of the day. Diffusing soothing essential oil blends while reading or listening to quiet music washes away the day’s stress. As far as essential oils go, you need to choose one that’s right for your family. My go-to in the evenings is always Lavender for its soothing properties. If your kids are having trouble sleeping at night, send them to bed with a cup of calming tea to help them relax, unwind, and slip into dreamland.

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    Family Time at the Table

    Eating meals together as a family is magical. It nurtures the body and soul by fostering good eating habits, a healthy body weight in children and adolescents, a reduced risk of eating disorders, and better grades in school. It’s also a perfect time for kids to decompress from the back-to-school craziness and share any worries or joys as they return to the school routine. Carve out time to come together around the table for nourishing meals and lively conversation. Start with easy, pleasing, and delicious recipes, and by all means, invite your kids into the kitchen to help with dinner prep.

    Some healthy and easy family meals to try:

    • Quinoa Macaroni: It’s been a long day and everyone’s tired. Homework is looming and so is dinner. Hit a home run with this homemade mac and cheese makeover using quinoa macaroni, which is higher in fiber and protein than conventional store-bought macaroni, setting your child up to sail through their homework with playtime to spare.
    • Beef Stroganoff: It’s creamy, rich, and satisfying, and this version is also super healthy.
    • Nutty Nuggets: This is a homemade and gluten-free version of frozen chicken nuggets. Serve with a salad or your family’s favorite vegetable on the side.