Back to school can also mean back to germs, breaks, sprains and concussions.
While most of us know kids need a good night's sleep and a good breakfast, just what exactly do experts define as "good"? And what other basics should parents put on their checklist to ensure a more healthful year ahead?
Here are a dozen rules to help you help your kids better prevent schoolhouse maladies.
1. A recipe for a good day. It's easy to pop your late-waking, picky eater in the car with a box of dry cereal or a toasted plain bagel for the drive to school. But the No. 1 thing that will keep your children alert all day is ensuring that they have something healthful to eat in the morning, says Diana Sugiuchi, nutritionist and owner of Nourish Family Nutrition. She suggests packing kids with protein, like eggs, milk or yogurt, and a complex carbohydrate, like a whole grain or fruit. "The kinds of foods that you choose will make a big difference in the ability to concentrate and energy levels," she says. Simple carbohydrates, like sugary cereals, fruit juice and white bread, won't keep kids feeling full for long, while the protein and complex carbs will. Make that bagel whole grain and top it with peanut butter for an easy but smarter start.
2. Whether your kid is off to college or kindergarten, get the 411 on shots. Dr. Virginia Keane, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says the first step to having a healthy school year is making sure your child is up to date on his or her vaccines. "All of these infections are still around, so your child is susceptible without being vaccinated," she says. Maryland students are required to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. Children younger than 7 are required to have four doses of the DTP/DTaP vaccination, while children older than 7 are required to have three doses of tetanus and diphtheria containing DTP, DTaP, Tdap, DT or Td. Also: Students younger than 13 are required to have one dose of the chickenpox vaccine, while two doses are required for previously unvaccinated students 13 or older. Be sure to check with the school for any particular requirements it might have.
3. Flu vaccines are not just for the old and infirm. The flu vaccine is not a 100 percent guarantee that your family will stay flu-free, but it will cut your chances, Keane says. Most schools offer vaccinations; check with your pediatrician for other locations. Children who fear shots can opt for needle-free versions.
4. Make your kids a little OCD about hand-washing. Encourage children to wash their hands: After they use the restroom, before they eat lunch, after recess, after they cough or sneeze — frequent hand-washing is a great way to prevent illness. Keane also suggests wiping down elementary school children's desks with cleaning wipes once a week. (Buy a big box for the teacher to keep the whole classroom on the same germ-free page, so to speak.)
5. Just add water, and more water. Send your kids to school with a water bottle: Sugiuchi suggests sending your children to class with a refillable water bottle. "Being well hydrated during the day makes a big difference in energy and the way they feel."
6. Know why sports drinks are not always a winning option. While sports and energy drinks are popular with children, plain old water is the best option. Meredith Harter, clinical dietitian at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, says a sports drink every now and then, perhaps during a vigorous sporting event, is OK, but in general, water is the best way to go. According to the American Council on Exercise, children and adults should drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before the start of exercise, eight ounces of fluid 20 to 30 minutes prior to exercise or during warm up, seven to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise and an additional eight ounces of fluid within 30 minutes after exercising. Harter says milk and water should be the staple liquids in children's diets. "Most juices, fruit punches or sodas are mostly just calories," she says. "The 150 calorie soda could have been a mini bag of popcorn that will be more satisfying." For kids who think water is boring, Harter suggests looking to fruit-infused flavored waters. Still not convinced to stick to water? A new study published by researchers at the School of Dental Medicine at Southern Illinois University in General Dentistry suggests that the high-acid levels found in energy and sports drinks can erode tooth enamel.