It's time to get your child in back-to-school shape

Herald Health CorrespondentAugust 6, 2013 

20090812 Back to school



School summer vacations are when usual routines, such as early bedtimes, take a holiday. But the new school year is nearly here -- Manatee County schools start Aug. 19 -- and now is the time to ease back into learning-friendly habits and healthy routines.

The basics are good nutrition and getting enough sleep. Students also need to be up to date on vaccinations before returning to school.

Eat well to learn well

Despite hectic mornings, don't skip breakfast. Studies show that children who eat breakfast tend to be more successful in school. Overall, they achieve better test scores and can concentrate and solve problems more easily, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Breakfast is critical for the brain to be ready to learn. We really try to emphasize the importance of breakfast to our students," said Sandra Ford, director of food and nutrition services for Manatee County schools.

An alternative to fueling up at home is to eat breakfast at school. All Manatee County schools serve breakfast.

School breakfasts were tweaked this year to comply with new school nutrition standards. Ford said the changes are going to be subtle, mainly through offering more whole grains such as a meal of cereal, graham crackers and choice of juice or milk.

Last year, the school district added more fruits and vegetables to lunches. As children go down the line, they are required to pick either one fruit or vegetable from a choice of four to five.

"Our kids are really eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. It's really awesome to see," said Ford.

More changes this year to encourage healthy eating:

• A revamped menu in high schools: Cafeterias will be offering items such as Asian bowls to serve food that teenagers usually eat and would find in a food court. But the school cafeteria versions will be healthier, said Ford.

• A smart phone app for parents: Talking to children about what is on school menus can help them make healthier choices. By early September, parents will be able to download an app called Nutrislice that shows menus at each school, along with information about nutrients and allergens.

• A new after-school supper program: Being nourished and free from hunger facilitates learning and the school system has begun a new pilot program to serve supper at three schools, Rogers Garden, Daughtrey and Tillman elementary schools. Complete meals will be served between 4 p.m. and 4:45 p.m., said Ford.

Get enough sleep

Sleep schedules may be one of the most disrupted routines in summer. Bedtimes get pushed back; mornings are for sleeping late. Teenagers, especially, may go to bed well past midnight and sleep until noon.

Sleep improves the ability to learn and be alert but many children don't get enough, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The recommended amount of sleep for kindergartners to middle-schoolers is 10 to 11 hours. Teens need about 9.25 hours.

Students will be getting up earlier to go to school, which means bedtimes should be earlier, too. To prevent back-to-school jet lag, here is what sleep experts recommend: Begin making gradual adjustments to bedtime about one to two weeks before the first day of school. By going to bed about 15 minutes earlier each day, children can have optimal bedtimes when school starts.

During the school year, these tips will help children get the sleep they need:

• Stick to regular bedtimes and wake-up times

• Turn off the television and computer at least an hour before bedtime.

• Don't allow TVs in children's bedrooms.

• Establish a bedtime routine as a cue for sleep, such as a warm bath.

Keep up to date on vaccines

The state of Florida requires students in public and private schools to be vaccinated against diseases such as chickenpox and measles.

"Children who aren't immunized run the risk of contracting life-threatening diseases that can easily be prevented with vaccinations," said Janet Hinz, immunizations supervisor for the Manatee County Health Department.

School nurses review shot records on a yearly basis, said Hinz. If required immunizations are missing, the parent is notified and the child will be sent home.

To keep track of vaccination records, Hinz recommends staying organized by maintaining a folder and keeping it in a safe place or scanning the records into a computer.

If you've lost records, ask your doctor for copies. Or contact the Florida Department of Health's statewide, centralized immunization registry called SHOTS to see if your child's vaccination updates were submitted to the registry.

Vaccination records in theSHOTS registry are available to parents if their child's doctor participates and also to health care providers, schools and day care centers. Information about the registry can be found at

Children can be vaccinated for free at the Manatee County Health Department's immunization clinic, at 410 Sixth Ave. E., Bradenton. Back-to-school shots are now being offered on a walk-in basis at the clinic between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Or to make an appointment, call 941-748-0747, ext. 1456.

Susan Hemmingway, Herald health correspondent, can be reached at

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