It can be difficult to leave the long, fun summer days behind and motivate your kids when they have to get up early, have less free time, and homework. With the right nutrition, adequate sleep, and some help from nutritional supplements, you can provide your children with the tools they need to start the school year off right, stay well, and improve cognition, mood and attitude.
The best way to support your child as they head back to school is by ensuring they get enough sleep. It is during sleep that the body is able to heal and repair itself, the adrenal system is able to relax and restore itself, and the brain catalogs all that it has learned during the day. The body and brain is developing at a rapid rate during childhood, and especially teenage years, and sleep is imperative to supporting their health. Children who do not get enough sleep will be overly emotional, meaning they can be less patient, easy to anger, or will be sensitive to getting their feelings hurt. They will show signs of hyperactivity, fast and excessive talking, ADHD, and defiant or contrary behavior. They also can express as having no energy and you will see an increase in their appetite for foods high in sugars. The combination of lack of sleep, and a diet high in sugars and carbohydrates will easily lead to feelings of restlessness or anxiety and puts your child on the path to type 2 diabetes.
It is recommended that preschoolers ages 3-5 get 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night, school aged children 6-13 get 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night, and teenagers 14-17 years get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. Each child’s need for sleep will be different, and factors like growth spurts, consistent physical activity, and physical or emotional stress will likely increase the need for longer periods of sleep. Your kids will benefit from a nightly routine preparing their body for sleep and consistent bedtime. This can include a light snack, taking a bath, brushing their teeth, and then reading in bed. Some children will unwind better through a bedtime yoga practice, guided meditation, or light massage. Let your children be a part of creating this process and they will be more willing to embrace structure around bedtime.
Natural Calm is an effervescent drink that can help restore low levels of magnesium that are needed for sleep, energy, and a stable mood. It can also help relieve the muscle cramps and aches associated with growing pains in children. Gaia makes a delicious tasting syrup called Sleep and Relax which uses an herbal blend of chamomile, lemon balm and passion flower that act synergistically to help calm the body and mind of your child. This blend prepares them for sleep and they will wake up feeling re-energized. You can use this syrup as needed and for the week before school as you implement an earlier bedtime from summer. If your child likes to drink tea, add a cup of Tulsi Tea to their bedtime routine. Tulsi, commonly known as Holy Basil, is an herb that acts as an adaptogen to help protect the body from the harmful side effects of stress by promoting relaxation and a sense of relief from every day stressors. Drinking a cup of Tulsi tea will help calm your child’s body and mind and encourage deep, restorative sleep. Incorporating essential oils can also have a significant effect on the quality of sleep. Lavender has been clinically shown to help children fall asleep faster, and enter a state of restorative sleep more quickly and for longer periods of time. You can diffuse lavender in their room, massage it into their feet, or spray it onto their pillow and blanket.
Calm Baby/Sleepy Time Blend for children 3 months & older
With the onslaught of refined and chemical sugars and an array of unhealthy and toxic fats in packaged and fast foods, it is more important than ever to provide quality and nutrient dense foods. For breakfast try to get healthy fats, protein and a good carbohydrate for energy. Overnight Oats are a perfect breakfast, and one that your kids can make to their liking.
There is often a good four hours between the time your child eats lunch and then gets home from school. To prevent the crash from low blood sugar, and the subsequent frantic grab for foods high in sugar, have a snack packed in their backpack, or ready to eat on the ride home. This will help stabilize blood sugars, and give them good, sustained energy to play or study on before dinner. A homemade trail mix will provide healthy fats and protein. Take your child to the bulk section and let them pick from raw nuts and seeds, dried fruit, dark chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, coconut flakes and mix them together at home. Add air popped popcorn for some extra crunch and fiber. You can also throw seasonings in like chili powder, cinnamon, garlic powder or curry powder.
Another great after school snack is having cut up vegetables or fruits and a great dip. Most kids will eat anything dipped in ranch or Nutella. You can make a delicious ranch dip by substituting Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise and sour cream. You get the same tang and healthy fats and protein. You might be surprised to find your kids will love hummus. Hummus is made from chickpeas and tahini, providing protein and a good dose of fiber. You can make your own hummus and substitute zucchini for the chickpeas. Have your kids create a new seasoning blend for each recipe you make and they will be more likely to reach for it in the fridge. For fruit you can make your own Nutella with just five simple ingredients, and it is perfect for dipping apples, bananas, pears or strawberries. Another easy and delicious dip can be made from whipping up a can of coconut milk! It is naturally sweet and full of healthy fats and it won’t spike your children’s blood sugar. You can always add a few drops of strawberry flavored stevia if your children don’t love the mild coconut flavor.
A quality multivitamin can help fill any gaps in your child’s diet, and provide them with nutrients that are now difficult to get through food alone. Pound for pound, kids need more nutrients than adults, and a multivitamin ensures proper development. Vitamins and minerals play key roles in the brain that support cognitive tasks like learning, problem solving, focus, and recall. Kids One Daily by MegaFood was formulated by a mother for children ages 5 and older. It is made from whole foods, left in their raw state, so the 24 essential nutrients provided are easily digested and absorbed by the body. It also contains an antioxidant blend from fresh fruits that help to support the immune system. It is gluten free, vegetarian, soy free, dairy free, kosher, and non-GMO certified. Nordic Naturals is the maker of the popular Nordic Berries, a chewable, pectin based multivitamin for kids two and older. It provides the essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that growing kids need. Children’s Oxylent is an award-winning daily multivitamin drink that supports child development, strengthens growing bones and muscles, and boosts immune health. It provides optimum bioavailability, is sweetened with stevia, and is gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and herb free.
Bacteria and viruses are the major culprits of illness as your children head back to school, as they are spread easily through contact with contaminated people, surfaces, food, and water. They produce many common side effects like coughing, sneezing, fever, and vomiting. Just as easily as they are spread, you can prevent bacteria and virus from making your child sick by providing the right vitamins, minerals and herbs to keep their immune system strong.
MegaFood makes Kids Daily Immune, a nutrient booster powder. It has little to no flavor, and is easily hidden in juice, a smoothie, yogurt, or it can be added to a pancake/waffle mix. It contains Vitamin C, Elderberry, Astragalus, Echinacea, and an antioxidant blend from whole foods. Vitamin C is the master immune-boosting nutrient. Alone, it is anti-viral and anti-bacterial and is able to detox your body of toxins from bacteria. Elderberry has been shown to reduce the severity and length of influenza. Elderberry acts as an antiviral by attaching itself to the tiny protein spikes on the surface of a virus, preventing it from being able to penetrate healthy cells. It has also been shown to be effective against antibiotic resistant viruses. Astragalus is an incredible antiviral that strengthens and regulates the immune system to prevent upper respiratory infections and the common cold and flu. Taking Echinacea at the first signs of a cold or flu optimize its benefits to shorten the severity and duration of illness. It has no added sugar, sweeteners, flavorings, preservatives or fillers.
Kick-It Immune by Wishgarden Herbs is a combination of kid-friendly herbs that help to activate your child’s natural immune response and support the lymphatic system. Taken every hour at the onset of symptoms, it helps to stop bacteria and virus from developing into a full-blown illness. It works quickly and the herbs are incredibly effective. Elderflower is antiviral, anticancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is excellent for treating colds, flus, sinus infections and respiratory troubles. Calendula stimulates the immune response and relieves symptoms from the cold and flu. Yerba Santa works incredibly well at opening the lungs and sinuses to dissolve and remove accumulated phlegm. Yerba Santa supports the body against coughs, colds, flus, pneumonia, and chest congestion. Osha Root has antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties and helps to significantly reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes. Osha root encourages your body to sweat, helping reduce fevers and detoxing your body of the flus, coughs, colds and other viral infections before symptoms worsen. It also contains Echinacea.
Host Defense makes an Immune Support spray in peppermint or cinnamon flavors that contain five powerful mushrooms that provide a “shield” for your immune system. Mushrooms are a functional food and have a full-spectrum of components that enhance the body’s immune system, increase the activity and effectiveness of natural killer cells and macrophages, support stress and fatigue, and protect from daily environmental exposure to toxins and pollutants. Just a couple of sprays a day after your child has brushed their teeth (or diluted in water) can help protect them from the fiercest of bacteria or virus.
You can also support immune health by avoiding junk food and sugar, stress, and lack of sleep. Sugar significantly inhibits the process of phagocytosis, the process by which immune cells engulf, kill and digest invading microbes. Just 75-100 grams of sugar (the amount in two cans of soda) starts to suppress immune health within just 30 minutes and can continue to for at least five hours after ingestion. Stress significantly impacts the health of your immune system and its ability to fight off disease by elevating levels of the hormone cortisol. Chronic stress lowers the amount and function of T cells and macrophages, ultimately leaving your child more vulnerable to disease and illness. Virus and bacteria thrive in a body wracked by stress, and spread and mutate more quickly throughout the body. Keeping the body from sleep contributes to an increase in cortisol levels. Those who are sleep deprived have lower levels of killer cells. The digestive system is also disrupted by a lack of sleep. Since the immune system lives in your gut, it is important to keep the digestive system healthy and replenished with good, healthy probiotics. Garden of Life makes a powdered probiotic and a chewable probiotic for children with strains specific to immune and digestive health. Their probiotics are made from raw, fermented foods, which maintain more live nutrients, enzymes and probiotics strains.
Mood, Focus & Cognition
New advances in technology have allowed scientists and neurologist to study and track the growth of the brain. Recent research has shown that the brain continues to develop and increase connectivity until young adulthood. The extent of connectivity in the brain, or how well different parts of the brain work together and communicate effectively, is directly related to intellectual capacities like memory, reading, and critical thinking. During teenage years, the parts of the brain that keep emotional or impulsive reactions in check is still evolving, meaning youths act on their impulses without regard for risk or consequence. There are healthy fats, nutrients and foods that can significantly impact brain development and support a positive mood, learning, focus, productivity, and memory.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are the building blocks of brain development in children and teens and play keys roles in all aspects of their health and wellness. Omega-3’s are a structural component of brain and nerve cells. Studies have shown that children who have high blood levels of Omega-3 DHA have better reading skills, memory and less behavior problems. Research has also shown that parents reported an improvement in attention and other behaviors related to ADHD after their children took an Omega-3 supplement for 16 weeks. Omega-3’s have strong anti-inflammatory properties, making them an effective and powerful tool against depression and anxiety, which is now far too common among teenagers. They also have the ability to minimize the negative effects junk food has on the brain by disrupting the generation of new nerve cells. Omega-3’s stimulate areas of the brain that control hunger, satiety, learning and memory. The recommended daily intake of omega-3’s has increased for teenagers and it is recognized that 3,000 mg of EPA+DHA support optimal brain health. Nordic Naturals makes high quality sustainable fish oils that surpass international pharmaceutical standards, and are free of heavy metals, dioxins, and PCBs. They are processed without chemicals or excessive heat and are put back into triglyceride form, ensuring optimal absorption. Nordic Naturals is always on sale at World of Nutrition, as we believe passionately about the benefits of omega fatty acids and we hope to make them affordable for everyone. Fatty fish such as wild caught Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, anchovies and sardines are an excellent source of omega fatty acids. Other food sources include walnuts, natto, hemp seeds, and egg yolks.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are packed with antioxidants called flavonoids that play a significant role in improving cognitive skills like learning and decision-making. Flavonoids also promote the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes the formation of new brain cells. Low levels of BDNF are associated with neurological and mood disorders including depression and anxiety. Berries help prevent inflammation to alleviate mental fatigue and brain fog. Avocados are 75% monounsaturated fats, healthy fats that support the production of acetylcholine. (Eggs are an excellent source of choline, a precursor to acetylcholine.) This is the memory and learning neurotransmitter in the brain. Avocados have high amounts of tyrosine, an amino acid that helps to make dopamine, another brain chemical that encourages motivation and focus. Both nutrients improve blood flow to the brain. Olive oil is also an excellent source of monounsaturated fats. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi provide great amounts of good gut bacteria. The community of microbes living in the gut has recently been recognized by science as having a commanding influence on the brain. Bacteria in the gut make over 30 neurotransmitters including serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine and GABA, and these microbes impact health, mood, and decision-making. It has been shown that imbalances in the microbiome are the root cause of brain-related conditions like ADHD, depression, anxiety, autism, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating.
There are amazing herbs that can support and increase connectivity in the brain. Wishgarden Herbs created a tincture for children called Genius Juice Jr. that contains Milky Oat, Passionflower, Gotu Kola, Scullcap, Cinnamon Bark and Nettle Leaves that provide support for those children that have a difficult time staying focused or paying attention over longer periods of time. Milky Oat and Passionflower are excellent at calming the brain and nervous system, helping reduce anxiety, quiet the mind, and relax the body. Gotu Kolu has a meditative effect on the body, helping to reduce mental fatigue, promote clarity, improve concentration, and support the nervous system. It also works as an adaptogen to help the body effectively handle stress. Skullcap has mild sedative properties and treats feeling of restlessness or anxiety, irritability, and is commonly used as an alternative medicine to treat ADHD and other nerve disorders.
Herb Pharm makes an alcohol free tincture for kids called Lemon Balm Calm. Lemon balm calms down a running mind while helping your child feel significantly more alert, focused and positive. Helping to improve mood and increase confidence makes this herb excellent for those with test anxiety. Lemon balm has been clinically shown to improve memory and increase problem-solving skills. It is also neuroprotective.
MegaFood makes another nutrient booster powder for kids called Daily B-Centered. It contains a whole food B vitamin complex and the herbs Bacopa, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and L-Theanine. B vitamins are necessary for the development and function of the brain and nervous system. Deficiencies in B vitamins, especially B12, are linked to smaller brain size and poor memory. Bacopa helps to sharpen cognitive function and reduce feelings of anxiety. It enhances communication throughout the nervous system by increasing the growth of nerve endings, helping to boost memory and recall. It also works as an adaptogen to help the body effectively manage stress. L-Theanine is an amino acid that promotes relaxation, without feeling drowsy, so your child can think more clearly, stay focused, and easily retain and recall what they are learning. It also improves mood and can strengthen feelings of contentment and confidence.
Wishgarden Herbs makes a tincture for kids called Quiet Time that contains Passionflower, Milky Oat and Skullcap. This is perfect for the child who is easily rattled, overwhelmed or frustrated. It can help relax and center your child so they can do homework, read, or problem solve as needed.
Back to School Recipes
Strawberry Shortcake Overnight Oats makes 3 servings
Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Overnight Oats makes 3 servings
Ranch Dip with Greek Yogurt
Homemade Nutella makes approx. 1 pint
Preheat oven to 275°F. Spread the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and wrap hot hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and cool for 10 minutes. Remove & discard skins from hazelnut by rubbing with the kitchen towel. In a medium saucepan on low heat, combine chocolate, coconut milk, honey and sea salt and heat until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool. Add roasted hazelnuts to a food processor and pulse until you get a butter like consistency. This will take almost five minutes. They will retain a slightly grainy texture. Add the chocolate mixture to the food processor and pulse until it is completely blended with the hazelnut butter. Add your Nutella to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before sealing tightly and refrigerating. It will thicken in the fridge. Be sure to use within 3-4 works, and always keep your Nutella tightly sealed and refrigerated.