Nutrition and Food Safety
Parents have control over two of the day’s three meals: breakfast and dinner. A good breakfast, a healthy lunch and a nutritionally complete dinner can be hard for working moms and dads to provide, but it can be done.
Sleeping until the last minute, both for parents and kids, and then grabbing something quick and easy for breakfast is a recipe for stress and mid-morning drowsiness. Get everyone to bed — grown-ups, too — at fixed times that will allow eight solid hours of sleep.
The famous Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid is a good guide for putting together healthful meals. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein and fat from eggs, lean meat, cheese and milk — in that order — should be the basis of every diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of calcium and vitamin A (beta carotene) for growing children. Calcium sources include dairy products, citrus fruits and juices, and green vegetables.
Lunch is often a problem. If your child eats school-prepared food, take a look at the menus and make sure the meals are nutritionally adequate. Many schools prepare their menus weeks in advance and make them available to parents. If you pack your child’s lunch, include a protein food, a grain, and a vegetable or fruit — or both. Juice, if it doesn’t have added sweetener, is a good drink to pack, and so is a bottle of water — everybody needs eight glasses a day.
Food safety is another issue. Leaving perishable foods at room temperature from morning to lunchtime can be risky. For a safe and healthy packed lunch:
• Scrub fruits and vegetables well, even if they look pre-washed. This includes those with a hard peel, such as bananas.
• Pack lunches in an insulated box or bag, and clean it at least once a week with a bleach solution (a teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water).
• Include an ice pack or frozen box of juice to keep food cold.
• Keep everything cold in the refrigerator until the last minute.
Protecting Kids From Disease
A school lroom full of children is an ideal environment for disease transmission. Many school systems or local health departments require that children have a full set of immuniziation shots before they go to school. Polio, measles, mumps, rubella or German measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, meningitis, chickenpox and hepatitis B may be uncommon now, but they still exist and can be dangerous.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that by getting immunized you can fight disease in two ways. First, you protect yourselves and your family from the disease. Second, you protect others because if you don’t have a disease, you can’t spread it. Check with your doctor, the school nurse or physician, or your local public health agency to find out what shots are required and which are recommended.
Serious reactions to immunizations are rare. Nevertheless, as your child receives his or her scheduled shots, ask your doctor about symptoms to watch for.
Every parent should also be familiar with the symptoms of these common diseases: pink eye or conjunctivitis, cold sores, infectious mononucleosis, strep throat and, in some areas, Lyme disease. Except for an experimental Lyme disease vaccine, there are no vaccines against these diseases. Pink eye and cold sores are rarely serious, but should be treated. Infectious mononucleosis, strep throat and Lyme disease can be dangerous, but quick diagnosis and prompt treatment can usually make them much less so.
One of the most effective ways of reducing disease transmission, at home and in school, is to wash your hands frequently and well. The American Society for Microbiology conducted a survey and found that most of us don’t do that often enough, even after using the restroom. Teach the kids to wash their hands well — with warm running water and enough soap to make a good lather — and then rinse them completely and dry them on a disposable towel.
Air Quality in Schools
Dust mites, chalk dust, animal hair and dander, pollen, mold — all of these may be present in a schoolroom and can trigger asthma or allergy attacks in students prone to them.
Playgrounds can be dangerous places for younger children. Try to find out whether they are adequately supervised, preferably by special staff or volunteers. Play equipment can present hazards, such as open “S” hooks, protruding bolt ends or open spaces that can trap a child’s foot or a head.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says most playground injuries occur when a child falls from the equipment onto the ground. All equipment should have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel beneath and around it, or mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials. The surfacing should extend in at least six feet in all directions from equipment such as swings, or at least twice the height of the suspending bar.
Homework is not something one would expect to be on the list of potential dangers for students. The National Parent Teacher Association suggests that students do 10 minutes of homework per grade: 10 minutes for first graders, an hour for sixth graders and two hours for high school seniors. The National Education Association’s suggested limit for the early grades is similar, with no more than 10 to 20 minutes for children in kindergarten through the second grade, and no more than 30 to 60 minutes for third through sixth graders. However, for junior and senior high students, the NEA is less prescriptive. A spokesperson said the amount of homework should depend on the subject, and parents who are concerned about the amount their children have to do should discuss that with their teachers.
Anything more than that, combined with any other activities children engage in — soccer, swimming, dance lessons, instrumental music lessons and even martial arts — can result in a complete loss of free time, for both the youngsters and the parents who chauffeur them.
This may result in stress, which impacts happiness and health — particularly susceptibility to infections. If homework is eating up a student’s life, it’s appropriate to discuss that fact with teachers or school administrators.
In fact, when it comes to keeping your children safer at school, good communication with teachers, school authorities and the children themselves is extremely important. Becoming active in parent-teacher organizations and school activities is one of the best ways to improve your child’s school experience.