Back to school

Stay hardy with nutritious food and good hygiene
By Magen Howard, CCC
Back to school

Proper handwashing prevents the spread of illness at school. (Photo credit Centers for Disease Control/Cade Martin)

Back-to-school preparation means more than just toting a list of classroom items to the store or buying a new pair of jeans and sneakers. Consider these issues before the first bell sounds.

You are what you eat

Packing lunch ensures that you control what fuels your child's body. The National Institutes of Health recommends making lunch a family activity—kids usually want to eat what they've helped prepare.

Let your child choose from a variety of easy-to-pack snacks, like cheese sticks, baked chips, fig bars, whole fruits and whole-grain crackers. And if your morning is rushed, try packing lunch in the evening before bedtime.

But sometimes packing isn't always practical, and school-provided lunches become necessary. In January 2012, the federal government raised standards for school meals—the first revision in 15 years—that made them healthier. Requirements include an offering of fruits and veggies every day, along with more whole-grain foods and less saturated fat, trans fats and sodium in the foods than before.

All the preparation in the world, though, won't help if your child gets to school and swaps his or her carrot sticks for someone else's pudding cup. Like most habits, healthy eating begins at home. If good food choices are what a child has grown up with, he or she will be more likely to continue making good choices at school and beyond.

Wash, wash, wash your hands

Schools are breeding grounds for illness, thanks to myriad shared surfaces and hygiene habits that are still a work in progress. Handwashing remains the first line of defense in preventing the sniffles.

Warm running water and soap are the preferred tools to clean hands. But in a pinch, alcohol-based hand sanitizers work, too (unless hands are grubby—then soap is the only way to go), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Teach your child good handwashing techniques, which include scrubbing the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails, and washing for at least 20 seconds. A trick is to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice to time yourself.

Handwashing is necessary around mealtimes (both for eating and preparing food) and after using the bathroom, touching animals or handling trash.

Also, instill in your child the necessity of using a tissue when sneezing or coughing (or an elbow or shirt sleeve if tissues aren't handy), and washing hands after.

Aisle-By-AisleVideos show you how to buy healthy

A free, online video series called "Aisle by Aisle: Choosing Foods Wisely" shows you how to read ingredient lists and choose healthy foods for you and your family. Topics include Healthy Beverages, Whole Grain Breads, Fresh and Frozen Produce, Cereal and Cereal Bars, Frozen Desserts, Shopping for Seafood, and Frozen Meals.

Each video, about two minutes long, is accompanied by a downloadable tip sheet with specific aisle suggestions. You can view all 12 videos, created by the N.C. Division of Public Health and N.C. Cooperative Extension, at MyEatSmartMoveMore.com.

About the Author

Magen Howard writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the service organization for the nation's 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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