A Healthy Start to the New School Year

Integrative Medicine Department

The end of the summer is fast approaching and a new school year beginning. Your child may be facing many new situations; new teachers, new friends; new opportunities for learning and new experiences. Excitement is in the air! Here are some practical suggestions to get this new school year started in a healthy way.

1.Good quality sleep is essential for learning.

According to the National Sleep Foundation in the United States, children aged 6 to 13 need around 9 to 11 hours of sleep a night. Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems and other issues that could impact children’s ability to learn in school. To prevent this, it’s important to have a consistent routine and schedule for going to bed and waking up. In general, a dark cool room is conducive to better sleep. Find what works for your child and help them ensure they get plenty of ZZZ’s.

2.Always start the day with a healthy breakfast.

Breakfast provides the fuel for your child’s brain to function well at school. After being devoid of food for the last 12 hours or so, your child’s body (and brain) needs a source of energy. Whole grains and a source of protein will give your child enough energy to last until noon. Good fats in the morning give an extra calorie boost that can help fight off hunger pains before lunch. Think of flax seed oil, coconut oil or fish oils. These can often be mixed into porridge, yogurt, a healthy smoothie, or taken straight from the spoon.

3.Eat meals and snacks at regular intervals.

Children burn calories very quickly and need to replenish their energy regularly. It’s important to ensure that children are eating approximately every 3 hours, depending on the child. Snacks are important because they help to prevent drastic blood sugar drops before meals. When kids are feeling hungry they can’t think clearly or concentrate well in school. For snacks, also try to provide some protein and good fats. Think of fruit paired with nuts and seeds, or whole grain crackers with cheese. Edemame and seaweed also make a great snack.

4.Supplementation with Vitamin D is important.

The northern climate of Beijing limits our opportunities to see the sun, especially in the winter months. Our skin naturally produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and vitamin D is needed for many functions in the body. Deficiency in vitamin D is quite common in Beijing, and can lead to low energy and mood, poor immune system function and generally a feeling of being unwell. In the fall it’s a good idea to begin supplementation and continue until the end of winter. 1000 IU daily is an appropriate amount for school age children, to ensure healthy levels during the winter months. If your child has a deficiency they will need a higher dosage, check with your doctor and get a blood test if needed.

5.Eat a rainbow!

I always talk to my patients about the importance of eating a high amount of fruit and vegetables in the diet; in particular I talk about colorful fruits and vegetables. The pigment in fresh produce not only provides color, but also contains antioxidants that can protect the body from pollution and help prevent disease. If your child is a picky eater, come up with creative ways to have them try new, colorful fruits and veggies. Having them help with cooking in the kitchen always gets kids excited to try their creations. Have a plan that every weekend you will try a new food item. Join in with your child, and see them get excited with your positive outlook on being adventurous with new foods.

I wish you and your children a happy and healthy school year!

Dr. Rodriguez is a Naturopath in the Integrative Medicine Department at Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics. She has a special interest in nutrition and working with children of all ages. For more information go to

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