Typically this is where I remind you about the preschool visit to the kid’s doc; the update of any vaccines etc; and, the need to take precautions to make your child’s knapsack manageable and safe by reducing the load. There, it’s done!

This time I’d like to focus on some areas of the return to school that often get lost in the hustle and bustle.

First let’s talk about diet. There is a tendency to moan about peanut-free and peanut-safe school policies that are making it “impossible” to give our kids healthy and nutritious lunches. Hogwash! If anything, this is a great opportunity to reinforce healthy eating habits that will stay with them for life. For example, please don’t pack processed foods like prepared cold cuts and other meats. Do send fruits and vegetables and you can include a fun dip. Yogurt can be a great dessert. Cheeses are easy to fit in and healthy.

It’s okay to be creative. Don’t use white bread if you have to make a sandwich. If you shop with variety, colour and fun in mind, you’ll have the tools at your fingertips to make interesting, fun and healthy lunches. An ice pack will keep food safe.

Please read labels. For example: many “fruit” juices have more sugar than fruit in them. Don’t give your kids artificial sweeteners; you don’t want to train young palates to crave sweet tasting foods. Set an example at home — especially as the summer ends. This way you can avoid the return to school causing an abrupt change in everyone’s diet which might create problems. If you start to introduce the changes in the weeks leading up to school, your kids will adjust much more easily and you’ll all be eating better!

Next, exercise! Many schools have cut back on the time allotted to physical education. Studies have repeatedly shown that active kids are not just happier and healthier but perform better in classes. So push for your schools to give the kids more time to be physically active.

The tendency is for us to schedule our kids for hours of organized activities so that every moment of their lives is accounted for. I have nothing against organized sports but some of the best opportunities for our kids to develop self-confidence and the skills necessary for success have nothing to do with structured sports and everything to do with play. Our kids need to play more. Whether it’s ball hockey on the street or basketball at the park, we need to give them some freedom.

If you’re afraid of what could happen to them, go with them at the start. Play with them. Eventually you will both gain the confidence to loosen the apron strings and give your kids a chance to grow on their own. How many of us remember the days after school when we would be thrown outside to play and told not to come back until supper time? What adventures we all had and through them we grew and developed. We are robbing our children of those pivotal experiences.

So along with reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, let’s make this school season one of healthy lunches and some free time spent outdoors doing “unorganized” activities with you and their friends.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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