In this new series, Ask IIN, we round up the most pressing health and wellness questions ‒ from food and exercise to relationships and career ‒ from people just like you! Then select Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches and wellness experts answer your questions so you can feel empowered to live your healthiest, happiest life.
How can I create healthy back-to-school routines for me and my family?
Calie Calabrese, Reverse Aging and Longevity Coach and Integrative Nutrition Graduate
The first step to successfully creating a new routine is starting small and prioritizing the right activities. When we try to overhaul everything all at once, it’s overwhelming for everyone. That leads to unnecessary stress and makes everyone resent the routine instead of embracing it.
One of the most important elements of any wellness routine, whether you’re 5 or 55, is sleep. Consistent bed- and wake times help our bodies get into a rhythm and ensure we’re getting adequate rest to heal, repair, and thrive each day.
If you’ve been staying up late and sleeping in on your summer schedule, start gearing up for the school year by adjusting your bedtime in 30-minute increments. For example, if you and the kids are going to bed at 11pm, try making bedtime 10:30pm for a few days and then 10pm and so on, until you reach a bedtime that allows for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night.
Don’t forget the power of a short wind-down routine to help everyone sleep better! Some things that my family and I do include:
- Turn off electronics 60 minutes before bed.
- Listen to a wind-down song playlist, allowing each family member to add a favorite song that relaxes them.
- Use a 30-minute playlist to signal the time when teeth are brushed, faces are washed (maybe a nice skin-care routine to help older kids and adults practice self-care and good hygiene), and clothes are laid out for the next day, with any necessary bags packed and set aside.
By creating a window where you focus on sleep preparation, you’re telling your body and brain that it’s time to rest, and it will help you sleep more soundly. Plus, knowing you’re ready for the morning will help things go more smoothly, preventing that mad dash out the door that we all know so well!
Rachael Schwartz, Founder of Rachael Schwartz Nutrition and Integrative Nutrition Graduate
After a year of so much uncertainty and chaos, the thought of setting up healthy back-to-school routines can seem daunting. I’d encourage you to reframe it as an opportunity to reset your family’s habits and ensure your family is thriving and set up for an awesome year!
“But, Rach, my life is so crazy. My kids are picky eaters, and my husband doesn’t like greens.” Trust me, I hear you ‒ I have to work at it, too! I have two young children; I run my own business; I’m a wife, daughter, friend, fitness lover, and party girl at heart. It takes effort, commitment, and practice, but it’s attainable!
Here are my tips and tricks that will have your family’s healthy routines running on autopilot.
Outline the week
One of the biggest things I recommend is to make a general plan and stick with it. The more detailed the plan, the easier it will be to follow, but make sure it’s attainable and realistic for your lifestyle. At the beginning of the week, outline what works best for you and your family; this is the road map that will set you up for success. This same practice works for fitting in your workouts (and rest days), your family time, and your downtime. Plan for it – then go for it! And adjust as necessary, because nothing is set in stone.
My plan for meals might look like Meatball Monday, Taco Tuesday, Breakfast for Dinner Wednesday, Mama’s Night Out Thursday (aka ordering in for the kids), and Roast Chicken and Veggies Friday. My plan for exercise may look like Monday and Wednesday: low-impact movement, such as walking or yoga; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: higher-impact movement, such as running, cycling, or strength training; and Friday and Sunday: rest days.
Get on the prep train
Many tend to get overwhelmed with the concept of meal prep. You’re not going to want to eat the same turkey burger with rice and veggies five nights in a row. What I recommend is food prep, which actually looks completely different.
Give yourself an hour to organize your meals for the week, like I outlined above, looking at recipes if needed. Then make a detailed list and do your grocery shopping as usual, whether in person or virtually. Once you have your groceries, I recommend washing and chopping your veggies right away so they’re easier for the kids (and adults!) to grab ’em and go.
You can also:
- Batch cook a grain and/or pasta for the kids.
- Marinate your proteins.
- Cut up fruit so that it’s readily available when your kids get home and are hungry.
Ditch the perfection mentality
Lastly, and this is so important: Don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress. Every week won’t look the same. Life will throw you curveballs, which can come in the form of quarantine or a birthday party. Be on track most of the time so that you can really enjoy the times you aren’t. This mindset shift makes a healthy lifestyle feel so much more attainable and models a healthy attitude for your children.
Remember to take a deep breath. Practice leads to consistency, and consistency leads to progress.
Billy Woodmansee, Founder of B. Wood Performance Consulting and Integrative Nutrition Graduate
The start of school can be overwhelming, so it helps to have a solid routine the kids can settle into that can level them up as humans as well! I am a fan of keeping it fun and simple, blending primary food and secondary food into a solid routine.
Two of my favorite primary food “snacks” to add to my kids’ morning routines are doing acknowledgments of gratitude and having them create themselves with an “I am” exercise.
Acknowledgments of gratitude is an awareness exercise ‒ it allows kids’ minds to open up to the idea that their lives are full of love and that love can be perpetuated with a grateful mindset and outlook. I start first, to lead by example, and show them the flow of the exercise. I encourage the idea of selecting new things to be grateful for each morning so they don’t get attached to one thing and one thing only. Nothing in life is permanent, so helping young minds find gratitude in multiple items is a great way to create mental flexibility during challenging times in their lives.
The “I am” exercise is using a few words in sentence form that describe who they are. It makes for a fun start- and end-of-year project; you can document where the kids’ creation of themselves started and how it evolved. This practice emphasizes the power of language and how we show up in the world, and it helps build resilience during challenging times, since kids can ground themselves in this knowledge.
In addition to those “snacks,” I also prioritize moving our bodies. I look at the body like an astronaut suit that carries our soul through time and space. It’s a sophisticated piece of equipment that if given half a chance will heal itself. Introducing kids to a fitness routine at a young age will help them understand how important their physical heath is and maintain that lifestyle as they grow older and eventually live on their own.
I believe small doses of movement are the best way to ease them into a healthy exercise lifestyle. We don’t want to burn them out or discourage them from moving their bodies. Each morning, I have two or three exercises that I challenge my kids to complete. Examples of this may look like push-ups, squats, or child rockers, and the kids have to complete 20 reps of each. Of course, with consistency comes reward, so I make sure to have small prizes they can earn.
You are what you eat! Teaching kids to choose fresh whole food over packaged processed food is a beautiful thing. I use a chart that fellow IIN grad Kylie Michelle Wright and I created during a Fitness and Fuel collaboration that introduces new fruits and veggies to your kids! This chart lists each day of the week and uses red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple for different foods.
The game is to check off as many colors as possible each day. Then at the end of every week, add up the check marks; if the kids have even numbers across colors, they get a reward. Using colors is a great way to teach your kids balance and diversity in the fresh food they eat ‒ and no, candy colors don’t count!
As I mentioned, when my kids complete a challenge, they receive a reward. Rewards can come in all shapes and sizes. For example, I reward them with zone-out time, which is time to do what they want ‒ be on a screen, watch television, etc. When primary food and secondary food blend harmoniously, it will create a balanced state of being.