Summer is – for all intents and purposes – over. Sure, it technically won’t end until the official start of fall in September, but with schools back in session all over our area, it’s hard not to consider the days of vacations, sunscreen and spending all day at the pool behind us until next year. Now, we’re back to the days of morning routines, picking up and dropping off, childcare, after-school activities and dinner-making, only to wake up the next day and do it all over again. It can be a hectic time both for parents and children. In many cases, our hectic schedules push us to rely on unhealthy convenience foods and dining out, and less outdoor play can lead to a decrease in physical activity. However, there are some things families can do to reduce stress, make the school year more manageable and make healthy choices.
Clinical psychologist Nicole Saylor from Blount Memorial Counseling and CONCERN says the first step is planning. “You really have to find ways of planning that work for your family,” she said. “For some highly organized families, that might mean a weekly breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. For others, it could mean general shopping for a few healthy meals and selecting which one to cook for dinner the day before. Either way, it’s important to have healthy options in both the pantry and the fridge, both for quick convenience or preparation. If your cupboard is bare, you’re more likely to reach for convenience snacks or resort to dining out,” she explained. “If unhealthy foods are readily available, you’re more likely to reach for them in times of stress, as well,” she added.
“Stress hormones such as cortisol make us crave fattier, high-carbohydrate foods,” Saylor said. “It also contributes to belly fat, which can disrupt insulin and hormone regulation. By deciding what’s for breakfast the night before, who is going to cook it and when, you can help manage the stress of last-minute decision making. For instance, choose the night’s dinner one day ahead, and assign family members different tasks for preparation. Try making checklists or a family calendar to make morning and evening routines go as smoothly as possible,” she said. “Also, avoid eating in front of the television or other screens,” she added.
Saylor says families also should actively be looking for ways to incorporate daily exercise. “If the school drop-off line is a nightmare, consider parking a few blocks away and walking your children to the front door. It could save both time and frustration, as well as get some extra steps in your day. Try walking over your lunch break, and tracking your activity levels with a pedometer or a Fitbit,” she added.
Finally, Saylor says parents should know when to ask for help. “It’s very important to look for support from others. Join together with other families to share drop-off and pick-up duties or childcare. Most parents simply can’t do it all on their own, and they shouldn’t feel as if they have to,” she said. “Reach out to other kids’ parents, relatives, childless friends and church friends. By joining forces, we all can make more time for relaxation, physical activity and play,” she explained.