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Three Proven Steps to a Healthier School Year for Toddlers to Teens

August 17, 2019

A new school year has arrived, bringing with it a hectic schedule for most children (and, of course, their parents who are trying to keep up with it all). Homework and extracurricular activities such as athletics, music, and art are just a few of the things that are bound to consume a child’s day. However, a busier schedule doesn’t have to mean the loss of a healthy lifestyle.

Families will succeed if they prioritize:

  1. A balanced diet
  2. Proper portion sizes
  3. Physical activity


Balanced Diet

Whether they are starting their first year of elementary school or their last year of high school, a balanced diet is essential for children of any age. According to the MyPlate Plan from the United States Department of Agriculture, the optimum diet for children consists of foods and drinks from five specific groups:


  • Fruits (berries, melons, apples, bananas)
  • Vegetables (broccoli, carrots, corn, green beans)
  • Grains (brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, tortillas)
  • Protein (beef, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans)
  • Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)


Each of these groups provides vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary to promote healthy living, all while limiting the intake of sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. While focusing on five groups may seem restricted, there are many different food options within each of these groups to offer a diet full of flavor and variety. Make it a family affair by encouraging your children to list their favorites in each group. Then you can offer up a few kid-friendly recipes featuring their faves.


Portion Sizes

Having a rich and nutritious diet is a step in the right direction toward achieving a healthy lifestyle, but eating suggested portion sizes are just as important. Stress, anxiety, and exhaustion can leave a child wanting to eat more or less than their healthy daily intake. It’s essential to maintain healthy portion sizes for all meals.

Healthy daily calorie intake for children ranges from 1,000-3,200 depending on age, gender, and level of physical activity. The MyPlate Plan offers a calculator to determine the healthy daily calorie intake for each child.

  • Ages 2-3: 1,000-1,400 calories
  • Ages 4-8: 1,200-2,000 calories
  • Ages 9-13: 1,600-3,200 calories
  • Ages 14 and up: 1,600-3,200 calories

Parents can help monitor portion control, particularly during the school year, if they are assisting their children with packing school lunches and snacks. Provide more fruits and vegetables and limit the sweets and carbs (such as chips). An example: Pack an apple versus a fruit roll-up. Go for the mini snack size of cheese crackers vs. a large bag of corn chips.


Physical Activity

Outside of a balanced diet featuring correct portion sizes, daily physical activity is the most effective way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The Fuel Up to Play 60 program spearheaded by the National Dairy Council, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Football League, suggests at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Many children will achieve a healthy level of physical activity at school through recess, physical education, or athletics, but this is not always the case. If your child doesn’t have an opportunity for physical activity at school, encourage them to take a break from video games or television and stay active. This can be as simple as taking a quick jog around the yard, walking down the street and running back up or having a family jumping jack competition. There are many parks and other outdoor opportunities in Arkansas, and it doesn’t take any money to go outside, run, walk, skip, jump, and breathe the fresh air!


The C.O.A.C.H. Clinic

A balanced diet, portion sizes, and physical activity will go a long way toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But some factors, such as metabolism and genetics, are more challenging to overcome. For parents and children looking to prevent or treat obesity, there’s the Center for Obesity and its Consequences in Health, or C.O.A.C.H. Clinic, at Arkansas Children’s.


The C.O.A.C.H. Clinic is a family-centered, multidisciplinary outpatient clinic designed to prevent and treat obesity in children and teens through lifestyle changes. Referrals are available online, along with various resources and documents for parents or guardians.

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