Back-to-school has never looked like this before. As kids hit the books after the holidays, parents are faced with challenges we’ve never before experienced. Kids returning to in-person learning have extra demands placed on immune health, and virtual learning is fraught with trials of its own. But whether your kids are heading back to the school building, learning at home, or merging a hybrid of the two, the basics never change. Here’s your lesson on healthy habits and essential nutrients that help children thrive, with all the tools parents need to keep kids happy and healthy.
1. Build a Better Brown Bag
As some schools tentatively return to in-person learning, fun, nutritious lunches can ease the transition—and if kids are learning at home, a regular lunch break is a must, to create routine and give eyes a break from computer screens. Focus on brain-boosting foods that support focus, learning, and concentration: Spread sandwiches with guacamole instead of mayo; make smoked salmon and spinach rollups; or pack a thermos of white bean and vegetable soup. Skip the chips and add nutrient-dense snacks like yogurt cups, cheese sticks, walnuts, cherry tomatoes, or hummus with broccoli and carrot sticks for dipping. Instead of just apples, include fun, antioxidant-rich fruits like blackberries, pomegranate, or cherries. And make sure picky eaters get all the nutrients they need, with a well-rounded multi formulated for kids.
2. Keep that Skeleton Strong
Restrictions on sports and social activities mean kids are more sedentary—and that’s bad for a growing skeleton. Any kind of movement is important for health, but weight-bearing activities like walking, running, dancing, soccer, or basketball are best for bones. Support your kids in moving more: Take a short family hike, kick a soccer ball around the backyard, or put on some lively music and have a dance party. Resistance exercise also builds bones: clear a space in the living room, and join kids for an after-school session of planks, burpees, or pushups. And be sure they’re getting enough of the bone-building nutrients they need, with a supplement designed just for kids.
3. Stay Super Hydrated
School drinking fountains are a thing of the past, so make sure your child stays well-hydrated—studies suggest even mild dehydration can disrupt mood, concentration, alertness, and memory. In general, kids should drink eight ounces of water for every year of age; that’s a lot for little ones, so make it easier. Buy fun, BPA-free containers—many schools are transitioning to touchless filtered water stations for refilling bottles—and encourage kids to refill and drink every time they go to the bathroom. If your child’s learning at home, set a timer to remind him or her to drink water. Flavored seltzer is a fun option, or make regular water more interesting with a splash of fruit juice, a handful of berries, or colorful paper straws.
4. Play Outside
Play outside. Physical activity boosts focus and concentration, relieves stress, and promotes sounder sleep—and exercise is even better if it’s outside. Studies show being in nature reduces depression and eases anxiety, and being outdoors gives eyes a much-needed break from screens. Plus, a regular dose of sunshine enhances vitamin D production, critical for immune health. Help kids get more outside time, with regular breaks for bursts of fun physical activity—a short afternoon bike ride, a walk through the park or a hula-hoop session in the yard. And if cold, dark winter days mean sunshine’s lacking, fill in the gaps with a kid-friendly vitamin D supplement.
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5. Soothe Them to Sleep
Shifting schedules and anxiety about in-person learning can upset rest. Plus, blue light from computers and phones interferes with sleep-inducing melatonin, decreases restorative REM, and disrupts the body’s natural cycles. Help your child ease into sounder slumber: an hour before bed, turn off screens and dim bright, overhead lights—they can have the same effect as blue light. Establish a routine, like bath and a story for younger kids, or a quiet chat and a cup of chamomile tea for older kids. Make sure bedrooms are quiet and peaceful; a sound machine can mask household noises. Use blackout curtains to keep bedrooms dark or, if your child feels better with a nightlight, choose one with a dim, warm-colored bulb. And establish a consistent wake-up time and bedtime, even on weekends and holidays, to normalize natural sleep rhythms.
6. Protect Those Peepers
Protect those peepers. Virtual learning takes its toll on kids’ eyes, and hours of screen time can lead to eye strain, blurred vision, headaches, and neck pain. Plus, everyone tends to blink less when they’re focusing up close, leading to dry eyes and even more discomfort. Minimize the impact: Keep screens an arm’s length away from eyes, increase font size to make reading easier, install an antiglare protective screen cover and print documents instead of reading them online whenever possible. Encourage kids to take frequent breaks, with the 20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds and blink 20 times, to let the eyes relax and minimize dryness. And try a supplement designed to keep little eyes healthy and bright.
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7. Breathe Easier
Cold, dry winter air and a return to in-person learning mean your child needs extra support for respiratory health. Frigid temperatures can trigger symptoms in kids with asthma, and allergies to mold, dust mites, or pet dander can persist all winter long. When it’s cold outside, wearing a scarf over the mouth and nose can help warm and humidify the air your child breathes; if you live in a dry climate, consider running a humidifier in bedrooms at night. For allergies, identify and eliminate sources of mold, keep dust under control, wash bedding weekly, and don’t let kids sleep with household pets. And a respiratory supplement formulated for children, with a blend of herbs and nutrients, can help maintain optimal respiratory function and health, all winter long.
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8. Support Gut Health
A healthy gut is essential not only for digestion, but also for immunity—disturbances in the microbiome can lead to decreased resistance and studies suggest probiotics enhance the body’s natural immune response. Gut health has also been linked to mood. Keep your child’s microbiome in balance, with healthy eating habits; yogurt and kefir are rich in probiotics, and fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and legumes nourish beneficial gut bacteria. For picky eaters, add a probiotic supplement in an easy-to-take, kid-friendly format. Try one that includes colostrum, a nutrient that provides antibodies and immune factors, for added immunity.
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9. Beat the Bugs
Especially important if kids are transitioning to in-person learning: banish bugs and keep their immune systems healthy and strong. Start with the basics, like washing hands; make it fun for younger kids with glitter soap or dispensers with light-up timers that teach them how long to wash. Send older kids to school with natural, non-toxic hand sanitizer spray or wipes. Minimize anxiety: shifting schedules, worries about in-person learning, and ongoing uncertainty can heighten stress, impact immune health, and lower resistance to infection. And safe, effective nutrients like vitamin C, elderberry, echinacea, olive leaf, larch, and zinc bolster your child’s natural defenses and enhance immunity.
10. Boost Focus and Concentration
Online learning is challenging, especially for younger kids—and if your school district is adopting a hybrid model, those constant shifts between at-home and in-person learning can disrupt attention and make learning harder. Support focus and learning with mindfulness breaks; studies show practices like deep breathing or body awareness improve concentration and learning. Every hour or so, have kids turn off the computer, close their eyes, and focus on their breathing. Teach younger kids a simple exercise: take a big belly breath, then imagine blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. A few minutes of stretching and movement—dancing, jumping jacks, running in place—also helps kids get back in their bodies and improves attention. And try brain-supportive nutrients, like DHA, EPA, and choline, to further promote focus and make learning easier.