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August 4, 2020 | 4 minute read

Building a Cancer-Protective Back to School Routine

Updated on August 16, 2022

As summer begins to wind down, families are getting ready for a new school year. Whether you are teaching your child at home or getting them ready for their first day back in the classroom, it’s important to establish a healthy back to school routine.

Consider these tips based on AICR’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations to help you and your family develop a plan to move more and eat healthy for a productive and happy school year.

Stick to a Schedule

Before the school year begins, establish a realistic schedule that you and your family can follow. Set a designated bedtime and wake up time to help make sure your child is getting adequate sleep each night.

If you’re teaching your child at home or doing a mix of at-home and in-school learning, create a weekly calendar that outlines what subjects your child can expect to focus on each day. This can help keep everyone organized and motivated to continue learning throughout the day.

Be sure to schedule breaks for lunch, outdoor play or free time as well. Figure out a schedule that works best for you and your family and stick to it.

Encourage Healthy Eating Habits

While many things may feel out of your control as a parent, what you can control is what your children and family eat. Stocking the kitchen with healthy options makes it easier to snack on more nutritious foods rather than highly processed foods. Here’s how you can start building a healthier kitchen:

  • Graphic2 ProtectiveKitchen 1 600x8821 1Put fresh fruits and vegetables front and center in the refrigerator.
  • Replace soda and sugary drinks with water, unsweetened iced tea or other low-sugar drinks.
  • Have easy, grab-and-go options like cheese sticks, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and bean dips readily available.
  • Swap white grains for whole grains like whole grain bread, brown rice and air popped popcorn.
  • Stock your freezer with vegetables and fruit. Frozen greens, peas, corn and other veggies are simple to steam for a quick side at dinner. Have frozen fruit chunks ready to throw in the blender with yogurt for breakfast or a snack.
  • Use see-through containers for healthy ingredients. Next to the plain yogurt, keep leftover fruit chunks, sunflower seeds, nuts and vegetables in clear containers that kids can easily grab.

Pack or plan school day lunches the night before to ensure that each lunch includes at least one serving of fruits and one serving of vegetables, plain yogurt or mixed nuts and stick to lean animal proteins such as fresh chicken or tuna. Try to limit processed meat as much as possible.

To help make healthy eating more fun, AICR has online resources made specifically for kids that you can print out at home. These resources encourage children to eat healthy fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins each day. AICR also has a library of healthy recipes that are kid friendly. Choose a recipe that you and your child can enjoy together!

Some of our easy to cook favorites are:

  • Apple Nachos: A delicious snack or dessert option that you and your kids will love to make. Fiber-packed apple slices are topped with a sweet yogurt sauce and finished with whole grain granola, nuts and seeds for a nice crunch.
  • Almond Crusted Baked Chicken Tenders: a healthier but just as delicious take on traditional deep-friend chicken fingers. These tenders are flavorful, crunchy and pair well with veggies and Greek yogurt based dips for a healthy meal your child will love.
  • Pumpkin Mac and Cheese: A unique twist on mac and cheese—this dish contains 14g of protein and 6 grams of fiber per serving and is filled with carotenoids and vitamin A. Perfect for a fall dinner.

Make Time to Move

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition recommends children and adolescents ages 6-17 should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.

Physical activity can help children build strong bones, have a healthy weight and maintain an active lifestyle as adults, which can reduce their risk of developing cancer later in life.

Recent AICR Energy Balance and Body Fatness Report points to evidence that greater screen time is a cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity in children. Break up TV or video game time with 15-minute walks outside, household chores or a sport your child enjoys.

Make physical activity part of your child’s daily routine with both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Aerobic activities can include taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood, going for a bike ride, dancing or jumping rope. Muscle-strengthening activities can include resistance exercises with body weight, climbing on playground equipment and climbing stairs. Set a good example for your child by participating in activities with them and making it fun!


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