HARLINGEN –As parents in the Rio Grande Valley prepare to send their children back to school, changes in routine from summertime fun to the rigors of academics can lead to a range of emotions from excitement to anxiousness.
While there are many important routines to address as children head back to school, making sure children are current with their latest immunizations can have an important impact on their ability to stay healthy and in the classroom, said Dr. Jose Campo-Maldonado, an infectious disease specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.
Dr. Campo-Maldonado said parents should follow an immunization schedule for their children provided by a pediatrician as outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Children should receive their immunizations as soon as they are recommended independently of their school schedule,” he said. “Vaccinations are so important because they can save lives. Before vaccinations were widely available, millions of children died each year due to preventable illnesses. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccination saves 2.5 million child deaths each year, and could save 2 million more deaths per year if vaccination was more widely implemented.”
Another important piece to the back to school puzzle is making sure children continue to eat healthy and nutritious meals and snacks. Valley Baptist Health System Clinical Nutrition Manager and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Karina Longoria said that a balanced diet is a critical component to a healthy lifestyle for all children, regardless of age.
“Eating a balanced diet at any age during the school year is especially important so that parents can be assured their children are getting the right fuel to go about their day,” she said. “Food acts as our source of energy, which means children could perform better in all areas of their academics when they are properly nourished throughout their day. If children don’t fuel the body with balanced nutrition, they can possibly feel sluggish, tired, fatigue, and other symptoms.”
When dealing with children who are picky eaters, Longoria suggested maintaining consistency between the type of meals children are served both at home and at school.
“Children most often become picky at school because they aren’t accustomed or familiar with the balanced meals that are provided in our school cafeterias,” she said. “The main goal of school nutrition programs is to provide meals that serve all food groups. Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy are always included. A good tip would be to try to mimic the same pattern at home with meals. Provide your children at home with this same kind of balance so the practice is the same both at home and at school.”
Longoria said parents can request copies of school menus to review and share with their children to teach them the role healthy nutrition plays in growth and development. If all else fails, Longoria said that packing a lunch is always an option, but one that should not be relied on too often.
“Packing a lunch as a backup on days that you know your child won’t eat is a good idea, but try not to make it a regular practice,” she said. “Encouraging them to try new things but also setting the example by doing the same thing will help your child be more accepting of a lot of foods.”
About Valley Baptist Health System
Valley Baptist Health System is an 866-bed faith-based regional health system located in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It is focused on helping people achieve health for life through compassionate service inspired by faith. Valley Baptist extends many of its services beyond its facilities and into local communities, offering free screenings for the community, support groups and numerous educational opportunities. For more information, visit www.ValleyBaptist.net.