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I find more each day that parenting is a learning process and sometimes we make a decision not knowing if it’s the right one at the time.  Things like making sure my kids eat healthy or setting curfews and other rules can differ from other parents and there’s nobody to tell me for certain what I should be doing.  Right now I’m faced with a tough decision in regard to my daughter.

I recognize today many kids are heavily involved in extra-curricular activities.  It’s not uncommon to find a child who is trying to juggle a sport, music lessons and a school club all while trying to manage his or her school work.  There are different views on this subject–some parents think the more things their child is involved in, the more he or she will grow as a person, be productive and stay out of trouble.  Others, like myself are looking for some balance and worry it’s too much and these kids end up stressed trying to manage so many things at such a young age.

This brings me back to Alex.  Alex is a straight A student, about to begin her sophmore year.  She is involved in the school’s chorus, belongs to one of the volunteer clubs and last spring she ran track.  She did well and her coaches urged her to join the cross country team in fall.  Her father and I said we were okay with it as long as she makes school work her priority.  Well, I got the cross country scheduled and whoa!  You might think these kids have nothing else to do than train for the sport.  Training starts two weeks before school at a distant location every weeknight from 5:30-7:30.  Transportation is not provided and there is a fee each time you enter the park.  In addition, the team is required to travel to another location, about 45 minutes away from the school, each Saturday and arrive by 8:00 a.m.  All this is aside from the regularly scheduled meets.

I have problems with this on so many levels, but my main concern is the fact that this severely eats into her study/homework time each day and the possibility the extra demands may adversly impact her overall well-being (think stress) The timing itself is also impactful to the rest of the family–it’s right in the middle of family dinner time, which we consider to be important. 

The end result is she will not be doing cross country.  I’m not feeling all that great about our decision, although I do believe it’s the right one for Alex and our family.  We’ve told Alex that spring track is fine and she can look into winter track if she feels she can manage it with her workload (neither sport is as demanding as cross country).  I just wish sometimes these decisions would be easier or that I could look into a crystal ball and know I made the right one. 

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Now that it’s back-to-school time, a lot of moms are focusing even more on the health of their children.  I know my two teens are much better prepared to take on the day’s challenges when they’re eating well-balanced meals.  Traditionally there were limited options moms had that could positively impact the kind of nutrition their kids received.  I know for me it consisted of packing them healthy lunches, which included fruits and/or vegetables during the school year.  Well, I’ve got some good news–this year we’ve got a few additional ways to get involved in making sure our kids get the nutrition they need.

To begin, the Fruits & Veggies–More Matters web site has resources to help you get better nutrition in your child’s school as part of its More Matters Pledge.  Select the My-School Pledge option and you’ll find help to get a salad bar put in your school cafeteria, have a fruit and veggie vending machine installed in your school or learn more about the Pack Assorted Colors for Kids (P.A.C.K.) program.  P.A.C.K. is designed to help children learn more about fruits and vegetables.  The My-School Pledge also has valuable information and links to what’s already going on in schools to support better nutrition.

Another way you can help is through the USDA partner program.  Since the launch of the new food icon showing half the plate filled with fruits and vegetables, the USDA has been looking for partners to help promote these new guidelines.  Their Community Partners level is ideal for schools, dietitians and educators.  It allows partners to commit to any level of involvement such as developing an outreach program or adding the link to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 to their web site.  If you’re involved in your child’s PTA, it might be worth exploring at your next meeting.

Be sure to keep your eyes on the latest updates from the Let’s Move initiative.  The First Lady’s fight against childhood obesity is frequently coming up with new programs and one might be ideal for your community. 

Finally, if your child is participating in a sport or club that requires fundraising, why not try going the healthy route this year?  The Stemilt Fresh Fruit Fundraising program allows your child to sell fresh apples or pears, grown in Washington state, instead of candy.  Plus, 33% of each gift pack goes back to the child in order to better support his or her activity.  I know I’d be much more likely to buy fresh fruit to support an activity than a huge bar of candy!

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It’s hard to believe summer is almost over and within the next few weeks we’ll be seeing that familiar sight of school buses in neighborhoods everywhere.  I must admit, by end of summer I’m feeling like the parent in that old commercial who is gleefully pushing his cart through a store while stocking up on school supplies as "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" plays in the background.   End of summer boredom has set in for my teens and they’re ready to head back to school with their friends (although they’d never admit it!).  The transition from lazy summer days to a new school year isn’t always easy, but over time I’ve found a few ways to help get your kids back on track with minimal drama.

I try to keep in mind how this change in schedule impacts their overall well-being.  If your kids are like mine, their bedtime schedules have changed a lot from the school year.  Alex and John are typically in bed by 9:30 on school nights and they get up at 6:30.  This is compared to their summer schedule of going to bed around 11:00 and getting up at 9:00 (9 is my rule–if I let them they’d surely stay in bed until 10 or 11).  In order to better prepare them for the first day of school, I start a week in advance of making them go to bed an hour earlier and get up an hour or so earlier.  It allows their bodies to adjust and makes that first day so much easier.  Both kids function better when they get the sleep they need.

My husband and I also start setting expectations for the upcoming school year a few weeks in advance.  Since they’re teens these conversations are pretty straightforward, but if your child is younger it may take a little bit of creativity on your part.  Start laying out new school clothes and involve them in selecting school supplies and backpacks.  If you get your child’s books in advance, take a quick look at them together.  The idea is to get your child excited and motivated about starting a new school year.

Some kids can be nervous about the first day, especially if transitioning to a new school.  In order to minimize anxiety and stress, having open discussions about their feelings and an advance visit to the school isn’t a bad idea.  Last summer, before my kids started high school I took them to the school and showed them around to get them familiar with the layout.  We practiced them getting from one class to another in a set amount of time.  They both told me how much this helped them the first week of school when the halls were packed with kids searching for their next class.

Honestly, no matter how much you do or don’t plan for the start of school, your child will get through the first week and adjust.  However, it might be worth your while to give these ideas a try–if only to make that transition easier on you. 

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Last week, McDonald’s made an announcement that probably has health conscious moms smiling.  Beginning this September, they will automatically put a serving of fruit in each of their Happy Meals, reduce the size of the French fries included and offer a choice of beverage, which includes fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk.  In fact, you can omit the fries completely, if you choose, and get two servings of fruit instead! 

My kids are teens, so we’re past the Happy Meal stage, but as a mother I’m really thrilled to see a huge corporation like McDonald’s taking steps to aid moms in promoting healthy food choices for their children.  I’m a firm believer that good eating habits start early.  I think associating meals and treats that children enjoy with nutritious options will help instill a fondness for the healthier foods.

This announcement is the latest in many efforts I’ve seen around the nation to help improve the health of our children.  The First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign has been a big push in fighting childhood obesity with such initiatives as adding salad bars to schools, the Healthier US School Challenge (recognizing schools that provide a healthy environment through nutrition and activity) and efforts to work with day care providers in getting very young children off to a healthy start.  The National Restaurant Association recently announced its Kids LiveWell program, which helps participating restaurants offer healthier menu items for children.

I know there are some skeptics out there that still think we have a long way to go before this problem is solved.  I agree–there is much more that can and should be done, but I get the sense that we’re moving in the right direction–think baby steps.  I’m also hopeful that as such large and influential organizations like McDonald’s join the fight, many other establishments will begin offering healthy alternatives as well.  Who knows, maybe my grandchildren will associate a sweet treat with a piece of fruit instead of candy–I can only hope!

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