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Dr. Zorba Paster: Breakfast in the morning, no screens at bedtime make Jack and Jill sharp kids
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Dr. Zorba Paster: Breakfast in the morning, no screens at bedtime make Jack and Jill sharp kids

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Remember when you went back to school, specifically elementary school? I certainly do. My mom would buy me some new clothes — a new pair of pants, two shirts and new shoes.

Back in the day, I’m talking about the ’50s, clothing was much more expensive. There was no place like Walmart or Target to get inexpensive duds. We only had cotton and wool, and they were always costly. Artificial fabrics and global commerce changed the landscape.

And then there were those new boxes of crayons and fresh notebooks — all clean and tidy. I could go on and on.

Today, we have a totally different landscape. We have masks. We have mandates. We have kids who develop COVID-19. We are in a pandemic.

But our kids have a pandemic of their own — not being able to be kids. Virtual learning — I bet most of you agree — is a poor substitute for in-person learning at school. It’s not just the readin’ (w)ritin’ and ’rithmetic, but also the interaction that our kids need. That’s a key.

Putting that aside for the moment, let’s review the basics that are important for each parent to consider now that their kids are back to school.

First off, eating. The most important advice here: Don’t skip breakfast.

Think about it, if kids last ate at 9 p.m. or even earlier the evening before and they don’t eat again until lunch, it’s at least a 15-hour fast. Not good for young minds.

Give them something before they head out of the house and off to school. Whether it’s the old standby cereal or a bagel with cream cheese or a banana, kids need something to fuel their brain.

During the pandemic, schools in our state have received added federal funding to offer free breakfasts for each and every kid. One school district, Waukesha, initially voted to deny kids this opportunity, saying it would spoil the children.

I find this hard to believe. I’m not sure what their goofy thinking was — I’m just on the kids’ side. All kids need a good breakfast. I’m for the tykes. Thankfully, the school district reversed the decision.

Food is critical for children to learn, and believe it or not, not all families have the resources or wherewithal to feed their children as needed.

It’s our job as a community, all of us, to keep our kids healthy and well. And that starts with every kid getting a good breakfast to start their day.

As for lunch, that’s my next thought. Whether it’s the hot lunch at school or the bag lunch brought from home, be aware of what your kids are eating. You’re teaching lifelong nutritional habits.

If you pack a lunch, make sure it has a fruit, veggies and a nutritious sandwich. Try carrot sticks rather than chips, and no sugary soft drinks. There’s too much childhood obesity, and soda encourages it.

Now, on to screen time. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced another pandemic of screen watching. We all know this. Screens have entered our society kind of like that cousin who sometimes brings good stuff to your family and other times you would just like just go away.

Screens will never go away, of course, but screens and sleep are an important issue. Study after study has shown that if your kid looks at a screen before bedtime, they have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Perhaps it’s the blue light from the screen, or perhaps it’s just the interaction.

If your kid has trouble sleeping, limit the use of blue light screens including TV, computer, tablet or phone before bedtime. Half an hour before lights out, have them read a book or a magazine — my favorite at a young age was comic books — anything to slow the mind and ease them into dreamland. Electronics can disrupt normal sleep patterns.

Next week, let’s talk about kids’ activities and childhood immunizations. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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