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Fit For Life: Back-to-School - Have a Plan!

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Matt Espeut

It’s that time of year for parents to rejoice. Back to school for the young ones! You get to see them get excited about new clothes, sneakers, and being back with their friends. A couple things that kids don’t care about, but you should: 

   1.  their nutrition, and
   2.  their training (especially if they play sports).

Realistically, most school lunches contain nothing, but processed garbage or extremely poor quality food, and most kids that play sports, do not get enough organized training to prepare them for their specific activity. I will give you a few tips on how to combat both dilemmas.


First, let’s talk nutrition. Start with a fundamental question: What will I absolutely not include in their sacks? This is an important query. Folks will find their own way, but many of the items advertised for lunch boxes are processed crap masquerading as sustenance.

Look at snacks with cheese, and other snacks that have claims to be “healthy”: It may have “as much calcium as an 8-oz. glass of milk,” but Kraft doesn’t trumpet the trans fats, artificial dyes and other nasty stuff in the ingredients. Nonfat Milk, Water, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, less than 2% of: Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 – that’s what they want you to give your children.

They market this stuff to us as healthy, but it really isn’t that healthy after all, and this isn’t the nutrition you want your kids gobbling up, right? So, you should not be including anything like this in their menu. Once we have that framework of what to avoid, then we discuss what we will include.

I always ask two questions:

Will it make you proud to feed them these items?

Will they eat them?

I understand the balance between healthy and convenient, flexible and diligent, aware and open. You can pack the world’s healthiest lunch, but it does no good if your kids won’t eat it. Even if you must make peanut butter and jelly, purchase the highest quality bread that they’ll eat. Avoid ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, etc.  Always get a jelly that’s 100% fruit, and organic. The same goes for your peanut butter. But even my high quality PB & J only takes us so far.

To really do it right, plan out their menu before school starts. Have a family meeting. Ask this: “kids, what would you like to see in your lunches this year?” If you can’t get a straight answer you need to go straight to the grocery store and walk up and down the aisles - together. This way you can make informed decisions together, and it won’t feel like you are forcing good healthy food on them. Get them excited about fresh fruits, tasty vegetables like carrots, healthy trail mixes, and quality deli meats, and breads. This will make them happy and you will be satisfied that your kids are eating healthy.

Training – Exercise – Sports – Athletics

Now that we addressed some nutrition issues, let’s talk about athletics. For a moment think on the pro level. What do the pros do in the off season? They train. Not only for strength and performance, but for conditioning and injury prevention. Why treat kids differently?

When an untrained athlete takes the field, they are doubling their chance of injury, as well as getting their ego, and self-esteem pummeled, because they can’t compete.

You don’t need to send them off to some expensive showcase facility, or training camp - just a few workout sessions per week will help improve overall conditioning. Beware if they hit the gym with their friends. Usually they will grab a workout out of a magazine and attempt to do it on their own, only to get injured, or gain nothing from improper technique.

The best advice I can give to a parent is to hire a trained professional, with experience in sports training. I have a lot of experience training youth athletes, and the number one concern is the weakness in their core, and my second concern is that they are still growing and developing, so many are extremely awkward. Special attention needs to be paid, because an adolescent should develop their core before loading the body. Movement patterns need to be perfected, before speed work is implemented. Progressions need to be strategically planned, so imbalances, dysfunction and injury do not occur.

I am not a parent, but every parent wants their child to excel in school, be competitive an injury free. All parents will cringe, and feel the pain, when their kid gets hurt or get sick. These issues can be solved by implementing a simple training program, and including some good nutrition with that training in their back-to-school schedule.

I am in my 5th year of training the Shea High football team, and my biggest accomplishment isn’t the 2 Super Bowl berths, and 3 playoff appearances, but the LACK of injuries! So just because your kids won’t be with you all day, and you won’t be able to supervise what they eat, you can have peace of mind by sending them off with healthy options in their lunch boxes. And if your child is playing a sport, and needs conditioning before the season, visit me at Providence Fit Body Boot Camp. We have all the tools to prepare them for a healthy battle!

Matt Espeut, GoLocal's Health & Lifestyle Contributor has been a personal trainer and health & fitnesss consultant for over 25 years. He is the owner of Fitness Profiles, a one on one, and small group personal training company, as well as Providence Fit Body Boot Camp, located at 1284 North Main St., on the Providence/Pawtucket line. You can reach Matt at (401) 453-3200; on Facebook at "Matt Espeut", and on Twitter at @MattEspeut. "We’re all in this life together – let’s make it a healthy one


Related Slideshow: The 7 Best Health and Fitness Apps

Here is a list of some of the most obsession worthy health apps.

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MapMyRun is the number one selling running app for a reason:  it is easy to use, offers community support if you want it, and tracks and stores your exact routes for you.  If you are training for a race or a serious runner, users say that the extra perks in the upgraded paid version are well worth it. 

Made for iPhone, Android and Blackberry 

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MyFitnessPal seems to be the clear favorite amongst everyone polled.  It is helpful not only for the fitness tracking aspect, but everyone polled mentioned how much they loved the food/diet aspect as well. From carb counting for diabetics to recipe ideas to complement your fitness goals, users love this app. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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JeFit is another fitness app that has rave reviews.  It not only tracks progress for you, but offers a huge database of workouts.  While many apps offer community support, JeFit allows you to sync workouts with friends who use the app, offering a (real) virtual buddy system.

Made for iPhone and Android

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Strava gets the highest mark of all the cycling apps.  While it is also great for runners, the cyclers seem particularly inclined towards the fierce competition that can be ignited by this app.  You can track all of your rides via GPS, then you can compare your efforts to those logged by others in the community on the same stretch of road.  You can also join ongoing challenges that can net you great prizes (in addition to bragging rights). 

Made for iPhone and Android

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YogaStudio gets the top vote for Yoga apps.  It has a lengthy collection of full class-length videos available at your fingertips.  Unlike many other apps, this one also allows you to customize your own video yoga class.  All of the poses are done by qualified yoga instructors, and you can find classes suitable for all levels of yogis.

Made for iPhone only

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SimplyBeing meditation app offers the best of both worlds.  You can choose to run this app as a background for your meditation with soothing music or natural sounds that run for a set amount of time.  Conversely, for those of you who have trouble focusing during meditation, you can choose a soothing voice-guided meditation. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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Fooducate is an app all about educating people so that they make healthier food choices.  Although not perfect, this app is easy to use (you can even take pictures of bar codes to instantly find foods in their database).  It gives food a letter grade, tells you the pluses and minuses, and gives you better ranked alternatives.  You can also use it as a weight loss tool by tracking your daily calories. 

Made for iPhone and Android


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