It’s almost BACK-TO-SCHOOL time! Or maybe you’ve already started?? Either way, it's time for some back to school nutrition tips!
With summer winding down, millions of kids will be heading back to school and this also often means hectic mornings, homework, carpooling and plenty of last-minute packing up lunches.
Balancing the busy back-to-school season with nutritious meals for your family can seem daunting. Take some tips from your eco-friendly dietitian and start the school year right. Kick things off with our 5 back-to-school nutrition tips!
Libby’s back-to-school nutrition tips
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1 - Stay hydrated
Hydration plays a pivotal role in overall health―carrying nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, reducing fatigue, and keeping the body temperature constant. Water is especially important for kids to help their bodies grow. Choose water first, and encourage your kids to do the same!
Steer clear of sodas and other sugary beverages like juice, which are often loaded with extra sugar. Even if it is 100% juice, you don’t get any of the fiber that real fruit has to offer.
Try adding some lemon or orange slices to your water for that extra burst of flavor. Also, invest in a reusable water bottle and keep it around for easy access.
2 - Create a Meal Plan ↠ and involve the kids!
Planning meals is the easiest way to prepare yourself for the week ahead. Saving you time and effort when it’s time for dinner. Research shows kids who get involved in the weekly meal prep are more likely to eat and enjoy those meals!
Sit down with your kids before you get your groceries, and get their input on what they'd like to eat this week. Help them plan balanced meals, we can’t have pizza every night after all…
If they suggest tacos or spaghetti, help guide them to include veggies that make sense and maybe offer up fruit as dessert.
This is a great way to teach your kids how to make sure you have all the needed components of a balanced meal. As you plan the week together, make sure you're promoting balanced, healthy meals. Don’t forget to plan for snacks too.
After some family planning, get only the groceries based on your meal plan. This way you aren’t wandering the grocery store making things up along the way. When you already know what you’re having, it’s easy to buy just what you need.
This method can help reduce food waste (and let’s be honest, can save lots of money) because you have a timely plan for everything you buy and nothing goes to waste.
3 - Meal prep, especially breakfasts
Are your mornings rushed? Don't have enough time to make dinner tonight? Prepping meals ahead of time (even just the night before) can help save time all throughout the week.
Prepare breakfast the night before and save those precious morning minutes. Make some overnight oats, hard boil some eggs, or cut up fruit to mix with yogurt. Breakfast is important for growing kids - don't let busy mornings get in the way of proper nutrition!
Quick breakfast ideas
- Yogurt (unsweetened) with fruit
- Whole grain cereal with nuts, like this oatmeal—my fav breakfast!
- Toast/english muffin with nut (almond, cashew, walnut) butter and a piece of fruit
- Ricotta toast
- Peanut butter and banana wrap
- Cereal or granola with milk - make sure you’re choosing cereals with less than 10 grams of sugar and at - least 3 grams of fiber.
Want more ideas? Try these!
- Overnight oats
- Hard-boiled egg with fruit and nuts
- Mini egg frittata with spinach and peppers
- Nutrient-dense muffins like Savory Rosemary Cheddar Muffins or Healthy Pumpkin Muffins
- Breakfast tacos/burritos
- Homemade granola
Meal Planning Tips
Kids are more likely to eat something they've helped plan and prepare. So get the whole family involved in meal prep! For the little ones, have them help you wash the vegetables. And the older ones could cut up things (with supervision) or mix items together.
Here is a great article that outlines age-appropriate tasks for kids of all ages.
When packing lunches, get the kids involved to pick out the parts of their lunch. Rather than asking “what do you want?”, give them options like strawberries & pretzels OR blueberries & crackers.
When meal prepping, you can prepare the whole meal, or simply chop things up ahead of time. Take a day where you're not as busy (let's say Sunday) to cut up vegetables, wash greens, cook several portions of a protein like meat or beans, etc. This can save lots of time during the week!
4 - Packing Lunch
Packing lunch the night before can be a real lifesaver. Make a habit of having your child help pack his/her lunch before bed.
Here are some tips for packing a nutrient-dense lunch for the kiddos:
- Make sure you have veggies, lean protein, healthy fat, fruit and fiber (whole grains can fall into the fiber category)
- Prep items ahead of time (i.e. wash cherry tomatoes or prepare a batch of Easy 5 Seed Crackers over the weekend)
- Buy nuts, seeds and grains in bulk to reduce wasteful packaging
- Invest in reusable food wraps for snacks and sandwiches - no need to keep buying plastic sandwich bags
- Store items in an insulated lunchbox or thermos with an ice pack. You can store hot or cold foods in a thermos. Kids are more likely to eat foods that are the correct temperature.
- Use a stainless steel container like a bento box that has different compartments. These work great for kids who don’t want their foods to touch. And check out this awesome post on some different kid-friendly lunch boxes by The Good Life Designs.
- Make fun shapes, enjoy themed meals, write a note, include a fun snack. Have fun with lunch!
5 - The Snack Station
If chips and cookies are what you brought home from the store, then those will be your default snacking options (we generally eat what's easy and available, especially kids). Get some fresh fruit and vegetables instead, and chop them up in advance for easy snacking options.
Bonus: kids are more likely to eat veggies if they are cut up and ready to eat (i.e. cut up carrots or celery to eat with hummus).
Here are some great snack ideas:
- Bite-sized Bliss Balls or Oatmeal Energy Balls
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (cut them up ahead!)
- Veggie sticks and hummus
- Homemade granola bars
- Avocado rice cakes
- Nuts and seeds
- Trail mix
- Spiced applesauce
- Yogurt with fruit and nuts
- Homemade Popcorn
- Cheese sticks
- Crackers with cheese/nut butter
- Check out more healthy snack ideas here!
Avoid highly processed and packaged snacks. Though convenient, they’re often filled with highly processed ingredients that aren’t going to provide your kids with the nutrients they need.
Lastly, lead by example. Even with our best efforts and intentions, kids will do what they see. If they see you turn your nose up at veggies and choose sugary beverages, they’ll surely follow suit.
While it’s unrealistic to expect parents to be a perfect role model, try your best to encourage a healthy and positive attitude toward food.
Thanks for checking out our back to school nutrition tips and hope you have a great school year!
How do you prepare for the school year? What are your tips for balancing the busy back-to-school season with healthy eating?
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