As the summer comes to an end, it is back to school for those kiddos! Mornings become even more hectic, and meal planning may be low on your weekly to-do list. However, research shows that eating a healthy diet is key to a child’s development, school performance, and overall health.
You have probably heard the saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Did you know that school-aged kids perform better on tests and have improved concentration when they eat a healthy breakfast? An example of a balanced breakfast may be scrambled eggs, fruit, and whole wheat toast. Some easy options for breakfast are hard boiled eggs, bananas or apples with peanut butter, yogurt, cereal (with less than 10g sugar per serving), and whole-grain toast. Make sure to incorporate both carbohydrates and protein into your child’s breakfast for energy and fullness that lasts.
One of the easiest ways to make your morning routine less hectic is to pack school lunches the night before. This also gives you more time to prepare a healthy breakfast in the morning. Try to incorporate each of the food groups in your child’s lunch – fruit, vegetable, protein, dairy, and whole grains. Instead of a standard turkey or PB&J sandwich, vary it up with a wrap, making a sandwich using leftover meat from the night before, using pita pockets, or making tuna salad with chopped grapes, raisins, or shredded carrots. Make it even more fun for the kids by cutting sandwiches into shapes with a cookie cutter. A few examples of some healthy side items may include clementines, grapes, bananas, no-sugar added applesauce or fruit cups, pistachios, peanuts, ready-to-pack raw veggies like carrots, celery sticks or cherry tomatoes, cheese sticks, or yogurt. Kids may be more open to eating vegetables if you include a dip like hummus, peanut butter, or Greek yogurt. Try to avoid packing sugary drinks, and instead send water bottles or milk cartons. If you do pack a juice box on occasion, aim for 100% fruit juice. An item like baked chips, a dark chocolate square, or a home-made cookie is a fun treat once in awhile.
Make after-school snacking easy and nutritious by having certain “snack stations” in your pantry and refrigerator. Designate one shelf in the pantry to have snack options like granola bars, dried fruit, cereal, applesauce, crackers with peanut butter, nuts, and trail mix. Kids (and adults) are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables if they are already cut up and ready to eat. Try chopping veggies one day of the week and placing them in an area of your refrigerator in plain site. If your children must have a sugary snack every once in awhile, set limits on the portion sizes (ex: 2 cookies only, not 4 or 5).
Make lists, organize, and plan for the week to make feeding your family healthy meals less stressful for you. As always, lead by example – if your children see you choosing healthy options, they are more likely to follow your example and develop healthy eating habits for life.
Sources & Additional Back to School Nutrition Tips: