by By Sabra Leomo, Registered Dietitian
How does summer always slip by so quickly? August brings us back to school with busy mornings and activity-illed evenings. Today I will share some easy tips to help ease you back into the school routine. With the start of school we often focus on pencils, binders, and other neatly packaged school supplies. While school supplies are important (who can resist a new pack of crayons?) let’s take a minute to talk about nutrition. Feeding your children healthy meals and snacks helps them focus in school and aids in their growth and development. Being prepared for a successful school year not only involves proper school supplies but good nutrition as well.
Pack Lunches at Night - It can be a challenge to wake kids and round up shoes and backpacks to head out the door. Let’s face it, mornings can be hectic. Packing healthy lunches at night can help ease the to-do list in the morning. Give your kids a few healthy options to pick from so they feel like they have some control over their food options and are more likely to eat what you pack for lunch. Keep a designated area in your fridge to place lunch boxes so you always have room in the refrigerator and everyone knows where to look to find their lunch as you head out the door.
Get Kids Involved - I know I say this often, but starting kids young with nutritious food is such a great way to invest in their lifelong health. Plus it is a fantastic way to spend some time and connect with your kids. Take your kids shopping with you and let them pick produce that they want to try. Kids can also help with food prep, whether it be washing fruits and veggies or putting soft spreads like peanut butter or hummus on whole grain bread or tortillas. Kids can also help measure ingredients and tear lettuce leaves or break off broccoli/cauliflower florets.
Snack Stations - A snack station in the pantry and/or fridge is a great way for kids to be independent while still choosing from healthy snack options. Set up an area on an easy to reach shelf with items like whole grain granola bars, nuts, no-sugar added applesauce and whole grain crackers. You can also set up a snack station in the fridge with items that need to stay cold, such as cut fruit and vegetables, cheese sticks, and yogurt. Kids may not receive all the nutrition they need from meals during the day. Think of healthy snacks as a way to boost the nutrition your child receives.
Think about Drinks - Keeping kids hydrated throughout the day can be a challenge. Water is the healthiest beverage option. It hydrates without the extra calories and sugar that is found in many beverages. If your kids aren’t wild about water try freezing berries into ice cubes to add color and flavor, or add fruit slices like orange, pineapple, or mango. A splash of 100% fruit juice is another way to add a touch of flavor to water. Kids are more likely to drink cold water so find a bottle that will keep water cold and refreshing.
Bring on the Bento Lunch Box - Having the right lunchbox makes all the difference when you are packing and when your kids are eating their lunch. Bento lunchboxes have become really popular over the years and for good reason! You don’t have to use plastic sandwich bags so they are good for the environment and save money over time. In a bento lunchbox every food item stays in its own little compartment, which is a great feature for picky eaters that don’t like their food to touch. Keeping track of plastic containers and lids is nearly impossible but with a bento style lunchbox you don’t have to mess with all those containers and lids. Lastly, they save time -- you only have one container to clean and kids only have to open one lid versus many individual containers at lunch.
Morning Fuel - How many times have you heard “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? It may be an overused phrase but breakfast truly is important for school performance and establishing healthy eating habits. Kids that eat breakfast show better cognitive function, attention and memory1 in school. We want our children to succeed in school and breakfast is an important part of the equation. Keep your pantry stocked with easy breakfast options like whole grain cereal (look for options with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving), oatmeal, peanut or nut butter, and whole grain granola bars. Smoothies and frozen whole wheat waffles topped with nut butter and sliced banana are easy breakfasts that kids can eat on the go.
Have a healthy and happy 2017-2018 school year!
1 Food Research & Action Center. Research Brief: Breakfast for Learning. http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/breakfastforlearning-1.pdf. Accessed 7/14/2017.