Here are some back-to-school ideas for healthy eating. This is a busy and exciting time of year for sure. A little planning can help to make your days smoother. I find that I need to get organized to make dinner earlier than in the summer – which tends to run pretty late. Then having all the food you need to get lunches and snacks ready the night before can help save precious time in the morning, too.
There is a lot of research about the importance of eating a healthy breakfast for kids and adults alike. See some of the details and ideas of what to make in this post: Here are 20 Terrific Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes for Teens
Even something light is better than skipping breakfast. A smoothie or muffin with fruit are quick options.
Or, “make a quick snack mix of 3/4 cup Cheerios, 1/4 cup dried cherries and 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds” – Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD https://soundbitesnutrition.com, Cincinnati, OH.
Find out if your school is offering free breakfasts this year, and check the menu on the school’s website.
Sometimes lunch is scheduled very early in the day, like 10:30 or 10:45. Grabbing a light breakfast before school is less of an issue in these cases.
When you’re getting ready to go back to school, check out the menu options for your school online. You may be able to find the nutrition information or email the registered dietitian for your district about ingredients and any questions you have beforehand. The main school lunch is free for everyone for the 2021 – 2022 school year again from the USDA, but not the optional snacks and beverages.
However, your child’s needs or preferences may not be met from the options available. Vegan and vegetarian food choices and milk substitutes can be limited – especially if schools are still using grab-and-go pre-packed lunches instead of fresh, hot meals. I have found that the choices do expand as kids get into middle school and high school, with larger kitchens and more variety to meet the needs of a larger student body.
A lot of water fountains in schools have been turned off for safety. Be sure to send one or more reusable water bottles to school.
Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas for Kids
If you are packing lunches, here are some more healthy eating tips:
Kristi Ruth RD, LDN of www.carrotsandcookies.com suggests “foods like baked oatmeal and bean and rice casserole can be heated and sent to school in a thermos”. This is a great idea if your kids don’t like sandwiches. She also suggests that “sides like fresh fruit salad and kale salad (kale does not get soggy as easily as lighter greens like spinach) can be made in bulk and then portioned out in small containers to be sent as fun, healthy, and delicious sides for your kids!”
“My top tip to get more fruits and vegetables into packed lunches and snacks is to choose no prep items that will not take any extra effort. That way even if you’re short on time or energy, you can still get those fruit and veggie servings in. My favorites include fresh berries of all kinds (no chopping!), bananas, snap peas, baby carrots or shredded carrots (toddler-safe), raisins, unsweetened applesauce, and fruit cups packed in 100% juice.”
Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, mamaknowsnutrition.com
Definitely try to get kids’ involvement and input into their selections. They can make a list of things they like and also help with food shopping. Sophia Condic, MS, RDN suggests to “have your kids help you pack their own lunch! Letting them complete one or two easy steps can get them excited about cooking and eating their lunch.”
A healthy afternoon snack may be more important than usual these days. Some schools may have a short snack break instead of a regular lunch period. Serve 2 – 3 food groups for a nourishing snack.
“Try a layered dip of hummus, chopped cucumbers, chopped tomatoes, diced red onions and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita chips or other veggies as a snack” – Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD https://soundbitesnutrition.com.
Joby Neelankavil RDN, www.jobyneelankavil.com, shared several great ideas for afternoon snacks:
“-Apple slices with peanut butter and crackers
-Orange slices, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds
-Unsalted tortilla chips with salsa
-Homemade banana bread with walnuts”
Quick Ideas for Back-to-School Dinners
Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC,
The Radiant Root, reports “batch cooking is super helpful to save time.”
Veggies are my favorite things to batch out. Some of the best are squash and sweet potatoes. I will cook a big spaghetti squash then let it cool and have it ready to be seasoned with my favorite spices. Sweet potatoes and butternut squash are two other veggies that I like to batch cook. Bake a bunch of them at a time so you have them on hand for whatever type of recipe you want to make.”
I also like to use an Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) to cook winter squash. It cooks faster and comes out tender (halve and scoop out the seeds first).
Some tips that help me are:
-Find recipes that you can make all in one pot or pan, like a slow cooker, sheet pan, skillet, or Instant Pot.
-Get organized for the week if at all possible. A lot of people like to plan out their menus, and that can be a great approach.
I am not one of those people, and would rather be struck by inspiration for the day, also based on what I have or what things look really fresh and good when I’m shopping. So I try a few things to organize dinner meals we like. One is that I have made 3 x 5 cards of all of the meals we like. I shuffle through the cards and pick out some meals to have soon. Then I will add anything I need for them to my grocery list.
I have also made a list of foods we like and how often – so there’s a weekly list, a biweekly list, and a monthly list. Not that I make these in any kind of routine manner, but it helps me see what variety to throw in for fun. A veggie stir-fry is weekly, homemade pizza biweekly, and breakfast for dinner is monthly, for example.
Good luck in your home with back-to-school time. I hope it is the beginning of an excellent school year! Please share in the comments if you tried any of these tips, and how they worked out for you.
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