The calendar and weather forecast are both still saying it’s summer, but look around and you’ll see the telltale signs of fall. The days are already a bit shorter, the afternoon shadows are longer, and ads for school supplies, and back to school clothes are everywhere. It’s officially back to school time, and back to reality.
One of the hardest parts of back to school for most parents, is the meal planning. For most families, mornings are hectic, and evenings can be spent in the car, or helping with homework, and healthy meals often take a back seat. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, if you do some advance planning and keep a few staples on hand. Here’s a list of what you need and how to put it together:
- Invest in sturdy, washable lunch boxes with a freezer packs. Look for BPA free insulated plastic, or ideally, lightweight stainless, which is easier to keep clean. Also consider purchasing insulated containers to keep cold foods cold, and a thermos to keep hot foods hot.
- Keep the refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy staples at all times. The following foods are nutritious, and will last for several weeks: eggs, nut butter (almond or sunflower if your school doesn’t allow peanut butter), string cheese or mini Babybel cheese, quick cooking oats, frozen fruit, whole wheat bread, English muffins and mini bagels (keep them in the freezer), high fiber cold cereal like shredded wheat, and Greek or regular yogurt. Add fresh fruits, mini vegetables like baby carrots, mini sweet peppers and cucumbers, low fat milk, and turkey or chicken breast from the deli each week or as needed.
- When making breakfast, or packing a lunch, follow the Rule of THREE – make sure each meal has something from at least 3 different food groups: a fruit or vegetable (or both), a grain (aim for whole grain or 100% whole wheat bread, muffin, bagel, rice or pasta), and a protein (meat, dairy, nuts, beans). Limit beverages to 1% milk or water, as juices, sodas or juice drinks provide empty calories with little or no nutritional value.
- If mornings are busy and rushed, pack lunches the night before, and plan breakfast out as well. Grab and go breakfasts can be as simple as a hard boiled egg with a mini bagel and a banana, or muffins made with cheese, vegetables and a whole grain like quinoa. Breakfast casseroles or strata made with eggs, meat and vegetables can also be made the night before and heated in the microwave. Overnight oats can be assembled with any flavor fruit and any type of milk or yogurt, and are ready to eat in the morning.
It’s one thing to pack a healthy breakfast or lunch, but it’s another thing to get your child to eat it. To ensure that lunch is eaten rather than traded or tossed at school, get the family involved in meal planning and grocery shopping, so they have some say in what’s in the bag. It’s a great way to start a conversation about healthy eating, and get them involved in brainstorming new meal combinations.