Back To School

It’s That Time of Year Again:  Back To School
The school year is fast approaching.  For many, school begins tomorrow!  There are mixed reactions when it comes to this time of year:

Parents:  woohoo!!

Kids:  Groan. Already?

Teachers:

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As the school year begins it’s important to pay attention to your child’s nutrition – nutrition helps children to focus and concentrate.   And if you’re dreading thinking of school lunches or how to grasp your mind around planning healthy dinners, here are a few suggestions to get you started back on the right foot!

5 Healthy Lunch Ideas

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Many times in the hustle and bustle of the morning routine packing a lunch is the last thing on your mind.  Sometimes it’s easier to give your child lunch money rather than pack a lunch.  You may want to reconsider providing lunch for your child since you’ll be able to have better control over what your child is eating versus being at the mercy of what’s provided at school.   The key in packing a lunch is to aim for a balanced and varied meal.  Respect your child’s eating habits – they may find comfort in eating the same foods where as other children may not want to eat the same thing daily.  This is where it’s important to get your kids involved in the preparation.  Guide them to prepare their lunch the night ahead and make sure you’ve provided them with healthy selections of what to choose from. 

Here are a few ideas for some yummy and easy lunches:

  1.   Tortilla wrap with shredded cheese and shredded chicken, and cut vegetables.

  2.   2 Tablespoons peanut butter (or sunbutter if peanut butter is restricted at your school), whole-grain crackers, and fruit or vegetables.

  3.   Bean-based soup or stew in a thermos, whole-grain roll, and a piece of fruit

  4.   1-2 slices of leftover thin-crust cheese pizza with some cut-up fruit.

  5.   The Banana dog:  a whole-grain hot-dog roll, nut butter of your choice, and a cut up banana for the filling, drizzled with a little bit of honey on top.

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Remember kids sometimes have as little as 20 minutes to make it to the cafeteria, find their seats, eat, AND clean up after themselves. So, definitely keep it simple and easy. If you know your child has issues with peeling their oranges, peel the orange the night ahead so it’s easy to devour the next day and they don’t waste time peeling the orange with their limited time.

Don’t forget FUN!! Yes, we know that “junk food” tastes good and is appealing to kids. And if your child sees other kids eating this they’re going to want it too (or might even trade some of their food for the junk food). My advice: include some fun healthier alternatives and remember portion control when it comes to these foods: baked chips versus the regular, trail mix with some dried fruit and a few pieces of chocolate mixed in, graham crackers or an actual piece of chocolate. When we were little we always had something sweet mixed in our lunches – it really was the portion size. If there was a twix bar, it was the “fun size” it wasn’t a full candy bar. The most nutritious lunches include foods from at least three of the food groups. Think outside the box and don’t get stuck in the rut of a sandwich every day – having a balanced nutritious lunch helps your child have the right fuel to do better in school!

After-School Snacks – What makes a good snack??

Cakes, cookies, pies, and candy are NOT snacks.  Snacks are mini-meals.  Use the same things to make snacks that you use for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:  whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables -  It’s just the portion sizes are smaller.  Healthy snacks will provide carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and some healthy fat.  Foods that are rich in protein and high in fiber tend to help kids stay fuller longer.  Snacks can help keep kids’ energy up and also can help make up for a skimpy meal that they didn’t finish eating or was just not their favorite.  Snacks can range from 100-300 calories depending on the child’s age.  The key is to have healthy, balanced options available and allow for your child’s hunger to help rule what he or she eats.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1.   ½ banana with 1-2 tablespoons of a nut butter (peanut, almond, or cashew)

  2.   1 slice whole wheat bread with 1-2 oz uncured, low-salt luncheon meat

  3.   ¼ cup nuts (almonds, cashews, or peanuts) with a tennis-ball sized fruit

  4.   6 Whole-grain crackers with 1 ounce cheese

  5.   Plain yogurt (add cinnamon and vanilla) along with ½ cup mixed berries

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Here is a link for a few other fun snack ideas:  Fun Snack Ideas

Easy Weeknight Meals –

Cooking after a long day at work is the last thing that people want/have time to do.  With all of the rushing around, i.e. sports, dance lessons, homework, it’s easy to slip into the fast-food lane.  Quick, easy weeknight meals are a must during the school year.  The key is planning your meals for the week (or better yet, the month!) to help minimize having to pick items up at the store which can take more time than you’re already pressed for.   Sitting down together as a family will be well worth the effort – not only can you find out what went on in everybody’s day but they’ll also receive the benefit of a delicious AND nutritious meal!  Again, make sure to have a plan of attack – plan for the week and have some menu ideas in mind, make sure to get everyone involved and have a task to complete.  This way when everybody pitches in, no one person will feel overwhelmed and as if they have to do it all – divide the tasks/responsibilities up.   

Here are a few links for “Easy, Weeknight Meals”:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/photos/family-friendly-weeknight-dinner-recipes.html 

http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/easy-weeknight-dinners-2 

http://www.cookinglight.com/food/everyday-menus/easy-weeknight-meals

http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/kid-friendly-slow-cooker-recipes

I recommend to start a monthly calendar of meals.  Pick and choose which recipes work for you and your family and write them into the calendar – you will now have a rotation of meals for a whole month.  This helps with variety and helps to prevent boredom – we all get in the rut of repeating the same meals over and over.  You can always have Taco Tuesday, but simply look for four different taco recipes so that each week it’s a different Taco Tuesday night!  This will help to keep it fresh and different.  Always try to rotate a few new meals in – this helps to keep it fresh and not always predictable as well!

So if tomorrow is your first day of school or if you’ve already gotten into the swing of things, remember to keep nutrition a part of each and every day.  Healthy eating during childhood is important in order to have a good intake of nutrients for growth and development, improved concentration, as well as establishing healthy habits at an early age!  Have a great 1st day everybody!