I don't know about you but, my family is squeezing every little last bit of summer out of August. September is one of those months that most families gear up and get back in a rhythm of meals and snacks. I encourage realistic meal planning to not only make life easier but, to teach your children by good example and increase the chances of healthy food choices as often as possible.
Here are my top Six back to school eating habits your family should develop:
#1 –Always have breakfast. No time? Try any combination of: toast w/ PB & J, whole-grain cereal in a bag, portable natural yogurts, leftover veggie pizza, bananas, milk jugs, low fat cheese sticks, frozen homemade smoothies and fresh fruit.
#2 – Pack lunch. Make it the night before. Think of themes like ‘Animals’. Cut sandwiches into animal shapes, include animal crackers (unfrosted) and “ants on a log”. Put special tokens, notes and stickers in your child’s lunch (hey it works for all those “kids’ meals”). For the adults, cook bigger dinner meals and when you clean up, put left-overs into lunch size containers for quick packing before work. Put leftover salad into mason jars.
#3 – Try one new food a week. Try hummus, fruit salsa or bean dip instead of higher fat, low vitamin dressings with veggies, on sandwiches or salads. The food could be new to the kids or for everyone! Check out the seasonal produce area and often there is an exotic fruit or new kind of potato featured along with a sample recipe and other useful information on how to prepare it.
If you bring kids to the store have them be the detectives searching for a new food to try! I will note a new flavor of potato chips is not what I’m going for here. Think whole food like a new type of fish, an ancient grain, purple carrots or starfruit.
#4 – Only drink Water, 100% Juice, or Milk. Skip those 10% juice “things”. Soy, almond or coconut milks can be nutritious but read nutrition labels avoiding the high added sugar products. Also, realize that almond and coconut blend “milk” are not always a good source of protein and often are lower calorie compared to soy or cow’s milk. I don’t have a favorite, it just depends on what you are looking to get from that beverage. Avoid artificially flavored beverages as often as possible. If you need to flavor water, use natural flavor like real lime, lemon, brewed tea or a little fruit juice.
#5 – Designate “junk” food times. Kids don’t want to be deprived so set up movie night or game night that includes 2 or 3 “junk” foods that they can look forward to every week. Don’t keep these foods around all the time but, remind them of the upcoming event when they ask for ice cream five different ways. I suggest allowing them to pick the foods they want to include. Limit the servings and be sure the meals are extra healthy that day! This teaches balance.
#6 – Have Healthy Snacks available. I am the baggie queen!! Keep serving sizes of snack foods ready in the pantry by measuring out crackers, cookies, nuts, dried fruit and cereal into baggies and keep them where the kids can choose their own healthy snacks. You can do the same in the fridge with grapes, celery, cherries, tomatoes and veggies sticks. We set up an assembly line in the kitchen after a warehouse grocery run to prep a large bin with snacks twice a month. These are also great for throwing into lunches and grabbing on the way to the next softball game, swim meet or music lesson.
From one busy family to another, setting yourself and your family up for food success makes tip #5 that much more fun and relaxing!
Francine M. Kerber, MS, RD, CDE