9 Healthy Eating Tips for Back to School
I know - it’s hard to believe that another school year is upon us!
The kids are happy, well-rested, excited to show off their new fall wardrobe, and anxious to get reacquainted with friends. Though they may be dreading the return to early mornings, they are full of wonder and anticipation - excited to discover who their new teacher will be and what they are going to learn about this year.
As a parent, you are excited to see them continue growing and learning but anxious about the return of early morning routines, struggling over bed times, coordinating busy schedules, lunch preparation, and figuring out how best to maintain healthy eating habits. Soon, time spent with your kids will be in the car shuttling them to and from various activities and events, making time management and food prep even more difficult.
To help you get the school year started on the right foot, here are 9 healthy eating tips to kick the year off right while improving the focus and productivity of everyone in the household.
Healthy Eating Tips for the Whole Family
- Eat breakfast: Eating a healthy breakfast together is a great way to to spend quality time with the kids while ensuring everyone start the day off with a full belly and sharp mind. Filling up on protein and fibre is great way to prepare young minds for the challenges ahead and ensure everyone in the family stays satisfied until lunch.
- Add quality protein: Protein is an important part of every meal. Because it takes longer than carbohydrate-rich foods and fruits to digest, it provides sustained energy to help you and your child feel full longer. It also helps increase focus and attention in the classroom. Some quick and portable sources of protein include string cheese, hard boiled eggs, apples or celery with almond butter, or homemade baked goods with added protein or collagen powder. For lunch, protein choices can include wild canned salmon, tuna, left over chicken/steak, or shredded cheese and chopped nuts added to a salad.
- Swap juice boxes for whole fruit: Yes, I know boxed fruit juice is convenient to send to school with the kiddos. But did you know that juices, even if made from real fruit, spike blood sugar levels much more than the whole fruit itself? Plus, many boxed juices have added sugars. So skip buying boxed juices and send whole (or cut up) pieces of fruit to school with your child to snack on. Whole fruit, unlike juice, also has the added bonus of containing healthy fibre and has a high water content.
- Switch to water: Since you will not be adding juice boxes to your or your child’s lunchbox what should you drink instead? Water! And, no, water does not need to be boring. Get a cute see-through water bottle and add slices of fruit or vegetables to the water. Watermelon, lemon, and cucumber-mint make great add-ins, but you can experiment with anything that “floats your boat.”
- Watch out for added sugar: As tempting (and time-saving) as it is to opt for pre-packaged snacks like “gogurt” and granola bars, it’s important to read labels and stay away from packaged foods that have added sugars. Sugar is harmful to everyone’s health but children seem to be even more sensitive to its dangers. Sugar can contribute to a decreased attention span and an increase in cravings, making learning a challenge. It also lacks nutritive value and robs our bodies of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Be aware of places sugar loves to hide - like in ketchup, sugar-sweetened cereals, smoothies, and fruity yogurt.
- Avoid “white” food: White food, including bread, bagels, white rice, and white pasta are refined and easy to overeat. They have been highly processed, contain virtually no nutrients, and spike blood sugar levels, leaving us hungry, sleepy, and irritable after eating them. Introducing kids to quinoa, sweet potatoes, and whole grains will help them get into the habit of enjoying healthier alternatives
- Only eat at the table: This may be a challenge, especially if you enjoy eating in front of the tv. But eating meals around the table can accomplish several things. First it will encourage conversation and family sharing time. Second, it will discourage mindless eating (often accompanied by overeating) in front of the tv. Calories consumed can easily go unnoticed as your mind focuses not on the food or snacks in front of you but on the show you are watching. Third, being mindful of what and how you are eating can also improve digestion, so its a great suggestion for everyone in the household to follow!
- Prepare snacks and lunches ahead of time: This does take some effort and planning, but it’s well worth it! Carve out some time every Sunday, or any day that best suits your schedule, to prepare healthy snacks and lunches for the whole family. Chop all veggies and wash fruit for the week. You can also pre-package veggies, nuts, and hummus so all you have to do each morning is grab some snacks and go! There will be no more excuses if you are running late in the morning, as everything is already pre-packaged. This is also a great way to ensure your little one gets some healthy fruit and vegetables in them when you’re not around.
- Sneak in more fruits and veggies: Packing your child’s lunch and snacks provides the perfect opportunity for you to sneak in at least 3 servings of healthy fruits and vegetables each day. Try adding pieces of whole fresh fruit that are easy to eat like apples, pears, grapes, and bananas to their lunchbox. If you need to be more creative, you can top Greek yogurt with berries, carrot and celery sticks can be served with hummus, or you can add veggies like spinach, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, peppers or zucchini slices to pasta salads. Need more inspiration? Banana slices can be added to a nut-butter sandwich on gluten-free or whole-grain bread. You can use avocado as a sandwich spread with lettuce, tomatoes, and left-over chicken. You can try wrapping tuna salad in large lettuce leaves. And almost any salad or wrap can be topped with shredded carrots. However possible, use your creativity and imagination to pack in the nutrients!
If these 9 tips for a healthier school start aren’t enough, I have two more great ideas to help you start the new school year with some healthy traditions.
Try grocery shopping with your kids. This may sound like a nightmare, but it can be one of the most valuable learning experiences you can offer your child, regardless of their age.
In fact, teaching children how to pick healthy food options out of thousands of choices at a young age can set them up to be smart consumers and make healthy choices for life. Teach them how to read ingredient lists and spot healthy (and unhealthy) choices.
It may take some time, patience and effort, but if you commit to trying it, you’ll thank me in the long run!
Another great habit to start, if you don’t do so already, is baking with your youngsters. Again, you may think this absurd and argue that it will take way too much time, but getting your child involved in picking healthy recipes and helping bake them will provide valuable life lessons.
Not only will they gain an appreciation for baking, but the likelihood they will want to eat the creations they chose (even if they had a healthy recipe book to pick from) will increase. For some picky eaters, this can be a huge win!
Moreover, they can take pride in the muffins or snack bars they made, and know they did something great to help the whole family eat and be healthier. An added bonus? You get to spend quality time with your child engaged in a productive activity each week. Hopefully, it will become the best part of the week for both of you!
If you’d like more inspiration or some quick and easy family-friendly recipes to help you get through the busy weeks ahead, feel free to contact me.
Comment below with your favourite way to stay healthy during the school year. I’d love to hear from you!