Tips and tricks for taking charge of your child’s nutrition this school year.
The start of September brings the start of the new school year and for many families, this can mean back to busy schedules and hectic days filled with school, sports, and other extracurricular activities. From the time of waking up and getting everyone out the door, to running home after practice just before dinner, there can be little time to think about preparing meals for your family. However, making sure your child gets well-balanced nutrient-dense meals can actually be the key to getting through some of the more crazy school days.
All school-aged kids (6-15 years) have higher calorie and protein needs to support growth and development during these important years. For younger kids, smaller portion sizes that fit into a regular lunch box or bento box works perfectly for them. However, as your child grows and develops, their energy needs will increase. Most kids also become involved in multiple after-school sports and activities, which only adds to their daily nutrient needs. Making sure you are packing appropriate portions for lunch as well as after-school snacks is important in ensuring your child is getting the nutrients they need to not only excel in learning but also the other activities they are involved in during the school day.
Not only do energy needs differ for varying school ages, but eating habits can also vary greatly in elementary, middle, and high school. Younger grades such as kindergarten through second grade tend to have dedicated snack times in between lunch and breakfast, while high school students may only have one free activity period during the day to run to the cafeteria and grab whatever is available. Taking the time to talk with your child about their school schedule can help in figuring out the best plan for their nutrition this school year. Involving your child in the planning, preparing, and packing of their lunch and snacks can also help to develop positive behaviors around eating and nutrition that will last all year long.
With school just starting up and schedules about to get even busier, it is important to have a plan for your child’s nutrition during the school year. Here are some quick and easy tips to help you tackle your kid’s nutrition this year:
1. Know their schedule
Does your child have the first lunch period or the last block? Do they have snack time during the day? How long is the break between school and the start of soccer or band practice? These are key parts in helping you prepare for what to pack or what to offer your children throughout the day. If they have a late lunch period, try having a bigger breakfast filled with protein and fiber such as a bowl of oatmeal or scrambled eggs with whole wheat toast to keep them full until lunchtime. If they have an hour before track practice starts after school, pack a carbohydrate-rich snack such as pretzels with peanut butter or a granola bar in their backpack so they can fuel up before their activity starts. Do they have snack time and are they usually in the mood for something sweet? Try adding in some fresh fruit like strawberries and dark chocolate chips to satisfy that craving.
2. Prioritize breakfast
Breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the school day. Even though mornings can be rushed, try to build in time during the morning routine to have your child sit and eat. Having a well-balanced meal of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat like avocado toast with scrambled eggs, or yogurt with granola, fruit, and nut butter, can kickstart their day and get them ready to handle their busy schedule. Always on the go in the morning? Try preparing egg bites in muffin tins that just need to be microwaved in the morning or make overnight oats to have ready to eat in the car or on the bus. If your schedule allows, try to make a school year goal of trying to have breakfast together 2-3 days/week. This is a chance not only to make sure everyone is starting the day with a quality meal, but also it’s another opportunity to talk with your child, getting them excited and prepared for the day ahead.
3. Have an afternoon snack ready
Stock your pantry and fridge with nutritious snacks your child can easily grab when they come home from school. Try including items like fresh fruit, cut vegetables, or cheese and crackers that they maybe wouldn’t have had during their school day. Make sure that these snacks are nutrient-dense, however, won’t be too heavy or full of sugar and spoil their dinner appetite. If you find yourself always in the car after school, try keeping some non-perishable food items such as nuts, granola, and snack packs in your car to grab on the go. This will also help to stop your kids from nagging about stopping for fast food or other snacks on the way home that may not be as nutritionally complete. If you have a middle or high schooler on their hands who seems to be always starving, have them bring in a box of protein bars or trail mix to have stored in their lockers for a quick bite in between classes.
4. Meal prepping can make all the difference
Meal prepping is definitely a fad right now, but it really can make all the difference for your busy week. Even prepping small items such as putting bunches of grapes in plastic bags, or organizing crackers and hummus in separate containers for each day can be helpful for quickly grabbing things to put in your child’s lunch or snack bag. Meal prepping is also an easy way to ensure you are hitting all food groups and including protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats in your child’s lunch meal. Try grilling chicken to quickly add to salads and wraps, or prepare homemade tuna salad to easily use all week long. Get your child involved in the prep too! Older kids generally like to take more control when it comes to their lunches during the school day. Try a new recipe or have them come grocery shopping to pick out food items they want to include.
5. Remember hydration!
During the school day, it is important for kids to also be getting enough water. Make sure your child has a reusable water bottle to take with them in their backpacks to drink and refill throughout the day. Do they have a sports practice after school? Set a challenge of finishing at least 1 bottle before practice to make sure they are hydrated for their sport. Typically with older kids, there can be lots of other sugary options for them to drink throughout the day. Make sure to talk with your child about the importance of staying hydrated with water throughout the day, especially for those in after-school sports.
6. Presentation can be important
When packing lunch for younger kids, presentation can really help them be interested in and want to eat their lunch meals. Try getting a bento box to display food items in an interesting and enticing way. Roll up wraps and cut them into individual rolls to look like sushi bites or put different fruits together in a container to make a fun fruit salad variety – see recipes below. When packing for older kids, make sure sandwiches and bananas don’t get squished in their backpacks under all those books. The food you pack for lunch is important for providing energy and protein to keep them going, but the way it’s packed is important in making sure they want and can eat it.
7. Talk about their choices
Not only is talking about your child’s eating schedule essential to making a plan, but it is also important to talk to them about what they are eating. Older kids such as high schoolers may be purchasing most of their lunches directly from the cafeteria. It is important to discuss their choices and how the food they eat can impact their school day. Are they making sure to choose a protein with their lunch? Are they drinking soda throughout the day instead of water and feeling sluggish for their afternoon classes? Talking about nutrition with your children is an easy way to set up positive eating habits.
Check out these recipe ideas for packing lunch this school year.
Turkey Arugula Pinwheels
4 ingredients – 10 minutes – 1 serving
|1 1/2 oz Cheddar Cheese (sliced)|
|2 oz Sliced Turkey Breast|
|1/2 cup Arugula|
|1 Whole Wheat Tortilla (large)|
- Arrange the sliced cheese, turkey, and arugula onto the tortilla. Tightly roll up the tortilla and cut into slices. Enjoy!
Grapes and Cheese Snack Box
5 ingredients – 5 minutes – 1 serving
|1/2 cup Baby Carrots|
|1/2 cup Grapes|
|3 stalks Celery (chopped)|
|2 tbsps All Natural Peanut Butter|
|1 oz Cheddar Cheese (sliced)|
- Assemble all ingredients into a storage container and refrigerate until ready to eat. Enjoy!
Chicken BLT Wrap
6 ingredients – 15 minutes – 1 serving
|1 slice Turkey Bacon|
|1 tsp Mayonnaise|
|1 Brown Rice Tortilla|
|1/4 tomato (medium, sliced)|
|1/16 head Green Lettuce (chopped)|
|1 1/2 oz Chicken Breast, Cooked (shredded)|
- Heat a skillet over medium heat. Cook the turkey bacon for five minutes on each side or until cooked until your desired crispiness.
- Spread the mayonnaise onto the tortilla. Add the tomato, lettuce, chicken, and turkey bacon to the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla tightly and enjoy!