It’s almost that time of year again! Back to school time is often a busy time for families, but it’s an important time to ensure that your kids are getting the best nutrition to help support their performance during school hours and after-school activities!

Start with a healthy breakfast

Studies show that children who eat a healthy breakfast tend to have improved academic performance, longer attention span, better attendance and decreased hyperactivity in school. Kids who eat a balanced breakfast are also less likely to be overweight than kids who skip breakfast regularly.

  • Plan tomorrow’s breakfast the night before to save time in the morning on preparation. It is often easier to grab something pre-packaged when in a hurry.
  • Include foods that are high in fiber (whole grains) and protein, low in sugar.

– Some examples include: whole grain toast with eggs, unsweetened whole grain cereal with berries; toast with sunflower seed butter or a nut butter (if allowed) such as almond with bananas.

– Most schools participate in the USDA’s School Breakfast Program for those who qualify.

Cut-out the added sugars

Added sugar provides no nutritional benefit and add extra calories that can lead to extra pounds or even obesity. High added sugar intake has been linked to everything from dental cavities to obesity to Type 2 diabetes to heart disease to other health conditions.

  • Found in a wide range of food from cookies, ketchup, salad dressings, sugar sweetened cereals (even some whole grain ones!), smoothies, and sweetened yogurts. Many beverages are also high in added sugar such as soda and lemonade, iced tea, fruit punch, and fruit juices. Check-out the food labels to see just how much added sugar is in your favorite!

Eat a Nutritious Lunch

  • Pack lunches the night before if mornings are hectic.
  • Include your children in preparation of healthy lunches to increase their acceptance of new/healthy foods. Packing your own lunch with the same foods also sets a good example for healthy habits.
  • Swap whole fruit such as an apple for juices. The whole fruit contains more fiber and less calories and will likely keep your kids feeling fuller longer.
  • Be sure to include veggies such as baby carrots or celery with hummus.
  • Choose whole grain breads for sandwiches or whole grain crackers to increase fiber and satiety.
  • Pack water to encourage your child to drink more water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages and to stay hydrated.
  • Many schools offer free or reduced lunch for those who qualify.

Pack a Healthy Snack

  • If packing or preparing an after-school snack, it is a great time to introduce more fruits and veggies.
    • Smart snack ideas include fresh fruit such as grapes, pears, peaches, etc.; a small portion of nuts or nut butters (if allowed)/sunflower seed butter with celery or apples, smoothies made with fruits, vegetables and yogurt.

Make Time for Dinner

Sit down as a family to have dinner, if possible. Research indicates that families who eat dinner together have a stronger bond, their children have higher self-confidence and perform better in school.

  • If after-school hours are hectic with activities, save time by prepping meals for the week over the weekend. Freeze meals and reheat for quick, healthy dinners.
  • Avoid eating meals and snacks in front of the television to avoid overeating.
  • Use the plate method to teach kids healthy portion control. For example, fill half of the plate with veggies, and a quarter with lean protein (i.e. skinless baked chicken, baked fish, etc.) and the other quarter with a healthy starch (i.e. baked sweet potato, steamed brown rice, beans or lentils etc.)
  • Prepare meals together with your kids to increase their acceptance of new foods.

For healthy recipes, more information on school nutrition, and healthy eating for your children, please check-out the following websites:

https://www.eatright.org/for-kids; https://www.eatright.org/kids-eat-right-listing; 

https://www.choosemyplate.gov/https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/index.htm;

https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/looking-to-reduce-your-familys-added-sugar-intake-heres-how

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars

Lauren Sartorio, RDN