Back to school is a busy time for all families. Adding the complexities of returning to school with COVID regulations has added even more uncertainty to an already difficult time. Planning ahead with healthy meals and snacks for the family can help everyone start the year on the right foot.
Starting the day right with Breakfast
Eating breakfast daily is important for everyone, especially kids! Eating in the morning after a night’s sleep will provide energy to the brain since the body has been fasting overnight.
Evidence supports that eating breakfast in the morning has positive health outcomes in terms of improved satiety and appetite control, weight management, and the reduced risk of chronic disease. Academically, kids who eat breakfast boost cognitive benefits including memory recall, concentration, attention, and alertness.
The connection between a nutritious breakfast and improved academic performance is well documented. A CDC report Indicates, “Skipping breakfast is associated with decreased cognitive performance (e.g., alertness, attention, memory, processing of complex visual display, problem solving) among students.”
There are many reasons for not eating breakfast including lack of time, not being hungry in the morning, and not liking typical breakfast foods. Meal planning, exploring new recipes, and batch cooking can help increase breakfast consumption.
Create a go-to breakfast menu that includes a source of protein and whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables will pack important nutrients into your day, while lean protein will help get you going, and whole grains will provide fiber that will help keep you feeling full until the next meal or snack.
Here are some breakfast tips for a healthy start to your day:
- Use a base ingredient like oats. Oats are a versatile whole grain, pantry staple that can be used for oatmeal, overnight oats, energy bites, granola, muffins, smoothies, and parfaits
- Batch prepare egg cups in a muffin tray using your choice of lean protein and colorful vegetables
- Make energizing smoothies blending fresh or frozen produce with ice adding in Greek yogurt or nut butter for extra flavor and protein.
- Making layered parfaits with nonfat plain yogurt, fruit, and a whole grain cereal is a perfect way to get all the required food groups in one quick meal
Some of our favorite breakfast recipes that are easy and fun for kids to make and enjoy:
Making Lunch Count
Like eating a nutritious breakfast, eating a nutritious lunch has many health and academic benefits. Explore your child’s school meals menu and offerings for lunch (and many schools also offer breakfast).
School meals are nutritious meals that meet nutrition requirements aligned to the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans supporting children’s daily nutritional needs for optimal growth and development. Eating lunch prevents hunger in the classroom.
Students who are struggling with hunger often demonstrate the following characteristics in the classroom:
- Inability to concentrate
- Falling behind academically
- More likely to miss school due to illness
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of energy
If school lunches are not available or you prefer to pack your child’s lunch. try including components from each of the main food groups: whole grains, lean protein, as well as fruits and vegetables. You can also get fun containers to pack lunch, include notes for your children, and engage your kids in the kitchen by making their lunch with you!
When packing lunch, don’t forget to keep in mind food safety considerations and any restrictions for common allergen foods that may be restricted on school campuses.
Recommended Lunch Recipes:
After a long day at school, having healthy snacks available will keep them fueled for homework and after school activities.
Eating balanced snacks gives kids the opportunity to get the nutrients their bodies need to help support proper physical growth and development in between meals as well as helps fuel their energy giving kids what they need to conquer the day!
Snack recipes are also a great place to start when starting to cook with your kids. Since these recipes are heat free, with only three to four ingredients, kids can easily assemble most snacks themselves. A balanced snack recipes should include at least one ingredient from each of the categories below:
- Lean protein – support the building and repair of muscles
- Whole grains- provide fiber which can help you feel full and carbohydrates to keep you energized
- Fruits and Vegetables – contain essential vitamins and minerals vital for health
Tips for Snacks:
- Prepare cut fruits and veggies the night before (or even the weekend before) and have them ready to go in baggies or zip locks so you can simply grab and go
- Serve cut up veggies with hummus and salsa to enhance the flavor. Make it a family fun activity and have the kids help make your own salsa!
- Pop up some plain popcorn and then season it with whatever flavors you like. There are so many nutritious possibilities (see recommended recipe below)
- Hummus w/ whole grain pita and veggies is a great way to incorporate some protein, whole grains, and veggies.
- Fruit parfaits are a fun way to have your kids make their own snack! Use nonfat yogurt and add some fruit (this could be fresh or frozen) and granola. You could make a sundae bar for them to make their own.