In a rush? Tips for healthy back-to-school breakfasts and lunches on the go
Managing the morning chaos when school starts back up is a challenge for most parents. Early mornings, bus or carpool routines, getting the kids fed and lunches packed - it can feel like you've run a marathon before the day has even begun.Posted — Updated
Managing the morning chaos when school starts back up is a challenge for most parents. Early mornings, bus or carpool routines, getting the kids fed and lunches packed – it can feel like you’ve run a marathon before the day has even begun.
While it can seem nearly impossible to ensure everyone gets a healthy breakfast and lunch during the school year, a little bit of planning can make it easy to get your kids the fuel they need to get them through the day.
Planning for Healthy Meals
Rachel Polman is the Poe Center’s director of nutrition and physical activity, and she’s passionate about helping kids learn healthy habits from a young age. Here are some tips Polman says can help kids eat healthy foods, while also keeping life manageable for busy families.
“The best thing you can do to keep meals healthy when life gets busy is to plan ahead,” Polman said. “Without a plan, you’re left with convenience foods that are typically over-processed and filled with too much added sugar.”
She suggests making a weekly meal plan that’s built around your schedule. Do your shopping ahead of time – and even some prep work before the week begins.
Get the kids involved
Polman says kids are much more likely to try healthy foods if they are part of the planning process. Have them participate in meal planning, shopping and preparation. If they’re hesitant to try certain foods, take a field trip to the grocery store and ask them to pick one new piece of produce each week and make it fun. If they don’t like a fruit or vegetable the first time they taste it, don’t give up. It can often take a few times before they take to something new, so try preparing it a different way the next time around.
Variety is key
Think about the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy) – and aim to include three or four groups per meal to keep things balanced. Ideally, half the plate (or lunchbox) should be filled with produce, which provides a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Healthy Breakfast Basics
Polman acknowledges that mornings can be really tough. To keep morning chaos to a minimum, she suggests the following tips.
Think grab and go
Have items everyone can grab on the go or eat quickly before school. Homemade granola bars or protein-packed muffins are lower in sugar than anything you can buy prepared, and they’re easy to make in large batches and freeze. Another great option is overnight oats that can be made ahead of time – kids can even take these in the car if they have a long commute to school.
Pack the protein
Polman suggests hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter or even a slice of turkey to make sure kids have the energy they need to focus on their work and to keep them feeling full throughout the day. If your kids love cereal, look for low sugar, whole grain options and sprinkle some nuts on top for added protein.
Healthy Lunch Tips
To ensure kids eat and enjoy what you’ve packed for lunch while also keeping it healthy, Polman offers some basic advice.
Focus on familiarity
Polman explains that when it comes to lunch, stick to packing healthy foods the kids have tried and really enjoy eating. “While variety is good, school lunch is not the time to introduce new foods. That’s better suited for when they are at home, in a safe and relaxed environment,” she said. “At school, they want to be comfortable and know they’re going to like what they have to eat. Otherwise, you risk them not eating at all.”
Keep it simple
You don’t need a fancy Bento box to provide a healthy lunch. Just try to include four of the major food groups – and avoid foods high in sugar, which can cause an afternoon sugar crash. If your kids like a sandwich, that’s great – just be sure to use a whole grain bread that’s got at least 3 grams of fiber. This, combined with a variety of their favorite fruits and veggies, will keep them feeling full and focused until the end of the day.
Polman reminds us that leading by example and offering healthy choices at every meal can set your kids up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. “Once you get into a routine, providing healthy options for breakfast and lunch during the busy school year will make life easier on everyone,” she said.