Ask the Experts: Top Back-To-School Tips

by in Ask the Experts, September 2, 2011

back-to-school kids lunches
The hustle and bustle of getting the kiddies back to school can make your head spin. We’re not just talking about the youngsters either. People of all ages are getting ready to start their studies – and let’s not forget about mom and her hectic schedule too! We asked nutrition experts from around the country to share their top back-to-school tips to help ease the stress of this busy time of year.

Start Off Right
Our experts agree, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Healthy Eats contributor Katie Cavuto Boyle says “it’s tough to learn when you’re hungry so remember to eat breakfast; it fuels your mind and body so your school day is productive and enjoyable.” But if you’re like most families, mornings are hectic. Registered dietitian Sherri Hoyt suggests some advance planning. Kids (and parents!) may be tempted to skip breakfast or grab a sugar-laden pastry or fatty breakfast sandwich on the run.  Instead, “take time to make time”. . . in other words, plan for tomorrow’s breakfast the night before.

In need of a few quick breakfast ideas? Check out our Top-5 Quick Breakfast Ideas.

Lunch Ideas
Our own Janel Ovrut Funk reminds us that extra food at dinner can be re-purposed into lunch leftovers. Healthy Eats contributor and host of Quick Fix Meals, Robin Miller tells us “when I make school lunch for my boys, I remember this: the optimal meal blends protein and complex carbohydrates.  Why?  So the food supplies nutrients and is digested slowly, providing long-lasting energy throughout the day.”

The government’s new MyPlate eating guide recommends Americans fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables. Liz Weiss and Janice Newell Bissex from Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen suggest parents think of their child’s lunch box like they would their dinner plate and pack along a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables. “Some of our favorite portable produce options include sliced red bell pepper strips, crunchy green beans, cucumber wheels, carrot sticks and dip, grapes, sliced strawberries, raisins and other dried fruits, clementines and applesauce.”

Get Creative
If you’re like most parents, finding innovative lunch ideas for your little ones can get challenging. To combat the lunch rut, registered dietitian Molly Morgan suggests “make your own parfaits (Greek yogurt, applesauce, and granola), Mediterranean platter (hummus, vegetable slices, and whole wheat pita bread slices), sandwich on a stick (kabob with cubes turkey, cheese, bread, cherry tomatoes), or vegetarian taco (pack of guacamole, cubes of tomato, shredded cheese).”

And don’t underestimate the power of a love note in a lunchbox, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA,RD,CDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It and weight loss expert in New York. “Aside from a healthy lunch, be sure to slip in a little note saying things like, ‘Your bones will smile when you eat this cheese,’ or ‘I hope this sandwich helps you run faster at recess.’ This will help form a strong bond between parent and child as well as a connection between healthy eating and feeling great, ” Bonnie advises.

Talk To Your Kids
Registered dietitian Pamela Kelle reminds us that there’s no point in packing a healthy lunch for your child if they don’t eat it. To get a better picture of what really goes on during lunch time she tells parents to ask very specific questions like, “what time is lunch?”  “do you have enough time to eat?” and “what are other children packing in their lunch?”

Registered dietitian and certified personal trainer Reyna Franco says it’s important to discuss with your child what he or she is trading and receiving. You may want to either pack something tradable with an agreement that he eats at least two out of three of the items you packed for lunch. Come up with a plan so your child can enjoy lunchbox swapping and maintain a healthy and energizing lunch.

Fun-ify!
Our own Dana White says to make it fun, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or after school snack. Finger foods like whole grain frozen waffles with cream cheese and jam, yogurt with berries, cheese and crackers with grapes, or apples with peanut butter are always fun and kid-friendly. Change things up as the months go by using different types of seasonal fruit.

A cool idea from Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches is to create a ‘grape necklace’ – using a sterile needle and thread, string together red and green seedless grapes into a necklace – kids love pulling them off one at a time.

Prepare For Snack Attacks!
Nancy Clark MS, RD, CSSD says to change the word “snack” to “second lunch” so kids come home looking for food, not treats. Given that kids (and adults) get hungry at least every four hours, if they had lunch at 11:00, they are certainly ready for a second lunch at 3:00. They then will have plenty of energy to go outside and play (what a novel idea!).

Registered dietitian Kate Myerson suggests that folks invest in a reusable plastic veggie tray, the type with a cover you might take to a party. Stock it with your family’s favorite vegetables, like baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower florets, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and bell peppers. Put the tray of vegetables out after school with hummus or cottage cheese dip when hungry kids (and parents) get home. We could all use more vegetables and with a little preparation, this veggie tray can be just as easy as grabbing a bag of chips, but more nutritious and filling.

Family Matters
“As your family falls into its back-to-school and work routines, it is important to make the time to prepare and eat dinner together as a family,” says Rachel Begun, MS, RD culinary nutrition consultant.   “Start this healthy practice right after Labor Day before your family’s routine becomes established.  If you never eat together, then aim for 1-2 days a week.  If you eat a couple of meals together, then try for 3-4 dinners a week.  The goals are to spend more meals together and involve the kids in food preparation.”

TELL US: Which tip did you find the most helpful? Do you have your own tips to add?

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