One more summer down, and another school year starting. Although the sun is still shining and the leaves haven't quite started to turn, it's certainly time to get back into the academic groove. Aside from sharpened pencils, backpacks, and notebooks, healthy eating takes a priority when it comes to setting your little ones up for a semester of success. Drive-thru breakfasts, cafeteria lunches, and sugary after-school snacks may seem convenient when you're trying to rush out of the house in the morning, but some of those options can leave a lot to be desired. Providing a solid breakfast (even on-the-go) and nutritious snacks for your kids sets a positive example for them and ensures they step into the classroom on the right foot. In addition, brown bagging their lunch not only gives you more control over their intake, but it gives you an opportunity to pack something for yourself as well.
Commit to setting aside an hour or two of your weekend to head to the store and stock up on basic food staples. You'd be surprised how a healthfully-filled fridge and pantry can inspire you to make the right choices! While the aisles of the supermarket can seem completely overwhelming, this essential guide will help you decide what to skimp and stock up on.
Let's be honest with ourselves. An all-out breakfast of eggs, toast, and pancakes may not be the most feasible approach to a Monday morning. This doesn't mean a detour to the drive-thru should be included in your morning commute. Take on some more realistic options for your tots, and send them on their way with a protein-filled Greek yogurt combined with some granola for added flavor and a dose of whole grains. Protein is essential in stabilizing blood sugar for the day, so select a yogurt that's got plenty of it. The last thing your kid needs in the classroom is a ride on the glucose roller coaster. Chobani Champion yogurt has up to 14 grams of protein to keep all your bases covered. Choose granola that's low in calories (less than 150 grams per one-third cup) and has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Pack breakfast the night before, and include a plastic spoon. Your kids can chomp on breakfast in the car or bus ride to school. This meal is so nutritious that you can pack one for yourself too!
SKIP: Bagels, muffins, and pancakes
SWAP FOR: Chobani Champions Greek yogurt and KIND Oats & Honey Clusters
Breads and Wraps
It's no secret that white-flour products are basically empty calories, but they're also usually sweetened with sugar or corn syrup and lack fiber. Simple sugars lead to a spike and dip in blood sugar, creating unbalanced energy levels. This can be a complete disaster for you and your budding academic star when you're both trying to concentrate and get through the day. Sandwiches remain a great option for lunch, but it's important to choose whole-grain bread with significant amounts of fiber. Look for whole grain as the first ingredient and at least 2 grams of fiber per slice. Kids tend to be sensitive to food allergies, so you may want to consider choosing gluten-free options when possible.
SKIP: White bread, bagels, and flour tortillas
SWAP FOR: Whole Foods Market Gluten-Free Honey Oat Bread, La Tortilla Factory Smart and Delicious Tortillas, and Thomas' Health-Full 10 Grain English Muffins
In Between the Bread
Remember when you were a kid, and the cafeteria lunch special was mystery meat? Spare your children the same apprehension over what's lying beneath their bread, and choose organic lunch meat, free of nitrates and antibiotics. Applegate Naturals Honey & Maple Turkey Breast is a favorite in my household! Looking for a vegetarian option? Consider nut-free sunflower seed spread that packs healthy unsaturated fats and has double the fiber content as regular peanut butter. Almond butters are a tasty, unique alternative. Look for pre-portioned squeeze packs that, along with a piece of fruit, make for a backpack-friendly breakfast or snack. Spreads don't have to stop at sandwiches!
SKIP: Mystery Meat
SWAP FOR: Applegate Organic & Natural Meats, SunButter sunflower seed spread, or Justin's Classic Almond Butter
Now that you've got the sandwich basics down, it's time to address its accompaniments. Typical snacks like potato chips and trail mix are loaded with fat and sodium, leaving you and your little one craving more of these foods, even after polishing off a full bag. Instead, choose chips with legumes (such as lentils) as their base ingredient. Lentil chips are full of fiber, and contain almost half the fat of regular potato chips. They're also classroom friendly since they are typically free of the eight common allergens. Or, opt for something sweet, and choose a baked sunflower seed snack, which contains tons of antioxidants, protein, and fiber. It's an optimal choice when compared to high-calorie trail mix, filled with candy and dried fruit.
SKIP: Potato chips and trail mix
SWAP FOR: Plentils (Enjoy Life Natural Brands) or Somersault Snack Co. Cinnamon Crunch sunflower seed nuggets
It's 3 p.m.: Whether it's running to an after-school activity or an afternoon meeting, you and your kid may both be hit with a killer sweet tooth. Instead of heading to the vending machine or relying on sugary snacks, be prepared, and pack a few healthful options to avoid a potential caloric catastrophe. Surprisingly, there are packaged baked goods that can make the grade. Pass on anything that has more than 200 calories, and look for something that contains fiber and some whole grain. Kashi makes a delicious soft-baked chocolate square that hits the mark. Pop it in the microwave for a few seconds, and surprise your little ones with a decadent after-school treat! Or, skip the typical ice-cream routine, and offer kids a chilly indulgence of frozen Greek yogurt with a side of flavored almonds. Raw almonds are an ideal vegan, gluten-free snack full of healthy unsaturated fats. Warm or cold, you can't go wrong with these options!
SKIP: Ice cream and high-calorie, packaged cookies and brownies
SWAP FOR: Chobani Champions Greek yogurt (pop in the freezer for at least two hours), Hail Merry Vanilla Maple Almonds, Kashi Chocolate Soft-Baked Squares
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Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur. She is the author of two top selling books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil. She is the founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition consulting company, and Bestowed, a subscription service that offers consumers a personalized way to discover, sample, shop, and learn about the best nutrition and lifestyle products on the market.