Back to school isn't just for your kids anymore. With summer coming to a close, lingering days at the beach are going to be replaced by long days in a classroom. As a mom of three, I know first hand how the back-to-school rush can be a stressful time. As a working parent, the homework, carpools and after-school activities test my schedule-juggling skills on a daily basis. Perhaps it's best to consider the start of the school year as your second New Year's; it's a great time to reset, refocus and re-establish new, healthy habits for you and your family.
Media news stories, magazines and circulars are filled with the traditional back-to-school advice we hear year after year, so here's a list of some deliciously different tips to help you start your school year off by putting your best food forward:
Have breakfast ready to grab and go every morning. Recent research suggests that children who eat breakfast consume more nutrients and have lower BMIs than those who don't. You may not have time to scramble a couple of eggs, but keep yourself and you child feeling full until lunch by encouraging a combination of protein and whole-grain carbs with these fast options:
• Frozen whole-wheat waffle with almond butter and sliced banana
• High-fiber cereal (with less than 5 grams of sugar) with berries and skim milk
• Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of chopped nuts and berries
[Read: 7 High-Protein Breakfast Ideas.]
BYOL. When you're packing your kids' lunch, make sure to pack something for yourself, too. By bringing your own lunch you can save time, money and calories. Some experts estimate a 60 percent savings over eating out, which can help you save more than $1,500 a year.
Snack smart. One thing that doesn't change as we age is that snacks play a vital role in our daily routines. The government recently passed new snack rules for schools, which could teach a lesson to the adults doing the snack-packing. These are a few of the guidelines:
• A snack should contain no more than 200 calories per portion.
• Snacks must provide at least 10 percent daily value of key nutrients, such as protein and fiber.
• Sugary beverages don't count. This includes soda, flavored milk and non-100 percent juice drinks.
• Snacks should provide less than 200 milligrams of sodium.
• Bonus tip: 100-calorie packs may be portion-controlled, but they're often overly processed, lack key nutrients and contain too many ingredients. Pack your own 100-calorie pack by throwing 10 almonds in a baggie with a few dried raisins.
Keep healthy snacks at home. Although my kids know that all foods can fit into a healthy diet, we never had a candy drawer. (By the way, if you have a candy drawer, we need to talk!) Try stocking your pantry with healthier offerings that everyone will enjoy and that will keep hunger at bay until dinner. Most importantly, with your frenetic schedule, be sure not to skip lunch and leave yourself starving – that way, all the snacks you give your kids won't find their way into your mouth. Try these satiating snacks:
• Cheese cubes and fruit on wooden skewers (let the kids make their own)
• Hummus and veggies
Get your children involved in the kitchen. Include your kids in meal planning from start to finish – from creating a shopping list, to purchasing and prepping groceries, to eating together as a family. Assign each child a day to pick what's for dinner, and let them plan the menu and become your sous chef. Teaching your children about healthy eating and food preparation is a valuable lesson they'll remember for the rest of their lives.
• Bonus tip: Type up a checklist of your family's healthy favorites, and keep it somewhere visible in your kitchen so your children can check off and request the healthy foods they'd prefer each week.
Families that eat together, stay together. Summer schedules can be erratic at times, but the school year is often more regimented, allowing for scheduled family dinners several times a week. On nights when everyone is home, try your best to eat as a family, sharing meals and conversations. Even a snack together is better than nothing. Regular family table time has also been associated with higher grades and lower rates of substance abuse and depression in children.
Have dad bring home the bacon. Well, not literally, but let dad do the shopping (or cooking ... or both!). Newest statistics show that more than ever before, men are food shopping for their families. Even better, give mom a break and have dad take the kids to the supermarket...create a surprise meal for all.
Make time to move it. After a long day at work or school, parents and kids need to blow off some steam. Treat your child to a long bike ride, or walk the dog together. Building fitness into a daily routine will help keep everyone in good shape and energized.
Establishing new routines in September is essential for a successful school year ahead. Children often emulate their parents' actions, so set a good example for your children by following the tips above. A parent's chief goal should be raising a child who's healthy – both physically and emotionally. A healthy diet is a great way to forge that path.
Let's get social: Please join my twitter chat on Thursday, August 15th from 1 to 2 PM ET. Follow the hashtag #B2School to learn tips and tricks for packing lunchboxes with foods your kids will love, along with much more. You can follow me on twitter – I'm @eatsmartbd.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.