Fall Family Favorites: Apple Picking and More

Ring in autumn by picking apples with the kids, and then prepare the fruits together at home.

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No. 2 pencils are everywhere, shoes and backpacks are piling up like Mount Everest and balancing multiple sports schedules has you pulling your hair out. Yep, it's that time of year again: Back-to-school season. Eight-hour days of building sand castles and boogie boarding are over, so let's find new ways to spend time together as a family.

In our family, nothing rings in the season quite like apple picking. It's something we look forward to every fall as a way to get out of the house and away from the sea of notebooks. Plus, at my house, we all know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. These sweet, seasonal treats contain nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E and beta carotene, which suppress free radical activity and contribute to the prevention of illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma. Apples' vitamin C content not only provides an immune system boost, but it also helps prevent wrinkles – a beautiful perk for all of us sleep-deprived parents with years of back-to-school seasons still ahead of us.

Apples also offer a healthy dose of pectin, a type of soluble fiber that helps maintain a healthy digestive system, and boron, a nutrient that promotes bone strength. Even more, apples contain quercetin, a flavanoid that has the potential to prevent cancer and combat free radicals that cause age-related diseases like Alzheimer's.

So what are you waiting for? Here's how to make apple picking a healthy, fun activity, along with tips for using the apples you've picked!

Enjoy the exercise of apple picking. Puffer jackets will soon replace summer tanks, so enjoy this opportunity to exercise outdoors as a family. If you really want to burn off some energy, up the ante with some friendly competition while you're at the orchard. Play a game of Who Can Pick the Most Apples in 10 Minutes, or Who Can Fill Up the Basket First. Do handstands and cartwheels and jumping jacks between the trees. Maybe set up a couple of blankets and teach your kids your favorite yoga moves. Or grab a few pillowcases or burlap sacks for some old fashioned potato sack racing down the rows of trees. Even if you only end up picking one basket of apples from one tree, take a long walk through the orchard and have a family picnic. Don't forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor (ha!) for dessert.

Find a local orchard, or check out this list of America's best apple picking farms and see if one is close to you. Can't find an orchard near you? Set up an apple scavenger hunt in your backyard. Hide a bunch of apples and let your kids try to find them all.

Put those apples to good use in the kitchen. Do your homework. Don't leave your shoes there. Finish your dinner. If you're tired of nagging your kids but want to encourage healthier habits, get them involved in the kitchen. They'll be more interested in eating the healthy dishes you make together, and you'll also get extra help. And when it comes to cooking with apples, there are endless possibilities. Favorite sweet recipes include apple muffins, baked apples with cinnamon, apple pie and homemade apple butter. You could also experiment with savory recipes like an apple and cheddar frittata.

Start by brainstorming some recipes together, and then have your kids wash the apples and prepare the ingredients. Baked apple chips are always a hit at my house, and they're easy to make. Lay thin apple slices on a baking sheet, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake until crisp. Not only are these a healthier sandwich pal than potato chips, but they'll also be the hottest item in the lunch trade – not that your kids would ever actually trade them! Apple slices are also great dippers with hummus or natural nut butters for an afternoon snack that gives your kids a boost of protein and fiber to keep them energized for sports practice and focused on homework.

Get crafty. If you're a craft enthusiast, you may be familiar with using potatoes sliced in half with designs etched into them as stamps for decorating stationery or making artwork. Apples can be used this way, too. Cut apples in half from top to bottom, dry the cut surface with a paper towel, and remove the seeds. When the cut surface is dry, cover it with the paint color or ink pad of your choice. Make sure the entire surface is covered, and then stamp the apple on any surface you want – cardstock for stationery, paper for a household masterpiece, brown lunch bags, book covers or even cloth bags. Once it's dry, use paint or markers to add a stem and a leaf. Use the cards for invitations to a fall party, or spruce up a plain cloth bag with apple designs for a unique back-to-school book bag. Très apple chic!

Still have extra apples from your orchard basket? Let your kids bring one to their teachers and start the school year off on the right foot.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City, and Nutritious Life Meals, a gourmet, healthy, daily diet delivery program available across the country. She is a member of Women's Health Magazine's advisory board and has authored Slim Calm Sexy Diet, The O2 Diet, and The Snack Factor Diet. Her fourth book, The New You and Improved Diet, will be released in December. Her expertise is regularly featured on the Today show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live, among others, and she hosts "A Little Bit Better" on YouTube's Livestrong Woman channel. Read more of Keri's tips every day on Facebook!