With kids back in school, the busyness of everyday life seems to increase. From ensuring your child has the right school supplies, to making sure they have a ride home, and confirming they are signed up for the desired activities, families run short on time. The one key ingredient to keeping everyone in the family healthy is nutritious meals, which often get overlooked with the fast-paced everyday life. However, finding time to prepare nutritious meals for and with your family is important for their learning and your productivity at work. Research shows that nutrition plays a big role in child development, school performance, and overall health. So, here are a few nutritious tips that don’t take a lot of time to implement and can mean a healthier lifestyle for the entire family: Prep meals to save time Research shows that children in school have improved test scores and better concentration when they eat a balanced breakfast. Though creating balanced breakfasts can take time, preparing for breakfast and lunch in advance can save time in the mornings. Find time in the week when you are the least busy and chop fruits and veggies to have them ready to go when you need them. Kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they are cut up and have a dipping sauce. Ideas for dipping sauces include Greek yogurt, hummus, or nut butter (for nut-free schools). Be sure to have produce washed and ready to go for when you need it. An important component of breakfast and lunch is protein. Protein will help your child stay full and focused longer at school. If you pack your child’s lunch, make sure to include a protein source (i.e. cheese, lean lunch meat, tuna, nut butter), a whole grain, a fruit, and a vegetable. Switch up your breakfast routine by adding more protein such as yogurt with nuts, eggs, smoothies, or nut butter on whole grain toast or waffle. Focus on High Quality Carbohydrates Whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables are the best sources for fiber. Find whole grains that are low in added sugars like breads and cereals. Quality carbohydrates from grain-based foods, fruits, and vegetables are nutrient-rich and provide the brain with a steady supply of energy to facilitate learning. An example of a balanced breakfast for kids is eggs, toast, and fruit. To beat the morning rush, have hard boiled eggs pre-made and a fruit salad ready to go in the fridge. Include Omega-3’s Omega-3 fatty acids are important throughout all stages of life. They help maintain a healthy heart, positively impact brain function and cognitive development, and play a key role in eye health and visual development. In addition, a recent study from the University of Colorado showed that children who are leaner reported eating more polyunsaturated fatty acids (or PUFAs), which include Omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources are fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and pumpkin seeds. To help your kids consume enough of these important nutrients, send them to school with a lunch packed with Omega-3s, such as a tuna salad sandwich, DHA-fortified orange juice, low-fat milk, yogurt, or nut-free trail mix with pumpkin seeds.
Start a "snack station” Clear a pantry shelf and stock it with healthy snacks like granola bars, dried fruit, cereal, applesauce and crackers with peanut butter (if there are no allergies in the house). Same idea translates to the refrigerator, where a "snack section" holds fruits and veggies with dips and yogurt and/or string cheese. These options serve as great, quick, after school snacks. Tasty Lunch Ideas
Fruit cups (with no sugar added) or fresh fruit salad
Applesauce (also with no sugar added)
Nuts (if no allergies are present), such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds or peanuts
Raw veggies (ready to pack) such as carrot sticks, sugar snap peas or celery sticks
Cheese sticks — available in 2% sharp cheddar or part skim-milk mozzarella
Healthy snack bars (individually wrapped) with 3 or more grams of fiber, less than 10 grams sugar, and no more than 1 gram saturated fat
Yogurt with less than 10-12 grams of sugar per pack (or purchase the plain yogurt and add honey and fruit)
If you have more questions, don’t forget to use the “Ask a Dietitian” resource on our website to ask a dietitian more nutrition questions for yourself, your kids, and your family.
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