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The Right Fuel for Back to School

The Right Fuel for Back to School

Jamie Lee McIntyre MS RDN of JamieLeeRDN.com for Ovation Foods


Back to school means back to routine for children, teachers and parents too! It’s important to consider proper nutrition to power through days of learning and physical activity. Fueling the family with nutrient-dense foods may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Each meal allows an opportunity to meet a portion of our total daily nutritional needs of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat). Unlike cars, humans can meet their total fuel needs incrementally throughout the day at several spaced-out meals and snacks. Here’s how to make the most of these opportunities! 
Let’s start with breakfast. For children, this meal provides their body and brain to get the nutrients they need for learning and focus in the classroom. For adults, this meal sets the stage for blood glucose control, focus and hunger control for the day. Regardless of age, a balanced breakfast is needed to kick the day off right. Try this equation: Protein + Fiber Filled Carbohydrate. Some examples are:
  • Instant Oatmeal Cooked in Low Fat Milk with Flaxseeds
  • Whole Grain Toast with Smashed Avocado and Hard Boiled Egg
  • One Cup whole grain cereal over yogurt with berries
  • Chocolate Milk with Multigrain Waffle and Peanut Butter
Before you know it, it’s time for lunch! If your child is a picky eater and their lunchbox comes home barely touched, it’s time to shake things up a bit. First, get your child involved with packing their own lunch the night before. A sense of ownership and participation in their food choices will increase the likelihood of food acceptance when they’re on their own at school. A similar equation to breakfast works for lunch, too: Protein + Fiber Filled Carbohydrate + Fruit or Veggie + Fat. Some crowd-pleasing lunchbox menus are:
  • Chicken Sticks with Whole Grain Crackers, Pistachios and Sliced Cheddar Cheese, Grapes
  • Whole Wheat Wrap with Tuna, Celery Sticks with Peanut Butter, Fruit Leather
  • Bean Flour Pasta Salad with tomatoes, peppers and mozzarella balls, Applesauce Pouch
  • Apple Slices wrapped in turkey and sliced Colby Jack Cheese, Baby Carrots + Hummus
The afterschool period is a mad dash for older students participating in extracurricular activities. Younger children typically need time to decompress and catch up on nourishment, especially if they struggle with short lunch periods. In either case, this is the time to take advantage of big appetites and serve up a selection of protein-based snacks. Protein snack foods paired with a fiber source will delay hunger until dinner time while also fueling the brain and body to tackle homework, play and afterschool sports!
If eating at home, try:
  • Kid Charcuterie Board ~ Sliced Chicken Sticks, Rice Crackers, Sliced Cheese, Dried Apricot, Fresh Pear segments, Lightly Salted Almonds 

High Protein Snacks on the Go for kids and parents should be convenient and portable. Easy options include:

  • Chicken Sticks + Orange Slices
  • DIY Trail Mix: 1/3 cup mixed nuts + 1/3 cup dried fruit + 1/3 cup whole grain cereal
  • Chocolate Milk Box + Granola Bar
At the end of a busy weekday, we all come together at the dinner table. This is a chance for parents to role model healthy eating in front of impressionable children. It’s also a time for family connection and nourishment. Instead of spending time slaving over the stove to make a dinner from scratch, focus on being present and reconnecting by utilizing convenient foods that pair together to make a balanced meal! Aim to make half the plate vegetables, a quarter of the plate protein and a quarter of the plate carbohydrate. Some time-saving ideas are:
  • Fast Frozen Foods Stir Fry – Defrost bags of frozen brown rice, frozen stir fry vegetable blend and edamame. Season with garlic powder, ginger, and reduced sodium soy sauce. Add in an egg until cooked through. Divide and serve in bowls.
  • Bagged Salad Mix, tossed with sliced chicken sticks. Serve with Easy Garlic Bread made from toasted whole grain buns with garlic powder and melted part skim mozzarella cheese.  
  • Breakfast for Dinner Burrito Bowl: Scramble eggs, chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and onions in skillet. Serve over microwaveable brown rice and mixed greens. Top with salsa and lite sour cream. 
To keep chaotic weeks easy, keep a collection of these easy meal and snack ideas that work for you on your phone or written down in your kitchen to reference when planning and grocery shopping!
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