Back-to-school meal tips and tricks

Simple ways to keep nutrition a priority as kids go back to school.

Can you believe we’re almost back to school? (and some of us in Louisville and Southern Indiana already are!) It’s a hectic time of year with new schedules, afterschool activities, homework, baths and more. Keeping everyone fed (well) during this time can be a challenge. So let’s talk about some quick tips and tricks on how to minimize the “food stress” in your life.

General tips

  • Write out your meals for the week. This doesn’t mean you have to make from-scratch meals daily; it just helps you organize your food for the week. If you plan to eat out, write it down so you can plan your takeout wisely. Instead of hitting a fast-food joint, maybe you will be near a grocery hot bar that evening. You can pick up soup and salad on the way home. If you hadn’t looked ahead, you wouldn’t have been able to plan that. Make food a part of your weekly schedule.
  • If packing lunch, pack at night. Make sure to involve your kids so that they can take over this chore as soon as possible. Make sure you have all your packing supplies — insulated lunch box, freezer packs and storage containers — handy in a place where kids can reach. Keep at least two freezer packs on hand for each kid so one is always ready to go.
  • Keep snacks in a convenient location for kids to grab when they get home. In the pantry, keep healthier options like dried fruit (raisins), unsweetened applesauce, whole wheat crackers and peanut butter. And in the fridge, keep fruit, string cheese, yogurt, vegetables and dips like hummus.
  • Limit options with breakfast. “What would you like for breakfast?” is a huge time waster. Stick to the same meal daily or only give a couple options. Yogurt, smoothies, unsweetened cereals, or fruit and peanut butter all make easy, no-heat breakfast options.

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Lunch ideas

  • Wraps! Grab whole wheat tortillas to start. You could try hummus and vegetables, chicken or tuna salad, peanut butter and banana, or Mexican style with grilled chicken, rice and beans. The options are endless, and you can make ahead and keep in fridge.
  • Hard-boiled eggs, cheese cubes, fruit and whole wheat crackers.
  • Pita bread, hummus and fruit.
  • Tortilla chips, guacamole and cheese cubes.
  • Additional side options include fruit cups with no added sugar, fresh fruit, unsweetened applesauce pouches, nuts, raw veggies, cheese sticks/cubes, yogurt, homemade cookies, and healthier fruit and nut bar choices.

Dinner tips

  • Share responsibility. It is the responsibility of all family members to focus on food — mom, dad and kids. It’s not just about cooking, but also the invisible tasks: deciding what to eat that meets everyone’s needs and likes/dislikes, getting to the grocery, chopping vegetables, defrosting meat and more. It is a constant cycle that historically has been put on mom’s shoulders. Delegate. Have kids pick menus, shop online or grab pre-made meals at your grocery hot bar. Have dad pack lunches. Teach kids how to heat the oven, defrost meat, etc.
  • Try to eat together. However, that doesn’t mean it has to happen every night, and it doesn’t mean it has to happen at night at all. Maybe breakfast is your time to sit down with each other. Maybe Sunday dinner is all that you can make happen. That’s ok, but make it happen!
  • Use technology to keep you engaged with feeding your family. Instagram has plenty of videos that will entice you to try new things. Online meal planning apps like eMeals can help remove the burden of coming up with ideas. And, of course, online grocery shopping solutions are booming. Use them!

Cheers to a great and healthful year!

Erin Wiedmar is a clinical nutritionist with Norton Healthcare.

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