School has started for some and it is quickly approaching for others. Transitioning into a new season and waving goodbye to summer can be a turbulent time. Often many families are a little more relaxed during the summer months and there may be more time for things like meal and snack prep (but not always). I usually struggle with change and transitions. I prefer to try to be prepared and ready for changes making them seem less daunting and stressful.
Fortunately, there are many resources available to assist with getting prepared and being ready for the back-to-school time. Harvard School of Public Health created this handy tool that can be used as a guide for packing lunches or encouraging the students in your life to make healthy choices at lunch time.
Image Credit = Harvard School of Public Health
They also provide recommendations for presenting these foods at meals to make them more fun, tasty and enjoyable without adding tons of effort. Back-to-school time can be a fun time for experimenting in more than just the classroom!
- Kabobs: Cut fruits, vegetables and proteins into cubes or small balls and insert onto a skewer with rounded or blunt edges.
- Bento boxes: Lunch boxes that contain several small divided containers are great for portion control, keeping foods separate (if kids prefer foods not touching), and encouraging a variety of foods.
- Mexican theme = beans and brown rice, whole grain tortilla chips, homemade guacamole or salsa made with diced tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro.
- Chinese theme = chicken strips and broccoli florets served with brown rice and low-sodium soy dipping sauce.
- Pizza = whole grain pita or crackers, grape tomatoes and bell peppers, mozzarella string cheese, chicken slices.
- Green = edamame, cucumber coins, butter lettuce rolled in a spinach wrap spread with mashed ripe avocado. Sprinkle sunflower seeds or nuts for extra crunch and nutrients.
- Eat a Rainbow = red grape tomatoes, orange hummus, yellow cheese, green cucumbers and bell peppers, blueberries, purple grapes.
- Shapes: Cut sandwiches into triangles or smaller squares, or use cookie cutters. Mini cookie cutters can transform apples, watermelon, or cantaloupe into juicy heart or star shapes. A vegetable peeler makes elegant ribbons of any firm long vegetable. Carefully use a knife to cut sticks of carrot or bell pepper.
Prepping and planning ahead is a great way to maintain healthy choices and nutrition at all meals and snacks.
- Choose a day that you are less busy to wash and chop fruits and vegetables, and prepare batches of healthy proteins like chicken, eggs, and beans. If you don’t have time for this, don’t feel guilty about purchasing pre-chopped and washed produce, pre-cooked chicken, or canned beans in the supermarket (but be on the lookout for added sodium in prepared foods, and rinse and drain canned beans).
- Have kids participate in food prep! Younger children can help to wash fruits and vegetables. Older children can learn how to use a knife on softer foods.
- Have children pack their lunch boxes the night before. Display choices of protein, vegetable, fruit, etc. and let them create their own meals based on the Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate.
- For younger children, include finger foods that do not need utensils.
- Search “kids lunch ideas” online for endless inspiration on how to fill your child’s lunch box with healthy food.
- If you’re not packing a lunch, food provided by the school is also a great option, as a result of stronger standards. Remind them to choose options based on the recommendations from the “Kid’s Healthy Plate.”
Photo Credit = Weiler Nutrition Communications
Even though these recommendations are generally for children, all of these options work well for the whole family. It is much easier to prepare similar options for everyone rather than preparing several different meals and snacks unless food allergies or intolerances need to be considered. Adults require more macro and micro-nutrient intake generally when compared to children, but all of the foods mentioned above are recommended for the entire family. Make life easier and offer the same food options for everyone! I will gladly eat a cookie cutter star sandwich prepared on whole grain bread with lean meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato!
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