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Children's Nutrition

Healthy Swaps for Back to School

By Ashley @veggiesandvirtue, a Pediatric Registered Dietitian

Back to school is around the corner and somehow amidst the hustle of having backpacks purchased, pencil pouches filled, and lunch-packing supplies ready to load, we often miss another important element of preparing ourselves and our children for a successful school year:

The food, or rather fuel, itself!

Anyone sending kids out the door in the morning knows what a trick it can be to get adequate enough nutrition in our children for a full school day ahead. That’s why in this post we will review some simple “this versus that” swaps you can make to better fuel your child for the upcoming school year.

With each, we will highlight key nutrients kids need to grow and develop, learn better, and stay satisfied for longer during their long school days. Plus, we will share some easy ways to execute each of these ideas in your family’s everyday life and back to school routine.

Healthy Swaps for Back to School

 Breakfast

Kids going to school need fuel that will help stick with them both mentally and physically. Getting this type of sound breakfast in amidst the morning hustle though can be hard for many families to manage. Often times, that leads us to offer our kids a quick “grab and go” breakfast options that we can either toast and toss in the car with them or have them open and eat one handed as they walk to the bus.

While this is a common reality of getting everyone ready in the morning, we can make smarter swaps to help everyone start their day. A breakfast made up only of refined carbohydrates will do very little to sustain children’s energy levels at school or hold them over until lunch time. By boosting each bite in that ready-made option, however, we can easily add protein, fiber, and fat to set our kids up to concentrate better in the classroom while still keeping options convenient.

Consider this versus that healthy swap:

Instead of a traditionally processed frozen waffle, swap in a Healthy Height Toaster Waffles

Since we all need quick options in the morning that our kids can manage to eat while half asleep, something like a homemade toaster waffle can be a great option to eat topped with fruit while at the kitchen table or wrapped up in a napkin while on the go. To accomplish this, consider a weekend mornings when you already might be making a batch of waffles. Then, plan to prepare a double batch of these Toaster Waffles that you can freeze the extras from. Use the tips to freeze on the recipe here, then simply pull out a waffle to reheat on busy school mornings! While this takes a bit more effort than the alternative of just opening a box of premade, processed waffles, the nutritional takeaway and impact on your child’s attention span at school will be worth it.

Lunch

It is shocking how young children with small stomachs are expected to manage their appetites these days with school schedules. So often, kids eat lunch as early as 10:30 AM without being given another eating opportunity until later in the afternoon or even after-school.

Since we can’t always control when food is available at school, it becomes all the more important for parents to make the most out of what they send in their child’s school lunches. Children often only have the time and/or space in their stomachs to eat a certain amount at lunch, so the answer here isn’t always “more is better.” Instead, parents and children need to strategize to see how they can make every option they offer as nutrient-dense as possible.

Consider this versus that healthy swap:

Instead of a standard “lunchable” style meal of processed snack crackers, deli meat, cheese, and cookies, swap in healthy sources of fat for more staying power.

If your child wants a sandwich, consider adding smashed avocado, a smear of natural mayo, and a slice of cheese to a turkey sandwich. If your child’s school allows nut products, considering adding a school-approved nut butter (and hemp seed “sprinkles!”) to their existing jam sandwich or offering it as a dip for apple slices and celery sticks. If your child tends to gobble up snack crackers, consider bulking up these otherwise empty calories with crunchy items like a homemade trail mix with more calories, fat, and overall nutrition. If your child loves packages of premade mini muffins, consider making ones ahead of time that are more nutrient-dense and offer added sources of fat or protein in the form of almond flour, nuts/nut butters, or seeds (like these or these).

While each of these simple swaps might seem insignificant in and of itself, each offering boosts the amount of fat in a food item they would already be eating. This increases the nutrient density of what a child is eating to promote the likelihood that they will feel satisfied through the end of their school day.

Afternoon Snack

Almost consistently, kids come home from school “starving.” Having often not eaten for hours, they are often eager to grab the quickest, most convenient snack option available. Too often, this means that families fill their pantries with pre-packaged snack foods and fridges with basic beverages, neither of which offer the nutrition school-aged children need when they get home.

Even in an attempt to “leave room for dinner,” parents need to view this afternoon snack as an opportune time to capitalize on their child’s appetite and fill in for any nutritional gaps that might exist. Having healthy, filling options readily available can help parent execute and child easily consume this.

 Consider this versus that healthy swap:

Instead of a juice box being added on as the prefered after-school beverage, swap in a Healthy Height shake.

Made ahead or pre-measured and ready to be mixed, this simple swap gives kids more nutrition in the same 4-6 ounce volume as the alternative juice box. Unlike the simple sugars offered in a juice box (even those with 100% juice), a Healthy Height shake will provide children with added protein to help satisfy their ravishing appetite in the immediate without derailing their appetite so long that it disrupts what they eat at dinner. Instead, a simple swap like this can be a perfect supplement to any afternoon snack that elevates a simple carb-only cracker and juice box option to one that is more well-rounded with carbs, protein, and added vitamins and minerals. Whether your child is having only a beverage or pairing it alongside another afternoon snack option, adding in this protein will give them extra sustenance for after-school sports, while focusing on homework, or while on the commute home with you from daycare. Plus, the novelty of having a drink they can quickly shake and self-serve builds independence while also encouraging them to make healthy snack choices on their own!

In Summary

Over the course of the school year, parents will make breakfast, pack lunches, or offer afternoon snacks over 500 times! While this can be a daunting responsibility as we step into a new school year, having strategies for simple swaps can make everyone more successful. As a parent, executing ideas such as those shared above makes your efforts with food go further by optimizing each bite you offer your child on a school day. Furthermore, you set your child up for greater success at school by thinking through what simple swaps your family can make to add nutrition into their everyday routine and intake. These swaps don’t have to be complicated, but making small, intentional efforts to include such foods will help better fuel your child for all that’s ahead this school year.

About Veggies and Virtue:

Ashley is a pediatric registered dietitian and soon to be mom of three. Her mission is to bring other families less meal time stress and more feeding success. Ashley does this each week through sharing simple approaches to meal planning and effective strategies for raising healthy eaters on her blog and social media. Follow her on Instagram @veggiesandvirtue or her blog, www.veggiesandvirtue.com.



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