As the summer comes to an end and the school routines resume, it’s a good time to look at the pantry and think about what foods to have on hand for quick, easy and healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
While it often seems easiest to skip breakfast or just grab fast food or a pop-tart, a little planning can help improve your nutritional choices and your day. Though you might feel full, undernutrition can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development and school performance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For a healthy breakfast, include protein, whole grains and fruit to ensure your body has enough fuel to get through the morning.
Studies show that kids (and adults) who eat breakfast are more focused and perform better in school. This is because our food fuels the brain and gives it more power to think and process. Healthy fats, such as those found in fish, avocados and eggs, are especially important for brain health.
Some quick and easy breakfast ideas that can help include:
- Whole grain tortilla with nut butter and sliced banana.
- Fruit cup (packed in its own juice) and a boiled egg.
- Whole grain cereal (such as Cheerios or Corn Flakes) with low-fat milk, topped with fruit and nuts.
- Cheese toast and your favorite fruit.
- Whole grain toaster waffle topped with peanut butter/vanilla yogurt mixture and berries.
Keep it going
For lunch, a similar principle applies. Here you want to focus on building a meal that is filling, so it can last until after school. Try to think of your meal like a plate: Have a quarter of the meal come from lean protein (low-fat cheese, nuts, beans, lean meat), the second quarter from starch/grains (bread, crackers, rice, pasta – preferably whole grain), and the last half full of fruits or vegetables (fresh, frozen, dried or canned; the more colorful, the better!).
You can also include an extra snack or treat, such as popcorn, pretzels, whole-grain Goldfish crackers, 100% fruit leather, trail mix, yogurt or pudding, and a water or milk instead of juice, juice drinks or soda to round out the meal.
Some ideas that fill this guideline include:
- DIY Lunchables – Choose low-sodium deli meats, cheese slices, crackers, nuts, dried fruit.
- Sandwiches – Peanut butter and jelly or turkey and cheese are great options. Cut them with cookie cutters for something a little different and add a side of carrots or celery sticks with ranch dressing for dipping.
- Pasta salad with meat and veggies
- Edamame, beans or hummus with crackers or sliced cucumbers.
For those ‘need-something-now’ moments
Be careful to avoid loading up on simple carbohydrates like chips, cookies and cakes when you reach for a snack. Instead, make sure you have some type of fat, fiber and protein to help keep you full between meals. Great options include:
- String cheese and Honey Nut Cheerios.
- Granola bars (look for ones with nuts, such as Nature Valley Sweet & Salty bars).
- Trail mix.
- Individual bags of air-popped popcorn.
- Greek yogurt with cinnamon granola.
All you need to do is keep these foods in the house and it will make putting together breakfast, lunch and snacks a breeze throughout the school year.
Caitlin Guess, MPH, RDN, CSR, LD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at the Diabetes and Nutrition Institute at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. She is a certified specialist in renal nutrition and is a member of the National Kidney Foundation. She is passionate about teaching others how to use nutrition for disease prevention and health promotion.