Nutrition: Back-to-school strategies that make the grade

Nutritional school lunches include fruits, vegetables and sandwiches made with whole-grain bread. Options to carry lunches to school include washable stainless steel bento boxes. (Photo courtesy Pottery Barn Kids)

It might feel like summer is still in full swing, but it won’t be long until school is back in session.

Back-to-school time means returning to the grind of busy mornings and hectic routines. The foreseeable extra pressures on time including homework, fall sports and endless commutes can make planning for healthy eating seem daunting and even unrealistic.

Creating a back-to-school nutrition plan will have you on your way to better eating for rushed school days.


Create a weekly menu with meal ideas and recipes to guide your grocery shopping. Shop with a grocery list and a plan in mind to maximize your time and get all of the necessary foods.

By discussing ideas for meals and snacks together with your children you will likely get increased buy-in and minimize picky eating behaviors. Plus, kids’ creative ideas can keep your food plan fresh and ensure they won’t be coming home with full lunch boxes.

Older kids can help by taking on the responsibility of packing their own lunch.


Starting the day right means eating breakfast. Breakfast fuels the body when it’s needed most and children who eat breakfast do better with problem-solving, memory and overall academics. Plus, those who eat breakfast are better able to maintain a healthy weight.

A balanced breakfast can help kids get the essential nutrients they need. Aim for simple and convenient foods that are nutrient-dense and kid-friendly like whole grain toast with avocado, yogurt and fruit or an egg with a whole grain waffle.


While school lunch programs provide a convenient option for students, many families still choose to pack lunch at least occasionally. If mornings in your home are chaotic, packing lunch the night before is a must.

Sturdy reusable containers like BPA-free ECO lunchbox can be used to store and transport lunch while cutting back on waste from plastic wrap and zipper bags.

Be sure to include something from each food group including a protein, whole grain or starchy veggie like carrots, a non-starchy veggie like cucumber or bell pepper, a fruit, and a dairy product or non-dairy alternative.

Foods that combine multiple food groups like a turkey or tuna and veggie roll-up or whole grain pasta salad with beans make for good options.


Snacks are key for keeping energy levels stable while managing hunger, however it is important to choose snacks that contribute to your daily nutrition needs.

Too many highly processed snacks can lead to excess calories without the nutrition. Stock an easily accessible snack station with healthy snacks for packing lunches or to grab after school.

Include single-serving items like dried seaweed, boxes of raisins, whole grain cereal bars, fresh fruit, and 1.5-ounce bags of Wonderful Pistachios in flavors like Sweet Chili and Roasted & Salted. Pistachios are a good source of fiber and protein, which makes them a smart alternative to chips and other greasy snacks.

These items can be paired with yogurt, string cheese or a hard-boiled egg for an energizing snack.


With competing schedules pulling in different directions it can be challenging to get the family together for dinner, especially as children get older.

Sitting down together for at least four family dinners per week has significant benefits on child development including lowering risk of obesity, substance abuse and eating disorders while increasing chances of graduating from high school.

While enjoying a well-balanced meal is important, the true value likely comes from quality time together. To help make family meals a family tradition, consider having theme night dinners like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Breakfast for Dinner, or Fish Friday, for example.

Keeping it fun and creative can help get everyone interested and helps solve the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question.


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