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Back-to-School: 5 Tips for a Healthier Plate

Summer has come and gone and school is back in session! This means getting back into a routine and the inevitable struggle over what to put in kids lunch boxes. In this post, I have five tips to help kick your school year off in a healthier way.

First, let’s look at some of the statistics.

Did you know that 1 in 5 children are obese? A number that has tripled since the 1970s. Beyond the weight issue, a poor diet can also lead to hyperactivity and behavioral issues, affect focus and performance and lead to burn out.

When talking about kids and nutrition, sugar consumption is something to be mindful of. The American Heart Association recommends that kids consume no more than 25 grams of sugar per day. To put that into perspective, four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.

The approach to better nutrition for kids is similar to that of adults. Encouraging the perfect trifecta at each meal – protein, fiber and healthy fats – will support increased energy, satiety and improved performance in the classroom.

5 Tips for a Healthier Plate for Kids

Involve them in the process. It can be easy to dismiss this tip because cooking might take longer or get a little messy. Try giving your kids a sense of ownership over their choices by involving them in the weekly meal plan process and having them help cook dinner or assemble their lunchboxes.

Be mindful of packaged food ingredients. The school season can oftentimes become one of convenience, but at what cost? Pre-packed, individually portioned meals and snacks might be the easier route, but not necessarily the healthiest. Pay attention to the ingredients listed on the box, not just the nutrition facts. Can you recognize the ingredients? Is it made of whole foods? Would you be able to make this at home if you wanted to? If yes, then add it to the cart for a convenient win!

Start the morning off right. Instead of the sugary flavored instant oatmeal pack, opt for overnight oats that can be made ahead of time for a quick breakfast out the door. Or, instead of frozen pancakes, try making a healthier version on the weekends and freezing the leftovers for school mornings.

Swap the boxed lunches for a homemade version. If you take the time to read the label on the package, you’ll see a long list of ingredients that you either don’t recognize or wouldn’t add to your foods. Some of the common culprits that stand out are: enriched wheat flour which is a glorified way of saying all-purpose flour that has a few nutrients added back in, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils (another term for trans fats) and TBHQ. If you haven’t heard of TBHQ, it’s a preservative that the FDA has recognized as toxic above a 0.02% in foods.

Make your own at home by opting for fiber and whole grain-rich crackers, sandwich meat that is free of hormones, nitrates and antibiotics, and real cheese. Swap the mini candy bar for a piece of fruit for a natural, sweet treat.

Practice better snacking. Those bag of chips or 100-calories granola bars can be easy to throw in your kid’s lunch boxes, but they aren’t going to be helpful in boosting energy and focus during the school day. Get your kids in the kitchen and have them help you make some homemade energy bites for a healthier swap!

At the end of the day, the goal is to set your child up for success in the classroom through whole, nutritious foods for a healthier school year.

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