First and foremost is to feed them a nutritious, protein-packed breakfast to start their day. And, no, a Pop-Tart doesn't count. Those tasty pastries are essentially a giant candy bar filled with sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, trans fats, artificial colors and sodium. Don't get me wrong, I loved them growing up, but the over 50 ingredients inside can lead to a myriad of health problems down the road and sugar crashes before they even finish first period.
A great start to the day could include a scrambled egg with whole grain toast, whole grain waffle with peanut butter, oatmeal with berries, or a protein smoothie (blend berries, True Whey protein powder, nut butter, spinach, yogurt, or nut milk).
There are many prepackaged options out there for lunches, but be careful of dangerous preservatives, trans fats, excessive amounts of sodium and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that are often laden in those foods. The worst offenders are Lunchables, 100-calorie snacks, bags of chips, cheez-its and juice boxes. The winner for worst offender is the Uncrustable sandwich. It contains 38 ridiculous ingredients (5 of which are sugar and more than a dozen are chemicals) like HFCS, transfats, sorbates, sulfates, and phosphates. A simple PB & jelly takes 1 minute to make - please make them from scratch. I'm disgusted that my children's school offers these as alternatives to a hot lunch.
So, here's my shopping list for the Back-to-School Pantry:
- Lots of whole fruits - Bananas, organic apples, organic peaches, pears, watermelon slices, organic grapes, organic berries or melon balls/cubes, orange slices, small boxes of organic raisins. Make a fun fruit kebab! Whole fruits provide fiber, potassium, antioxidants and tons of vitamins that they need for fuel during the day. (I recommend the organic option of those fruits listed on the Dirty Dozen.) Remember to shop/eat seasonally - some of these fruits won't be available this fall and winter.
- Trail mix - Make your own with raw, unsalted nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped pitted dates, small amount of chocolate chips & dried apricots. (NO M&M's!!)
- Wraps - I like whole grain options to wrap up turkey slices, PB& jelly, cream cheese and veggies, chicken salad, tuna salad
- Whole grain English muffins (make mini-pizzas or slather w/ PB & jelly)
- Organic string cheese
- Newman's Own High Protein Pretzels
- Gluten-free? Buy large lettuce leafs and wrap over creamy chicken salad, tuna salad with lots of crunchy pickles, turkey slices (not deli meat)
- Make extra for dinner. Leftovers make for a great school lunch. Pack hot items in stainless steel or a thermos to retain their heat. My kids' faves are homemade chicken strips, leftover brown rice spaghetti and ravioli.
- Unsweetened organic apple sauce
- Plain organic yogurt - place in a blender with berries, spinach, nut or sunflower butter, process and freeze in a flexible popsicle mold
- Organic ham and cheese roll ups
- Veggies - sliced cucumbers with hummus, organic celery with nut butter and raisins, carrots with hummus or ranch dip, red & yellow pepper slices with hummus or dip, kale chips, sugar snap peas
- Whole grain crackers, like Triscuits or Multi-Seed; Wasa (Goldfish don't make the cut)
- Brown rice cakes, top with nut butter spread
- Real popcorn (not microwaved in a chemical-filled bag)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Roasted chickpeas with honey & cinnamon
- Whole grain waffles (great for after school snacks topped with PB)
- Organic Beef Jerky or Beef Stick (I like Real Sticks & Nicks Sticks)
- Reusable stainless steel bottle of ice cold water - no sugary juice needed
Another important thing to consider is what you are storing their lunches and snacks in. Stainless steel is great, as well as glass. I also like Lunchskins for sandwiches and crackers.