Back to school, that time of year for new beginnings, classes, teachers, friends, sports, routines. As we are all so acutely aware at this point, that whole picture looks very different this fall. For many, back to school this year means learning at home, where they have been stuck for months now. Eating at home, meal after meal, every day, all day. This is a time where life has dealt everyone with a mountain of stressors, some big, some small, but each challenging in their own way. How about we minimize the stress of feeding our family well as much as possible and try to take that worry off our plates?
Convenience is key to helping get a nourishing and balanced diet into our family’s bellies. The easier it is to access those foods at the times we are hungry, the more likely we are to choose them and thus helping reach the goal of having a healthy, happy and fed family. Convenience foods may have gotten a bad rap over the years, but there are so many easy and nutrient dense options that are available now, or at the very least, ways to make nutritious food easily accessible for the entire family. The trick is knowing what works the best for your household. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to make the act of feeding ourselves and families much less confusing.
One of the best ways to create ease around feeding your family is simple planning. It does not have to be the intensive, organize three meals a day, seven days a week type of planning (unless that is what you are in to). Planning can look like washing all your produce when you get home from the store so that it is ready to eat or making a large enough dinner for leftovers or even letting your tweens know that they are on their own for lunch and that they can find easy to prepare foods in the refrigerator and pantry. Planning serves one purpose and that is to make your life easier down the line. Now we cannot talk about meal planning without addressing the most important component, food. These days, the majority of our kids are sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time, trying to focus on learning. They need meals and snacks that provide them the energy to help keep their minds on the material and not their stomachs. To keep them satisfied and running from breakfast to lunch and then on to the end of the school day it is important that they have a diet that includes of all three macronutrients. They need carbohydrates, protein and fats to complete a balanced meal.
The macronutrients are key to fueling our bodies, providing us with the energy we need to get through the day. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the building blocks for both meals and snacks, which makes them a great stepping off point for planning. When you write your grocery list, make sure they are included, when you prepare breakfast make sure they are included, when you are standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what to grab for lunch, make sure they are included (you probably get the idea now). Here are some simple, easy meals ideas utilizing all three macronutrients that will provide ample nutrition to get everyone through the day. All these foods typically are readily available in the average kitchen or components of the meal can be easily prepped/washed/sliced/stored several days in advance. They are easy enough to be prepared or heated that even elementary aged children could make the meal on their own. Note that any of these can be customized to tastes, budget, season and availability.
- Whole wheat English muffin sandwich (egg/cheese/avocado/tomato)
- Cereal (with 1-2% milk, fresh fruit)
- Breakfast burrito (egg, chopped veggies, cheese)
- Frozen whole wheat waffle (topped with nut butter and banana)
- Simple sandwich (turkey/cheese/veggies, cream cheese & fruit or preserves)
- Pasta salad (mix leftover pasta, chicken, cucumbers, tomato, vinaigrette)
- Food board (pile deli meats, veggies, fruits, cheese, crackers on a big plate and let everyone serve themselves)
- Pinwheels (whole wheat tortilla, cheese, chopped veggies)
- Yogurt and fruit
- Peanut butter and banana
- Hummus with pita or carrots
- Cheese and crackers
Enjoy any of these this week, use the entire menu to plan for the 4-day distance learning week or if your child is fortunate enough to be going to school in person, they all travel well in a lunch box. There are so many great resources out there for inspiration and great tools to help parents and children prepare meals. If you find yourself not in a position to have enough time to create meals from scratch, good, healthy food is all around you, it only takes a few extra moments to stop and look for that balance in restaurants, grocery stores, even convenience stores and see all the choices. Use every tool available without guilt, because truthfully the end goal is to have a happy, fed and well family.
Article written by Renee McGrew, RD