The school year can be a difficult time for parents when it comes to eating right. Between work, school, after school activities, homework, and other responsibilities it can be hard to find the time to prepare well-balanced meals. Bayhealth Dietitian Jennifer Linton says while it is a challenge, there are still plenty of ways to eat nutritious meals even with our hectic lives.
One way to make sure you and your children are eating wholesome foods even while on-the-go is to prepare ahead. Meal prepping for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can help keep busy families organized and eating well no matter what their schedule. It is also important to include children in the planning process so they learn how to make good food choices.
“We want our children to be active in their eating,” says Linton. “We want them to be intentional with what they are eating. That comes from educating them and getting them involved when they are young.”
The old adage goes, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours preparing it. When it comes to breakfast, there are recipes busy parents can prepare on the weekends that can make meal preparation easier on weekday mornings. Consider making a large batch of oatmeal on the stove or in a crockpot on Sunday and packing smaller containers for each weekday morning. Breakfast egg frittatas are also easy to make and store well in the fridge.
Parents can also pack cereal in individual bags along with a piece of fruit or perhaps a container of Greek yogurt. But, parents need to be weary of ingredients. “Watch sugary cereals. Choose cheerios over cocoa puffs,” says Linton.
Lunch provides lots of options for school-age children. “Parents don’t necessarily have to pack their child’s lunch every day,” says Linton. “The school lunches are now very nutritious. Every school district has a dietitian. They revolutionized the menu, so there are a lot of things on the school menu that are very healthy. Don’t hesitate to check out the school menu, which is usually available on the school website.”
For parents who prefer to pack, there are lots of nourishing options to throw into a brown bag.
“Think about an apple or a fruit cup. You can pack dry or fresh fruit. Peanut butter and jelly is another good option for children without allergies,” says Linton.
But it’s important you talk to your child about what they want to avoid lunchroom embarrassment.
“Make sure you talk to your child,” says Linton. “You don’t want to pack them something that they are not going to like. They are at an age where they may be embarrassed by what is in their lunch box.”
Dinner can be the toughest meal of the day for some families. But planning ahead on the weekend can be a great timesaver. Consider cooking casseroles, meats, even rice or vegetables on Saturday or Sunday to have ready for a weeknight meal.
“Nobody wants to go home and stand in front of the stove, especially after a long hard day,” says Linton. “Planning ahead ensures you have a healthy meal waiting for you when you get home. And, depending on how old your children are, they can help you complete your meal. To have it easier during the week you might have to do more work on the weekends. It’s all about what works best for your family.”
Linton also says no food is off the table. “Eating is one of the few pleasures we have in this life. And people look forward to it,” says Linton. “So eat up but eat well. Rich, fatty foods should be occasional.” If families would like to make an appointment with an outpatient dietitian, they are encouraged to visit bayhealth.org/nutritionalservices or call 302-744-6828.