As families are preparing for another school year, ThedaCare is helping with a back-to-school series. The series will feature topics that can help students gear up for a healthy and successful year. In this article, Ashley Krautkramer, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah, offers advice for healthy eating habits.
As children head back to school, establishing healthy eating habits becomes critical to their overall well-being and academic success.
“A family that embraces healthy eating – particularly when it comes to back-to-school lunches and snacks – can help ensure good physical health, supports emotional well-being and strong family bonds,” said Krautkramer.
She also added that routine meal planning and prepping are key to packing a nutritious punch to any school lunch or snack. Here are some ways to get organized and set a foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.
The Making of Family Meal Planning
To avoid grabbing unhealthy foods when tired and trying to figure out what to pack for lunch, consider this approach to the meal planning process.
Set menus. Jot down the lunches you plan to make, ensuring a variety of nutritious options. Assign theme nights or weeks. For instance, have an Italian-focused “Pasta Palooza” or Mexican-inspired week with homemade protein-packed burrito bowls, veggie-filled quesadillas, and salsa with whole-grain chips. This approach encourages exploration of different ethnic foods, expands the family’s palate, and fosters creativity in the kitchen.
Organize Recipes. Compile recipes in a binder or use digital tools like meal planning apps with healthy ideas, keeping a collection of quick, go-to recipes as well as shopping lists to simplify the planning process. Categorize recipes according to themes, dietary preferences or cooking methods, making it easier to find inspiration when you need it. Involve children in routinely choosing healthy recipes.
Think time-savers. Use aslow cooker for nutritious and ready-when-you-get-home meals. Refrigerate leftovers and have them for lunch the next day. Also, stock up on frozen produce, which retains its nutritional value and is a convenient way to add fruits and veggies to meals and snacks throughout the school year. Additionally, have essential ingredients on hand, such as canned goods (low-sodium beans, tuna, and tomatoes) for quick and easy meal additions as well as a variety of herbs and spices to enhance flavor without relying on excess salt or unhealthy condiments. All these foods can be easily incorporated into salads, wraps, or soups.
The Joy of Family Meal Prepping
Once you have your school lunches and snacks plan in order, the real fun begins with lessons in nutrition, managing life, and the importance of family togetherness as kids help make their meals.
Make it interactive. Set the stage by playing music or having a friendly cooking competition; and then assign age-appropriate tasks to each family member, such as washing vegetables, assembling sandwiches, stirring ingredients, or portioning snacks. “Children can learn valuable skills, including safe food handling, and develop a sense of ownership in their healthy creations,” Krautkramer said. “By encouraging active participation, children can develop a healthy relationship with food and build lasting memories.”
Healthy Lunches: Nourishing Young Minds. Be sure tostrike a balance between nutrition and taste. Wraps with grilled chicken and veggies, whole-grain pasta salads loaded with fresh vegetables, or homemade vegetable soup with a side of whole-grain bread are all great options. “Get creative by using cookie cutters to shape sandwiches into fun forms,” Krautkramer added. “Remember, kids are more likely to eat their lunches when they are involved in the process. Allow them to choose their preferred fruits, vegetables, and proteins, empowering them to make healthy choices.”
Healthy Snacks: Fueling Young Bodies. Krautkramer said snacks play an essential role in providing sustained energy throughout the day. Instead of reaching for packaged snacks high in added sugars and unhealthy fats, go for homemade alternatives. Prepare a batch of trail mix using nuts, seeds, and dried fruits or offer fresh fruit with yogurt as a dip. Encourage your children to explore flavors and textures by creating their own vegetable and hummus skewers or assembling colorful fruit kebabs.
After the lunches and snacks are packed, keep the conversation going about favorite foods and meal making, getting kids in a healthy eating mindset. Krautkramer provided these recommendations:
- Encourage mindful eating by promoting regular meal times as a family
- Limit distractions like screens
- Support healthy hydration by fostering water drinking throughout the day
- Promote a positive relationship with food.
“Eating together as a family offers numerous benefits, including better nutrition, improved communication, and stronger relationships,” she said. “By involving children in the process of meal planning and preparation, parents can empower them to make healthier choices and develop a lifelong appreciation for nutritious foods.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.