Mastering the Art of the Back to School Meal Routine
The lazy days of summer always seem to pass by too quickly, especially here in Georgia, where our kids go back to school in early August. Summer is technically still in full swing! Having grown up in the Northeast where we didn’t start school until after Labor Day, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to this routine, even after being more than 12 years in!
No matter when school starts, there’s something about a new routine that’s always welcoming. I personally like to view it as a reset of sorts. An opportunity to incorporate new rituals, get rid of some of the things that haven’t been working, and embrace all the unknowns that a new school year brings.
With three kids in three different schools, our routine is pretty crazy. That early alarm clock is not my favorite, but I’ve learned to appreciate being productive in the morning hours as the cascade of shuffling kids off to school unfolds.
One of the most time-critical aspects of that morning rush is making sure there are options for a healthy, but efficient breakfast meal that will get the day started on the right foot. And, speaking of meals, we also have to make sure they have lunches prepared that meet my criteria for healthy my kids’ criteria for tasty.
Psst…even if you DON’T have kids, these tips can serve you well in your daily routine!
Build a Better Breakfast!
Research shows that eating breakfast generally has a positive impact on behavior and cognitive ability in children. But, this doesn’t mean that sending your kid to school with a pop tart and a glass of orange juice is the best approach. I like to teach my clients (and my kids) the critical elements of a breakfast that fits the bill as a real food meal- one that provides lasting energy and health benefits.
That foundation includes a good source of protein, healthy fat and fiber.
This simple equation works for all meals and snacks! I’m excited to share some practical applications with you that are simple, tasty, and, of course, nutritious!
Involve Your Kids!
-The young ones:
My youngest is in Kindergarten, and while he is beginning to understand the basic concepts, he still relies on me to get his meals together. I typically give him 2 or 3 options that reflect what I have on hand and what I know he likes.
No matter the age, it’s a good idea to offer choices so that children feel like they have a say and that you’re not completely controlling their meals as the adult in charge. It’s best to let them control the quantity of food they consume while you control what’s available to them. If you have pop tarts in the house, I can pretty much guarantee that that’s what they’ll want. On the other hand if you have a variety of fruits available and let them choose, you will serve them well.
-The older ones…
My older kids (12 and 14) have been tasked to figure breakfast out on their own, with only a little bit of input from me. This is never perfect. There are some mornings where it’s all about getting them out of the house. They often skip the fruit, sometimes leave plenty of uneaten bites on the plate, or just grab something quickly because they’ve overslept and are rushing to get out the door. My solution for this is to keep things on hand that can be prepared quickly and grabbed on the go.
When I’m in a good planning and meal prep mode, I’ll often whip up a batch of protein-packed pancakes or muffins, and I also keep hard-boiled eggs on hand for a grab and go option. I also do allow for some prepared foods to make their way into our house, believe it or not!
Individual Greek or Icelandic yogurts (which are higher in protein than their traditional counterparts) come in handy for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The Siggis or Chobani (less sugar) varieties are our go-to’s lately, and we like to add nuts and/or fruit to achieve that protein/fat/fiber combo. Kodiak Frozen waffles (higher in protein and fiber than an average store bought waffle) are great topped with nut butter and sliced banana (instead of syrup) for a quick, portable meal!
Here are some of our favorite weekday rotations – all of which pack in a great punch of nutrients!
Fried egg on whole grain toast (I love Angelic Bakery Sprouted Bread or Dave’s Killer Thin Sliced) served with a side of fruit.
PB&J Smoothie: – Combine 1 cup unsweetened almond or other plant-based milk with 1 ripe banana, a handful of frozen berries, 1 Tbsp hemp hearts, and 1 Tbsp nut butter in a blender. Add crushed iced and blend to desired consistency.
Breakfast sandwich: Whole wheat English muffin, fried or scrambled egg with a little cheese melted on top. Fruit on the side. Oatmeal topped with sliced banana, a drizzle of nut butter and a sprinkle of walnuts and cinnamon.
Avocado toast: 1 slice toast with mashed avocado topped with egg any style.Whole milk Greek yogurt topped with berries, slivered almonds and a drizzle of nut butter.
Below are some recipe ideas that I like to rotate through and keep in the refrigerator as an extra option for both the kids AND myself!
Let’s Not Forget About Lunch!
As if making breakfast isn’t already a chore itself, there’s still the lunch scene to consider. I hate packing lunches, but I do have some tried and true tips that I want to share with you to make things run as smoothly as possible in your household during the morning rush! I value the importance of providing good options in environmentally responsible containers, which brings me to my first tip.
-Invest in eco-friendly containers that not only help the environment and save money on zip-locs, but are also super easy to load with food and throw into the dishwasher at the end of the day.
This PlanetBox lunch box accompanies my 5 year old to school almost every day and is a breeze to load up and clean. I promise it’s worth the investment! (Sidenote: I have no affiliation with this company.)
There are many other options that offer similar benefits and efficiencies such as individual stainless steel containers, BPA-free Tupperware, reusable sandwich bags, etc. My daughter uses this Pack It Lunch Bag that fits in the freezer so no ice packs are needed. Find what works best for your family and go with it!
-Let them buy sometimes! My kids have the option of taking a lunch or purchasing one in the cafeteria. While my boys like to buy lunch once a week, my 14 year-old daughter would pretty much consider this to be a punishment. For the boys, going through the lunch line and occasionally grabbing a chocolate milk to go along with the cafeteria pizza or chicken sandwich is a novelty, and I’ll let that be since the majority of their meals still come from home.
There was a time in 2nd grade when my middle child took it upon himself to head on over to the cafeteria for a second breakfast in the mornings, riding the bus and strutting like a boss to claim the pop tart, biscuit, or whatever else might have been enticing to him at the time. Consider yourself warned and stay on top of that account so you don’t get duped like me!
-Abiding by that same concept of including protein, healthy fat, and fiber that we talked about with breakfast, there are endless combinations that can work- even for the most particular eaters!
If you follow Functionize on social media (@functionizehealth on Instagram and Facebook), you probably know by now that my favorite lunch to throw together is a homemade “lunchable.” The beauty of this type of meal is that it can be easily customized. My kids are now programmed to know the essential components. Protein, vegetable, fruit, healthy fat, and an extra fun item. On the other hand, this sometimes looks like a hot meal or a sandwich with sides.
In an effort to keep things practical, here’s what lunch might look like in our household:
Beau (5): -Hard boiled egg | handful of pistachios | carrot slices with hummus | a few olives | sliced apple -Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread | sliced cucumber | olives | Babybel cheese
Jack (12): -Leftover whole grain pasta and meatballs in a thermos | 1 navel orange sliced into wedges | sliced carrots with hummus | pistachios (snack)
Sophie (14): -Brown rice cake with peanut or almond butter | 1 cup blueberries | small salad or a handful of cherry tomatoes | Tillamook cheese | Kind Bar (snack)
At the end of the day, we ALL struggle with getting our kids on track with an optimal eating routine on school days. Two weeks and I’m already over it…but. I can assure you that it’s totally worth it to provide your kids with decent (not perfect) options, and let them make choices as they go.
Need or want some assistance? I would love to help you navigate your way through the morning meal rush if you want to partner with me! I can assure you that the options are endless and your children will thrive.
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