Healthy eating should take priority when it comes to setting your little ones up for success. Drive-thru breakfasts, cafeteria lunches, and sugary after-school snacks may seem convenient when you're trying to rush out of the house, but some of those options can leave a lot to be desired. Providing a solid breakfast (even on-the-go) and nutritious snacks for your kids sets a positive example for them and ensures they step into any activity, whether it's school or a soccer game, on the right foot. In addition, brown bagging their lunch not only gives you more control over their intake, but it gives you an opportunity to pack something for yourself as well.
Commit to setting aside an hour or two of your weekend to head to the store and stock up on basic food staples. You'd be surprised how a healthfully-filled fridge and pantry can inspire you to make the right choices! While the aisles of the supermarket can seem completely overwhelming, this essential guide will help you decide what to skimp and stock up on.
Let's be honest with ourselves. An all-out breakfast of eggs, toast, and pancakes may not be the most feasible approach to a Monday morning. This doesn't mean a detour to the drive-thru should be included in your morning commute. Take on some more realistic options for your tots, and send them on their way with a protein-filled Greek yogurt (my pick is Stonyfield Organic Greek Yogurt) combined with some granola for added flavor and a dose of whole grains. Protein is essential in stabilizing blood sugar for the day, so select a yogurt that's got plenty of it. The last thing your kid needs in the classroom is a ride on the glucose roller coaster. Choose granola that's low in calories (less than 150 grams per 1/4 cup) and has at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. My kids' favorite is Nature's Path Love Crunch Dark Chocolate Macaroon. Pack breakfast the night before, and include a plastic spoon so your kids can chomp on breakfast in the car or bus ride to school. This meal is so nutritious that you can pack one for yourself too!
SKIP: Bagels, muffins, and pancakes
SWAP FOR: Stonyfield Greek yogurt and Nature's Path Love Crunch Granola; Stonyfield Smoothies and an Ezekial English muffin topped with sun-nut butter; Nature's Path Organic Gluten Free waffles topped with a packet of Nektar Naturals honey (low glycemic index and no sticky mess!)
Breads and Wraps
It's no secret that white-flour products are basically empty calories, but they're also usually sweetened with sugar or corn syrup and lack fiber. Simple sugars lead to a spike and dip in blood sugar, creating unbalanced energy levels. This can be a complete disaster for a kid trying to concentrate and get through the day. Sandwiches remain a great option for lunch, but it's important to choose whole-grain bread with significant amounts of fiber. Look for whole grain as the first ingredient and at least 2 grams of fiber per slice. Kids tend to be sensitive to food allergies, so you may want to consider choosing gluten-free options when possible.
SKIP: White bread, bagels, and flour tortillas
SWAP FOR: Ezekial Bread and English Muffins; for gluten-free options, try Canyon Road or Joan's brand English Muffins
In Between the Bread
Remember when you were a kid, and the cafeteria lunch special was mystery meat? Spare your children the same apprehension over what's lying beneath their bread, and choose organic lunch meat, free of nitrates and antibiotics. Applegate Naturals Honey & Maple Turkey Breast is a favorite in my household! Looking for a vegetarian option? Consider nut-free sunflower seed spread that packs healthy unsaturated fats and has double the fiber content as regular peanut butter. Almond butters are a tasty, unique alternative. Look for pre-portioned squeeze packs that, along with a piece of fruit, make for a backpack-friendly breakfast or snack. Spreads don't have to stop at sandwiches!
SKIP: Mystery Meat
SWAP FOR: Applegate Organic & Natural Meats, SunButter sunflower seed spread, or Justin's Classic Almond Butter
Now that you've got the sandwich basics down, it's time to address its accompaniments. Typical snacks like potato chips and trail mix are loaded with fat and sodium, leaving you and your little one craving more of these foods, even after polishing off a full bag. Instead, choose chips with legumes (such as lentils) as their base ingredient. Lentil chips are full of fiber, and contain almost half the fat of regular potato chips. They're also classroom friendly since they are typically free of the eight common allergens. Or, opt for something sweet, and choose a baked sunflower seed snack, which contains tons of antioxidants, protein, and fiber. It's an optimal choice when compared to high-calorie trail mix, filled with candy and dried fruit.
SKIP: Potato chips and trail mix
SWAP FOR: Plentils (Enjoy Life Natural Brands); 18 Rabbits Jr. Bars are the perfect lunchpack granola bar and are nut, wheat, soy and dairy free; Plum Mashups are a portable, great healthy-alternative to sugar-filled apple sauce and have an added benefit...veggies!
It's 3pm -- Whether it's running to an after-school activity or an afternoon meeting, you and your kid may both be hit with a killer sweet tooth. Instead of heading to the vending machine or relying on sugary snacks, be prepared, and pack a few healthful options to avoid a potential caloric catastrophe. Surprisingly, there are packaged baked goods that can make the grade. Pass on anything that has more than 200 calories, and look for something that contains fiber and some whole grain. Kashi makes a delicious soft-baked chocolate square that hits the mark. Pop it in the microwave for a few seconds, and surprise your little ones with a decadent after-school treat! Or, skip the typical ice-cream routine, and offer kids a chilly indulgence of frozen Greek yogurt with a side of flavored almonds. Raw almonds are an ideal vegan, gluten-free snack full of healthy unsaturated fats. Warm or cold, you can't go wrong with these options!
SKIP: Ice cream and high-calorie, packaged cookies and brownies
SWAP FOR: Stonyfield YoKids Squeeze Yogurt Pouches (pop 'em in the freezer for 2 hours); pour the leftovers from your morning smoothie in popsicle trays and freeze for a perfect protein-filled snack; Kids asking for candy? Go for Little Duck Organics Tiny Gummies packed with fruit and veggies, instead of traditional, processed gummy candies. What about cookies? Instead, slice apples thin and top with Sunbutter sunflower seed spread, Nektar Naturals honey and some dark chocolate chips.