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Back-to-School Recipes, Tips & Ideas for staying healthy!

Back-to-School Recipes, Tips & Ideas for staying healthy!
August is bittersweet for us: I love the fact that my babies get to keep learning and are excited for the upcoming school year BUT I hate that they leave me during the day.

In addition - there's always the fact that lives get busier, meals get thrown together and kids are TIRED. Most of my household "goals" revolve around food. I try to provide healthy, homemade, hearty and easy meals and snacks for us to enjoy. Here's a few of my favorite recipes, tips and tricks for getting back into the school grind:

Breakfast: Always considered the most important meal of the day. Just because it is the most important, doesn't mean it has to be the largest. My kids get up EARLY, so there's really no breakfast rush - unless they are just being lazy and slow that day. Still - I hate spending an hour on breakfast and having to wear PJs or yoga pants to the school drop-off because I didn't even have time to change. You may have sleepyheads or might be on a tighter schedule, which require a quick-fix breakfast. In addition to being fast, our breakfasts are hearty enough to get the kiddos through until lunch, yet healthy and low in sugar to prevent those energy spikes and crashes. Here's a few breakfast recipes that are BIG winners at our house:

Veggie Egg Muffins
Veggie Egg Muffins

Veggie Egg Muffins - loaded with protein and vegetables; freeze perfectly; serve with fruit Berry Sunrise Muffins - loaded with Vitamin C; freeze well; bake in 20 minutes! Breakfast Quesadillas - quick, easy and customizable! Sunny Breakfast Skillet - great for the whole family and very filling! Easy Breakfast Sandwich - pre-make and freeze individually for quick work! Turkey Breakfast Sausage - a low-fat, clean sausage to make on the weekends. Super Hot Breakfast Cereal - like oatmeal, without the grains plus superfoods! Mean Green Breakfast Hash - loaded with flavor; we call it the "Hulk" breakfast! Salmon Breakfast Hash - get that protein and Omega-3s for a busy day! Overnight N'oats - the EASIEST, make-ahead breakfast; serve cold or warm.

Overnight N'oats
Overnight N'oats

*TIP: you can cook eggs ahead of time; either bake in oven, mix together for an omelet before you go to bed, etc. In addition, they cook fast and are a great go-to source for protein.*

*Note: if packaged cereals are your thing (don't be ashamed), just get a good, quality brand. We have "those days" but the kids really like EnviroKidz brands, Julian Bakery (Paleo), Cascadian Farms, Kashi, Nature's Path, etc. I obviously look for gluten-free, but also Non-GMO, Organic (if possible) and I pay attention to what they are sweetened with.*

Lunch: Always a struggle at our house - to eat to school or not. Here's my thing: I have some fondish memories of my childhood that involved school lunches (particularly turkey-noodle day and those warm, delicious rolls). However, I also know how nutritious they can (not) be. Therefore, I'm open to discussion with my kids about what they want to do. The school provides a monthly meal plan for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is always enjoyed at home but I typically let hem decide. There are certain days that I truly just do not want them to eat at school (I'm not a fan of chicken nugget day or turkey pattie (?)). Last year, we also ran into the issue of my son not wanting to bring his lunch because I caught him lying about eating his veggies (turns out he was throwing all his veggies out and telling me he hate them). He thought if I didn't know what was on his tray at school, he'd get away with it. Not cool. I want him to have  well-rounded meal because I want him to stay focused and I obviously want him to stay healthy. He's getting more into taking his own lunch and here's why:

  1. I let HIM decide if school lunch sounds better or if we can make something better. Sure, I might emphasize the fact that the school is serving his dreaded broccoli with those BBQ chicken legs to help sway him but that can be our secret!
  2. I let HIM choose what he wants for his lunch. I give him a few options: a quick fix (sandwich, wrap, etc), leftovers, or something relatively easy to prepare. That includes the main entrée, vegetables, fruit, dairy, drink and a VERY small treat. I ALWAYS let him pick the veggies - that way he at least is somewhat inclined to eat them.
  3. I let HIM help make it. He LOVES this part. He loves cutting up the celery or putting the grapes in his Ninja Turtle containers or peeling the orange.
There's a few things I do to help also: I always ask him what he wants the night before. That way, I can make something then or I can at least know what to expect in the morning. It helps save time and also creates less of a rush on busy days. I oversee what he puts in his box and help guide him into making sure he's got just enough food and quality food. Finally, I always add the tiny treat and maybe a little note. He loves the anticipation and surprise of seeing what I put in his box.  Now that he's a big first grader and can read well, I'll be adding little jokes - he thinks he's a comedian but he needs new material :) My treats are simple and an vary. I really like YumEarth candies (like 1 little drop or something), a couple jelly beans, or a tiny piece of chocolate (like Honey Acres). There is a treat requirement though: he has to bring home anything he didn't eat at school. It's always his vegetables. If he doesn't eat his vegetables or admits to throwing them away: no treats that week. I'm not as concerned if he doesn't eat 5 carrots as I am if he is lying about it. He knows the rules and he loves treats so it's working. Here's a few easy ideas for lunch boxes:

Chicken Salad Cucumber Bites
Chicken Salad Cucumber Bites

Chicken Salad Cucumber Bites: light, refreshing and fun! Veggie & Sprout Sandwich: loaded with veggies and fun to throw together. Avocado Shrimp Salad: a great use of leftover shrimp. Easy Chicken Salad with Plantain Chips: healthier chip options with an easy salad. Turkey & Cranberry Sandwich: perfect during cranberry season! Sweet Potato Quesadillas: Savory and veggie loaded!

Sweet Potato Quesadillas
Sweet Potato Quesadillas

Other options: beef (or turkey) jerky sticks, summer sausage, ham & cheese roll-ups, lunchmeat+pickle+cheese+tomato skewers, warm soups or casseroles. Side options: plantain chips, tortilla strips/chips, crackers, cheese sticks, yogurt, parfaits, granola, grapes, snap peas, carrots, bell peppers, pasta salads, oranges, sliced apples, pears, peaches, cherry tomatoes, pickles, cucumbers, beans, other vegetables/fruits.

*TIP: Don't limit thermos use for just soups, oatmeals or drinks. Use them to keep quesadillas or leftovers warm. Just pour hot water into thermos and close prior to filling. Let warm water set in thermos for about 15-30 minutes to warm container. Pour out water, dry and fill with desired food to keep warm.

*Use multi-compartment containers to keep foods separated. Bento boxes are great but these silicon containers are great too (and collapsible). We also make our own applesauces or fruit/veggie purees and keep them in these little pouches (much cheaper than the packaged sauces).

Snacks: are a crucial part of the busy school day! Most kids are extremely hungry and tired after a long day of school. If your kids are involved with sports or other activities, it's usually worse. Snacks can be a great pick-me-up right after getting home but our snacks have a few requirements:

  • Must be nutritious and well balanced (ex: if we had a smoothie for breakfast, we'll have something else for snack).
  • Must be eaten prior to 4:00 pm if possible: if snacks are consumed too close to dinner, chances are you'll be fighting over dinner because they won't be hungry. We typically eat dinner around 6 or 6:30 so the 4 pm cut-off works great for us.
  • Must be enjoyed in moderation: a snack is a SMALL amount of food - not a meal.
I also try to watch the kids for just wanting to eat out of boredom. We try to avoid snacks with afterschool TV time. If weather permits, we enjoy our snacks outside or at the park. During the colder months, we eat a light snack during homework time at the table. A lot of times, kids (and adults) get bored and the first thing they want to do is eat. Get them doing something else too, besides just eating. Here's our favorite snack options:

Blueberry Mint Smoothie
Blueberry Mint Smoothie

Blueberry Mint Smoothie: cool, refreshing and full of antioxidants. Homemade Fruit Snacks: easy, fun and customizable! Vegetarian Orange Julius: no raw egg in this one! Jicama Garlic Dip: a nutritious, yet rich snack option. Super Berry No'Grola Bars: a grain-free version of the granola bar! PB Popcorn Mix: lightly flavored popcorn for a fun treat or snack! Quick Snacks for Busy Weeks: a quick round-up of ideas

PB Popcorn Mix
PB Popcorn Mix

Other options: fruit/granola/yogurt parfaits, hummus and veggies, fruit with yogurt dip, mixed nuts, crackers/pitas/pretzels, fresh fruit/veggie slices, trailmix

*TIP: precut veggies and fruits and put in individual serving packs for quick access. Leave fresh fruit or veggies within easy reach if possible (apples, bananas, oranges, etc). This way, kids are more apt to grab something easily accessible. You can also pre-made individual packs of trail mixes.*

Miscellaneous: There will always be those times when things come up or get crazy. Last year, I had no idea that each day, one student was supposed to provide the snacks and drinks for the day. I was NOT prepared and had to quickly scramble to the store to find something to bring - it was less than desirable. Our schools have a strict policy for class treats/food - must be packaged - not from home. In addition, there's a few tips I've learned overtime that help us out. Here's how we do it:

  • Pick a day to do the weekly prep work. Ours is Sunday. I like to cut up the foods I can and pre-package them. We also make and package our trailmix, nuts, snacks, etc. If it is possible, go ahead and prepare the foods you can for breakfast, lunch or even dinner ahead of time. Freezer meals work great (like those Veggie Egg Muffins from above!).
  • MEAL PLAN! I can't emphasize this enough: it's a life saver at our house. Each week, I develop a meal plan so that 1.) everyone knows what to expect for dinner. My husband can put a meal together if I am unavailable. 2.) we make use of what we have on hand - less waste and food costs. I post a new meal plan each week (on Monday's). I like to figure the meal plan out by Saturday and then do my shopping for the week.
  • Be prepared for those last minute "snack" requests - not just for school but sports, church, etc. I try to have a case of small water bottles or natural juice boxes. I also like to have the healthiest packaged snacks available (granola bars, fruit snacks, trailmix). Those little Cutie Oranges or even bananas, apples, etc. are great fruits that are fresh and still considered "safe" at school. Just watch for any allergies of students (peanuts, etc.)
  • If you don't want to eat junk, don't buy junk. I can fully admit that if there is a "Courtney friendly" piece of chocolate in the pantry, I will eat it at any time of day. If there is a bag of gluten-free pretzels in the pantry, my daughter will beg for them at every meal. My husband or son can not walk by the pantry if there are marshmallows in it without sneaking a couple. If there are certain things that you don't want to eat, but can't say "no" to; don't buy them at the store. If those foods aren't around, there's no temptation. Just don't forget to indulge on occasion (or you might get cranky and a little crazy).
  • Use a slow-cooker or pressure cooker for quick meals! These are our go-to appliances. A slow-cooker is great for a full meal that cooks all day and just needs served up. The pressure cooker literally makes speedy work of any food (chicken, beef, etc.) Here's a few of our favorite recipes for both:
  • Get the whole family involved. Let everyone help with meal planning; let the kids decide what they want for snack options or to bring to soccer; have a family grocery shopping day; get everyone involved in the kitchen.
  • Have fun, rest well and be healthy!
Do you have any other great back-to-school tips? Share them with us so we can all make the school year a little easier!!!

*originally posted at The original blog post includes affiliate links to help support my blog efforts at no extra cost to you. As always, I only link to products I personally use or have used.*

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