For many parents, back to school time means rushed mornings, busy evenings, and packing lunch and snacks for the entire family. Children need frequent nutritious meals and snacks in order to focus and learn in the classroom. Nutritious meals and snacks should be a combination of at least 2 of the 3 main macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, or fat. Carbohydrate rich foods include fruits, potatoes, whole grains, beans, bread, and pasta. Protein rich foods include beans, nuts, seeds, soy, and quinoa. Foods with healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocado, and olives. Some foods naturally contain multiple macronutrients such as beans which have carbohydrates and protein or nuts and seeds which have protein and fat.
Breakfast is an important meal of the day for children as it helps give their brain the nutrients it needs to learn new skills and information. Starting the day with a healthy breakfast will prevent sugar spikes and crashes while preventing them from getting hungry before lunch. If time is limited in the morning, consider preparing breakfast the night before. Breakfasts that can be prepared the night before include overnight oats soaked in non-dairy milk with fruit and flax seed, fruit smoothies that include non-dairy milk and seeds or nut butter, or non-dairy yogurt with fruit. For mornings that are more relaxed, consider making tofu scramble or whole grain pancakes.
Lunch can be a challenge for school age children especially if they are new to whole food plant based and miss eating certain foods that they see their friends or classmates eating. While transitioning, surprise your child with an occasional tofu dog or a slice of pizza with non-dairy cheese along with side dishes that include vegetables and fruits. Be creative and decorate food to have smiley faces, animal faces, or flower. Cookie cutters can also be used to shape sandwiches or fruit pieces. Other children may struggle with having a limited time frame to eat lunch. Quick to eat and filling lunch ideas could be a hummus and vegetable sandwich, bean and vegetable burrito, soup, or loaded baked sweet potato with beans, salsa, and guacamole. On days when prep time is limited, use leftovers from dinner the night before for lunch.
Afterschool snacks are important for kids and families who are on the go to sports practice or for when dinner will be delayed. Snacks should be big enough to keep them full but not too big where kids aren’t hungry for the next meal. Light snacks may include apple and peanut butter, popcorn with nuts, vegetables with hummus, or a small fruit smoothie. Bigger snacks may include half of a sandwich or a dried fruit and nut trail mix.
Finding meals and snacks that your child will eat and enjoy may take some trial and error. Small children may need to be exposed to a new food more than 20 times before being accepted, so be patient. Feel free to use this opportunity to spend time with your child and have them help you prepare their meals and snacks.
Author: Misty Hildenbrand, Registered Dietitian