5 tips for simply better back-to-school meals

Posted: September 21, 2016 | Word Count: 688
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Start back-to-school season off right with a no-fail routine sure to keep the whole family on track for the busy school year to come. Follow these five tips for a healthy and happy school year from Daphne Oz, New York Times bestselling author and Emmy award winning co-host of ABC's “The Chew,” whose new book, The Happy Cook: 125 Recipes for Eating Every Day Like It’s the Weekend, hits stands Sept. 20.

Plan ahead.
Planning ahead and keeping healthy items on hand are the most important steps for a successful week of lunches and dinners. Use Sunday to plan meals, grocery shop, portion and cook or store lean meats, and chop veggies for easy recipe inclusion throughout the week. Stock up on hearty basics like lentils, beans and rice, whole grain breads, and hard-to-bruise fruits and veggies for easy lunch packing, like broccoli, carrots, apples and grapes.

Know your food groups.
A well-rounded range of ingredients is key to providing a wholesome, filling and nutritional meal for the whole family. “When it comes to keeping our family happy and healthy, I try to make sure the meals I make feature a variety of food groups — fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, quality dairy, and wholesome nuts, seeds and grains,” says Oz, a natural foods chef. “My kids and I are cheese fanatics, and we love Arla sliced cheeses and cream cheese. Both are free from artificial flavors and preservatives, so I feel good about sharing them with my family.”

Don’t forget about snack time.
One of the common mistakes parents make at back-to-school time is focusing only on lunch. Remember that lunch periods may fall earlier or later in the day than your child may be used to. A solid breakfast gets them off to the right start, and a wholesome snack when they get home will help keep kids from spoiling their dinner with empty calories. “Something like chopped veggies with cream cheese or hummus, or a slice of cheese on a whole grain rice cake or toast provides a quick and tasty energy boost after the school day,” Oz says. “I took a look at the cream cheese I used to buy and it had so many unnecessary ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce and didn’t want to feed my kids. Arla keeps their recipe simple and delicious with only four natural ingredients.”

Pack a work lunch simultaneously.
It’s easy to forget to pack yourself a lunch and put all your morning energy into your kids. However, back-to-school is a great time for parents to kick their healthy eating up a notch, too. By packing a meal for work at the same time you pack your kid’s school lunch, you can avoid spending precious time, money, calories and energy on convenience food that isn’t particularly delicious or good for you. Plan to use similar ingredients to those in your child’s lunch so preparation and packing don’t take any additional time. If your child gets a yummy sandwich of sliced cheese such as a Gouda or Muenster, meat and veggies, try yours open-faced on fiber crackers with a spread of cream cheese, the same meat (or smoked salmon!) and veggies, a squeeze of lemon and some fresh herbs like mint or basil. Pack a side salad or hard fruit like apples or pears to have along with your meal or as a quick afternoon snack.

Get creative.
Eating healthy can get boring when there is a lack of variety or creativity. Switch up ingredients every few weeks and use what’s most seasonally available to keep things interesting. “One of my favorite unique lunch combos is organic turkey with Arla sliced cheese and a little dollop of your favorite jam,” Oz says. “It’s savory and a touch sweet — think Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce — so adults and kids love it. I do little rollups for quick snacking (you won’t miss the bread!), or layer between two whole wheat tortillas and toast in a skillet for a fresh take on a quesadilla.”

With the right mix of planning, packing and creativity, a solid back-to-school routine is the key to a happy and healthy school year to come.

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