Back-To-School Healthy Food Guide

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By Cindy Santa Ana

As summer winds down, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to be packing in those lunch boxes and snack bags and what you’ll be feeding the kiddos when they come bounding off the bus – starving!

First and foremost is to feed them a nutritious, protein-packed breakfast to start their day. And, no, a toaster pastry doesn’t count. Those tasty treats are essentially a giant candy bar filled with sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), trans fats, artificial colors and sodium. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them growing up, but the over 50 ingredients inside can lead to a myriad of health problems down the road and sugar crashes before your kids even finish their first class of the day.

Great breakfast options include a scrambled egg with sprouted, whole grain toast; whole grain waffle with peanut butter; oatmeal with berries; or a protein smoothie (blend berries, plant-based protein powder, nut butter, spinach and water or unsweetened nut milk of choice).

There are many prepackaged options out there for lunches, but be careful of dangerous preservatives, trans fats, excessive amounts of sodium and HFCS that are often abundant in those foods. The worst offenders are: Lunchables, 100-calorie snacks, packages of chips, cheez-its and juice boxes.

The winner for worst offender is the Uncrustable sandwich. It contains 38 ridiculous ingredients (5 of which are sugar and more than a dozen are chemicals) like HFCS, trans fats, sorbates, sulfates and phosphates. I’m horrified that my children’s school offers these  as alternatives to a hot lunch. A simple PB & jelly takes 1 minute to make and will give your child a far better lunch (please make them from scratch).

Got a picky kid? Here’s some tips from my book, Unprocessed Living:

  • Cut fruit and sandwiches into fun shapes.  
  • Let them dip, roll and spread their own snacks. Kids love dipping veggies into yummy sauces.
  • Get them involved in the shopping and planning for food. Make a list of their favorites.

Shopping List For The Back-to-School Pantry:

1. Lots Of Whole Fruits – Bananas, organic apples, organic peaches, pears, watermelon slices, organic grapes, organic berries or melon balls/cubes, orange slices, small boxes of organic raisins. Make a fun fruit kebab! Whole fruits provide fiber, potassium, antioxidants and tons of vitamins that they need for fuel during the day (I recommend the organic option of those fruits listed on the Dirty Dozen). Remember to shop/eat seasonally – some of these fruits won’t be available this fall and winter.

2. Trail Mix – Make your own with raw, unsalted nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped pitted dates, small amount of chocolate chips & dried apricots (no M&M’s!).

3. Wraps – I like whole grain options to wrap up turkey slices, PB & jelly, organic cream cheese and veggies, chicken salad or tuna salad. Wrapping in a collard or romaine leaf is also a great option and gives your wraps a nice crunch!

4. Whole Grain English Muffins – Make mini-pizzas or slather them with PB & jelly.

5. Organic String Cheese

6. Newman’s Own High Protein Pretzels

7. Gluten-Free? Buy large lettuce leaves and wrap them over creamy chicken salad, tuna salad with lots of crunchy pickles, or turkey slices (not deli meat).

8. Make Extra For Dinner – Leftovers make for a great school lunch. Pack hot items in stainless steel or a thermos to retain their heat. My kids’ faves are homemade chicken strips, leftover brown rice spaghetti and ravioli.

9. Unsweetened Organic Applesauce

10. Plain Organic Yogurt – Place in a blender with berries, spinach, nut or sunflower butter, process and freeze in a flexible popsicle mold.

11. Organic Ham And Cheese Roll-Ups

12. Veggies – Sliced cucumbers with hummus, organic celery with nut butter and raisins, carrots with hummus or ranch dip, red & yellow pepper slices with hummus or dip, kale chips, sugar snap peas.

13. Whole Grain Crackers Like Multi-Seed; Wasa (Goldfish don’t make the cut), layer with cheese and pepperoni.

14. Brown Rice Cakes (Or Brown Rice Sushi Rolls) Top with nut butter spread.

15. Real Popcorn – Not microwaved in a chemical-filled bag. Add a little grass-fed butter or ghee and some nutritional yeast for a delicious cheesy flavor (without the dairy!).

16. Hard-Boiled Eggs

17. Roasted Chickpeas – Great with a drizzle of raw honey and cinnamon.

18. Whole Grain Waffles – Also great for after school snacks topped with nut butter.

19. Organic Beef Jerky Or Beef Stick – I like Real Sticks & Nick’s Sticks.

20. Water – Reusable stainless steel bottle of ice cold water, no sugary juice needed.

It’s important that lunch contain a lean protein item, a whole grain option, fruit and lots of water. Kids don’t need a sugary treat or cookie for lunch. Between all the treats and birthday parties at school, they get enough sugar! They need a highly nutritious meal that can carry them through the rest of the day for optimal learning.

Another important thing to consider is what you are storing their lunches and snacks in. Stainless steel is great, as well as glass. I also like Lunchskins for sandwiches and crackers. 

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Cindy Santa Ana
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Cindy Santa Ana

Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach at Unlock Better Health
Cindy Santa Ana is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach specializing in weight loss, clean eating transformations and thyroid disease. She works with clients to help them reach their ideal weight, increase their energy, and live a healthy balanced lifestyle, while juggling their career and personal life.
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