Back to School Eating “Bad Mom’s” Style

by Christina Meyer-Jax, Tastemaker in Residence

We can almost taste it! The sounds of school buses and back pack zippers ready to rock another school year.  For most parents, the fall family schedule can blow up smartphones and bring on stress hives.  One of the pressures is feeding the family good, nutritious food, they will actually eat, with the 3.5 seconds you have to prepare and consume it.

As a mom of two middle school student athletes, I feel ya.  On top of it I’m a nutrition professor, so I should be crushing it on family fueling.  Starting the day by whipping up a full breakfast of cage-free organic eggs with roasted seasonal veggies and fresh squeezed orange juice as I put together their perfectly balanced homemade bento box lunches. After a full day of teaching I’ll have protein packed smoothies waiting for them as they hop of the bus and in parallel sauté the sustainably raise fresh fish for dinner. 

Reality? No flipping way!  And quite frankly it shouldn’t be.  I have spent my professional life advocating for eating well.  I personally believe that your health is your wealth.  Good nutrition has a direct impact on your quality of life and daily performance.  But it shouldn’t come at the cost of parent’s mental sanity or other valuable endeavors in life.

Feeding a modern family well is really about balance, prioritizing, empowering your kids, and a few life hacks along the way.  As the movie “Bad Mom’s” taught us, doing our best doesn’t mean being perfect.  Plus, being perfect would be boring!  There would be no room for cookie dough ice cream sundaes at midnight, or eating pizza every night for one week.  And those are some of my best childhood memories.

Instead, let’s try and do the food thing good most of the time and instill some great general habits for health!  Here are a few of my top tips for school year eating:

  1. Bulk cook and make plan-overs!  Why only grill up tonight’s chicken?  When making a chicken dinner I always cook up at least 12 chicken breasts. Then you have grilled chicken to add to tomorrow’s lunch salad or after school chicken quesadillas. Same goes for grains. When making rice or quinoa, I make a huge amount that can be incorporated into the next few days of eating. Hard boiled eggs are a great high protein food.  Boil up 1-2 dozen at the start of the week for snacks, salad toppers, or mix in stir fries!
  2. Most of the time (always is tough) have cleaned (and cut up if needed) fruits and veggies as the first thing you see in the fridge. Human behavior studies have demonstrated that we are 30% more likely to eat the first things we see in the pantry, table, or fridge.  Yes your kids may still eat cheesy poofs, but they may grab a handful of grapes while they do it.  No time or ambition to clean and cut up you own produce? Great! “Bad mom” it and buy it prepped and ready to go.  It’s only nutrition if we eat it.  If you buy whole produce, but never eat it because you don’t like the prep, get over it and buy it done for you!
  3. Prep breakfast the night before or even for a few days ahead.  I fill the blender head with all the smoothie ingredients the night before. Then in the morning, I pull out of the fridge and blend away. Another option is to make overnight oats with frozen berries and sliced nuts.  Stack them in mason jars for the whole week.  It is a true grab and go!  If you like a hot breakfast, fill mini-muffin tins with a mixture of eggs, veggies, herbs, and cheese (optional) and place in the refrigerator.  Then when you wake up, pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes and you have mini-egg bakes on the go.
  4. Shop more often. Wait that sounds counterintuitive for productivity? In reality we tend to buy and eat more fresh produce when we shop several times in a week. There tends to be less food waste, which is good for the planet and our bottom lines. 
  5. Buy mostly good food. Just because kids want huge bags of cheesy poofs, doesn’t mean you need to stock up at Costco. They will eventually eat what you buy. Tough love it sometimes and new habits will be formed.
  6. Does the “what’s for dinner” question drive you to drink?  Schedule a night off or two of thinking about the nightly menu by ordering from meal kit companies. There are so many great ones out there (i.e. Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Local Crate).  Find the one that fits you taste preferences. It’s also a great way to teach kids to cook, with step by step directions and pre-portioned nutritious ingredients.

No matter what each week brings, the most important thing is making food memories and sharing them together.  Schedules don’t always allow for a sit down dinner. It might be a morning bran muffin or a midnight ice cream sundae. Eat well, be well, and enjoy the school year ahead!