Why do they eat EVERY DAY?!

by Christina Meyer-Jax, Tastemaker in Residence

How to Build A Better Back-to-School Eating Life

For me, back-to-school (B2S) eating feels similar to the New Year’s resolution season.  We’re stoked to make health a priority and bang out some meal prep.  Our Pinterest account is loaded up with new ideas, we’ve committed to building better lunches, and stocked up on the best gear to make it happen! But as the weeks and relentless schedule grind on, our best intentions often fall back to our ugly habits.

If you are in the parent category, you also battle between choosing foods that are good for them or the ones they will actually eat.  And honestly, it’s never ending that these people under our care need to eat EVERY DAY! And they have the nerve to want to eat multiple times a day! Ha! As a dietitian and mother of two teenagers, you’d think I’d have this all button up.  Truth is, there are still holes in my system, with no perfect one-size-fits-all answers.

In the journey I have discovered if you make healthy easy, the mealtime magic often flows from there.  Humans love the path of least resistance and most people work well with systems.  Willpower gets drained, so the best thing is to not have to rely on it!

With my cup-o’-joe ambition I’m ready to tackle the new school year and share my latest iteration of B2S healthy eating systems along with some new food favorites to hopefully fuel the fun and decrease the pain!

Pick Your Battles

It’s important to be real about what we, as busy parents, are able and willing to do on the food front. Once you decide what to achieve, it’s time to drop the guilt on what you are “not” doing.  Not every meal needs to be perfectly balanced or look like a Pinterest post.  Nutrition is only nutrition if it’s eaten!  So choosing a few items in the fridge or pantry that are tasty, convenient, and nutritious is a trifecta win! In addition plan ahead for 2-3 nights a week of simple meals like breakfast for dinner, antipasto trays, or build your own sub sandwiches. 

Empower the People: Build Bento Box Lunches

For our family, we choose to assemble 3 days worth of lunches together at the start of the week by building Bento Boxes. I have my kids help me as it teaches them how to build balanced meals and gives them ownership of the choices. What’s the “Magic Formula” for the compartments? Choose: Fruit + Veg + Protein + Grain + Dairy/Dairy Alternative= Healthy Noontime Eats!

Additional tip: Build a few snacks time bento boxes for after school and/or after-school activities. This takes the mindless snacking out of the equation.

Next level Breakfast: Ice Cube Tray Smoothies

School and workday mornings can feel like the amazing race!  Even making smoothies can feel like too much time some days. Shortcut is to build customizable smoothies by filling ice cube trays with favorite blended smoothies ingredients.  Then all you have to do in the morning is plop the cubes in the cup. Blend if you want immediately, or perfect to grab and go and let defrost in time for the bus or car ride to school or work.  This system allows short order cooking when you are short on time.  Each family member can have a bag labeled with their smoothie cubes, so no one is getting ingredients they don’t want.

Quick list of new B2S favorites for this years are:

1. KIND KIDS™ is a new granola bar variety from KIND Healthy Snacks that has a great chewy texture, but with 25% less sugar, no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.  It’s a gluten-free non-GMO whole grain blend of oats, sorghum, and quinoa.

2. Snickerdoodle Hummus is a great recipe I adapted from S&W Beans.  That’s right… sneak in fiber and protein in what looks like a fruit dip!  Check out the recipe here (put in link).

3. Layered “salads”. This can be any combo that your kids will eat.  Mine love all things “taco”, so here is a recipe (insert link to Mason Jar Grilled Chicken and Bean Salad) you can batch cook and run for several lunches or pre-sports meals.

4. My teenagers love their protein! It’s honestly what they are drawn to. But it’s not always easy to find portable protein. Jack Link’s Protein Snacks has introduced 100% premium meats in a new lunch-box size. They come in two 100% beef flavors (Original and Pepperoni), as well as 100% Turkey. 

These portable snacks are a great alternative to higher sugar grab and go foods, with each stick providing 6 grams of protein to help power out their day. Perfect size to tuck in a backpack, sports bag or lunch box. 

5. Make your own smoothie cube concentrates.  If you are up to DIY-ing it, I have a quick sheet (insert Smoothie Cube recipe link here) on how to build them.  If you’d rather have someone else handle this one, I’m loving Bright Greens Smoothie Shake-ups. They are a mix of fruit, veggies, and herbs (and nothing else!) that are found in the frozen section, but don’t require a blender to enjoy.  Available online or at Whole Foods.

Disclaimer: Thank you to KIND Healthy Snacks, Jack Link Snacks, and Bright Greens for the awesome samples that made my lunch boxes better this year.