Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Eating well and preparing for the start of the school year

With the start of school just around the corner, how prepared are you and your family to stay nutritionally well? Do you have a plan to continue (or begin) to prepare healthy meals and snacks for you and your family? Or, has the summer been an excuse to ease up on your health? No matter your answer, there is never a better time than the present to make positive steps towards your nutritional well-being. With a little planning and then continual practice, you can become well-versed in preparing and/or purchasing healthy, satisfying meals for you and your family. Here are some tips to get you started:

• Ask your children, spouse or yourself what your favorite foods are. Keep a list of them on hand to help with meal planning throughout the year.

• When you go grocery shopping, get used to focusing on the perimeter of the grocery store (produce, fish, poultry, tofu, whole grain bakery bread, milk products and natural frozen foods). This will help you streamline your grocery shopping. Pick up staples like pasta, quinoa, rice, cereal, nuts and canned fruit/ vegetables from the center aisles but aim to avoid the heavily processed sections – especially when shopping with young children who are often tempted by advertising on not-so-healthy products.

• Get on a good sleep schedule and have the flexibility to adapt it somewhat if need be, once school starts in the fall. Getting to bed on time will make waking up early less of a pain and increase the chances of you having enough time for breakfast and packing lunch(es).

• Buy stainless steel water thermoses (or BPA-free plastic versions) to tote water, juice or milk during the day. The stainless steel versions are great since they offer insulation to keep beverages cool (or hot). This helps reduce waste from disposable plastic water/drink bottles and encourages you to stay hydrated. Hydration is important for proper performance (i.e. in school or at work) and for maintaining wellness.

• Buy an insulated lunch box (one per family member) to promote packing healthful lunches or snacks. If your kids play sports, they can be handy to keep snacks fresh and cool during gametime. Remember to read the instructions to determine how long foods will stay at proper temperatures (to prevent foodborne illness) in the brand you purchase. Lands End and LL Bean offer good selections. Make sure you also have re-freezable ice packs.

• Make a basket of easy-to-grab snacks to increase convenience. Ideas include: baggies of nuts, dried fruit or trail mix; granola bars; whole fresh fruit such as apples, pears and plums; fruit cups such as applesauce or diced peaches; popcorn; baggies of whole grain crackers, pretzels or cereal; fig bar cookies; and shelf stable milk or juice boxes.

• Get in a habit of meal-making (try to involve your family, too) at least once a week where you make double the portions and freeze the extras for quick leftovers. Examples of good make-ahead meals include spinach, vegetable or lean beef lasagna; baked fish with baked sweet potato fries; and chicken fajitas (freeze the sautéed onion/pepper blend and grilled or sautéed chicken strips).

So, enjoy the end of the summer and here’s to the motivation to plan ahead for fall!

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