back to school nutrition essentials

How is it time for back to school already?

My little girl turns one in a couple of weeks and between the weird weather and the current pace of life, I feel like our family really hasn’t made the most of the season. Shocking to say that I can count our summer beach trips on a single hand!

While you don’t have to release that summer state of mind just yet, it is good to plan a head a bit. If your kids have been home all summer, getting back into the September routine can be a bit of a challenge cold turkey.

Full disclosure: my son is only in the first grade and already making lunches is probably my least favourite task of the day…after the dishes.

Why? Because it takes effort to come up with a lunch that is nutritious and interesting enough to get eaten on a daily basis. OH….and nut free. Because this vegetarian, dietitian mom loves feeding nuts to her (thankfully non-allergic) kids.

And, while it feels like a chore for parents, for kids…this is their meal. I remember as a kid how I dreaded boring lunches (I still get bummed out by bad food). And man, did I put my mom through her paces. First off, I wouldn’t eat sandwiches. Like, no food between two pieces of bread at all.

So. I think I might need as much of a pep talk as anyone else at this time of year. Here it goes.

Step One: Prime Your Nut Free Pantry

You are going to need a cache of nut free snack items…and Envirokidz by Nature’s Path has just come out with some awesome certified nut free (AND organic AND gluten free) granola bars. They make a fun snack with quality ingredients when your kids are asking for something a little jazzier than carrot sticks.

If your kids snack on nuts at home, another great swap is roasted chickpeas. It’s easy to make your own or you can find them pre-roasted at the store.

You’ll also need a replacement for your usual nut butter: Sunbutter (my kid’s fave) or WowButter are two commonly available options.

Shopping Tips

When shopping, look for a certified ‘nut free’ label whenever you can. Not all products will have certified nut free options. If your child is not nut free, then look for products that do not have 1) any nuts in the ingredients or 2) allergen warnings that the food contains nuts.

A food may have a ‘may contain traces’ warning…which should be okay for your child to bring (but not the nut free child to eat…heads up for sharing food during celebrations!)

And as always, single ingredient whole foods (Fruit! Veg! Plain yogurt!) will be the safest choices for the nut free child when certified nut free is not available.

Step Two: Get an Awesome Lunch Container

We all get stoked about new gear. And it is super fun to start a new year with new lunch swag. The type of lunch container you choose depends on whether you will need a thermos or not.

My son isn’t doing the leftovers thing anymore (sigh!) so my favourite is the planet box. It’s easy to clean and sturdy…ours has already lasted three years. And you can get new magnets to customize it.

Step Three: Create a Lunch Formula and Get Kids Involved

The formula for a healthy lunch is the same for kids and grown ups alike:

Protein + Fruit + Veggie + Whole Grain

This might not seem very helpful…so let’s see it in action.

  1. Whole wheat wrap stuffed with mashed chickpeas and grated carrots plus apple slices
  2. Slices of smoked tofu (seriously…like a smoked mozzarella) + whole grain crackers + cherry tomatoes + a mandarin orange
  3. Hummus + sliced veggies + air-popped corn + plums
  4. Edamame + grilled cheese on sprouted grain bread + sliced apples and carrots
  5. Sunbutter banana ‘sushi’ (roll whole banana and sunbutter in a whole wheat wrap and slice) plus broccoli and greek yogurt tzatiki dip

The more you can give kids some autonomy, the more likely it will be that they eat their lunch. When it’s time to grocery shop, let kids choose three fave veggies and three fave fruits for the week. Or, let them choose the fruit and veggie each night from your selection. Or, let them select wrap vs sandwich vs snack style for your lunch selection.

Step Four: Set a Schedule

I cannot stress this enough: pack lunches the night before. Mornings are crazy enough.

If you pack lunches as you are prepping dinner…or cleaning up after dinner, you can hit the snooze button once more in the morning.

And as much as it takes advance planning, grocery shopping just once a week will save you precious hours during the week. Set shopping time in your schedule and stick too it. Ditto for some advance lunch prep Sunday nights.

Start stocking your nut-free pantry, organically! Enter my EnviroKidz giveaway (contest now closed!)

(Disclosure: I am a paid spokesperson for Nature’s Path, owner of EnviroKidz. Supporting my sponsors helps me provide you with more free content!)