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Filling the Tank - How A Dietitian Fuels for School

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

It is easy to get nostalgic at this time of year. I remember the excitement of going back to school. I had this hard-sided, purple, and green lunch box one year and thought it was the coolest thing! Nowadays I cannot even begin to keep up with all the colorful shapes, sizes, and styles of lunch boxes, Bento boxes, and pouches they have available.

Here is some advice for starting the year with a bit less stress. In a world with too many options and varieties when it comes to all things food, I recommend keeping it simple! We can keep it simple in several different ways as we dive back into another school year.

Did you know school meals are free for Maine students? How simple is that? No scrambling around for school lunch money or rallying together a meal from home. There is one less thing to worry about. School meals are balanced and often more nutritious (contrary to what most think) than what we send from home.

Because students can get breakfast and lunch a school, snacks might be the first food caregivers are tasked to provide each day. That might be a snack to send to school or an afterschool snack. We want to think easy and nutritious (fiber, protein, healthy fat). Here are some quick and simple school snack ideas: pretzels with a hard-boiled egg, apple (or any fruit) with peanut butter or string cheese, trail mix, veggies and dip (yes, go for the dip), rice cakes with hummus, half a peanut butter sandwich, yogurt (look for less than 15 grams added sugar), cottage cheese with fruit, English muffin pizza, crackers, and cheese or peanut butter. Any mix-and-match combo of the above would do fine! Try to stick with a mini meal/snack so as to not “spoil” their dinner. Often kids end up eating a meal-sized snack after school and that is when we see a challenge at the dinner table.

Speaking of dinner, let’s keep that simple too. Between conflicting schedules, practices, games, and driving here, there, and everywhere we can often get so stressed about the dinner plan that we throw our hands up and drive-thru or take-out. Capitalize on leftovers, plan ahead, divide and conquer. Make something once and plan to eat it twice (or more). Pasta dishes are great for this, have tacos one night and taco salad the next night. Plan at least 3-4 dinners per week and shop ahead. Planning all 7 nights can leave us overwhelmed and less likely to make any type of plan. If you can think of 3-4 nights (especially if leftovers are included) and then have a couple of weekly meals like pizza night or grilled sandwich nights, it can cut down on meal planning significantly. Divide and conquer can mean lots of different things; have each member of the family plan and/or prepare a meal each week. Including the whole family in preparation and planning can create more buy-in and support for family meals.

Heading back to school elicits a whole host of emotions for everyone involved. If food can be one of the simpler things, let’s keep it that way!

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