Ask any parent what they dread about school starting and packing lunches, planning dinners and doling out endless snacks will likely be at the top of the list. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? This year we turned to Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Danielle Marks Williamson, MS, RDN, a mom herself, to walk us to through a typical school and day and help all the parents out there make smart and healthy choices for their kids. Here’s what she had to say…
Mornings are rushed and tough for high schoolers especially. What’s a good, healthy breakfast to grab and keep their energy up?
Just as the old saying goes, breakfast is certainly the most important meal of the day. It jump starts our metabolism and gives us energy to use throughout the day – especially for your brain! Granola bars are a great choice as long as they have less than 10 grams of sugar per serving and more than two grams of fiber per serving. Hand fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges are always a great choice. If all else fails, even a glass of milk will do – an eight ounce glass of skim milk has eight grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrate – both of which are perfect fuel for the morning.
Parents are always dreading making lunch. What staples can we keep on hand in the pantry or fridge to make lunch packing easier?
A nice formula for packing a lunch would be: whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetables, and dairy. An easy way to add whole grains is to buy whole wheat or whole grain sandwich bread each week. Purchase healthy proteins such as lean meats (sliced turkey or chicken), beans or nut butter. Popular fruit favorites are apples, bananas, clementines, raisins, or unsweetened applesauce. Try to avoid purchasing fruit cups preserved with sugar or fruit juice. To incorporate more vegetables, add lettuce, tomato and cucumber to sandwiches or pack a bag of baby carrots. Easy dairy staples include low-fat string cheese or plain yogurt.
Kids come home from school famished, give me an example of a good after-school snack.
Afterschool snacks are an essential part of your child’s diet. The trick is to give your kids food that is packed with nutrients to keep their bellies full until dinner. The best way to do this is to include both fiber and healthy fats. Try to avoid foods high in sugar. Some healthy snack examples include:
- String cheese
- Celery with nut butter and raisins
- Whole grain toast or crackers with smashed avocado or hummus
- Cut up veggies with hummus or 2 tablespoons of your favorite dressing
- Plain yogurt with fruit and nuts
- Brown rice cakes with nut butter
Activities like baseball or gymnastics can often run late at night. What’s your advice for how to navigate keeping kids full and energized without giving them dinner at 10 pm?
Proper nutrition goes hand in hand with optimal athletic performance. Kids absolutely need to eat a nutritious meal before practice in order to keep them energized for the physical exertion ahead. This might include food from home, or a healthy option from a restaurant with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice or quinoa. Avoid consuming fried foods, foods high in sugar or sodas, which will not provide sustained energy. If practice ends late, kids can have a light snack before going to bed. This might include a sandwich on whole grain bread, a piece of fruit and some cheese, or a bowl of whole grain cereal with nonfat milk (aim for less than 10 grams of sugar per serving).
What’s your favorite piece of nutritional advice for parents?
Make half your child’s plate fruits and vegetables! Fill their plates with a variety of colors, textures and shapes. Teaching your children healthy eating habits from a young age will prevent obesity, and give them a lifelong healthy relationship with food.