Back-to-School Lunches: Tips & Tricks

As a follow-up to my school breakfast post, I want to share my strategies for healthy school lunches. As I said, we are not morning people. There is not much time to get everything ready and everyone out of the house. My philosophy: Prepping and planning are key. If it is not there, we can’t eat it, so make sure it is there. 

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping.

Prepping

My goal is to go to the grocery store every week or even two times a week, but honestly, that is not always possible. To get the most bang out of my time and wallet, I make a list on my phone. If I make the list on a piece of paper, it never fails that that piece of paper is sitting on my counter when it is time to shop. I make my list from staples needed and from my meal planning.

Planning

I strive to plan all three meals each day.  Ugh, you may be saying—yeah, its work, I’m not going to deny that. If I don’t plan, then we don’t eat or we don’t eat well. I also plan for two kid’s breakfast, a child lunch and family dinner. For myself, I make a shake daily for breakfast and leftovers for lunch—so it’s not as horrendous as you may think.

To plan the lunches, first we go through the monthly school menu and pick out what days my son wants to eat school lunch. Yes, I let him eat school lunch—even on hot dog day.  Most days he takes his lunch, I know what healthy foods he is eating at home, so to me it balances out.  I ask him what foods he would like in his lunch; I’ll listen, but typically veto many options. When kids think they have input they are more apt to eat it 🙂

I like to keep the #plategoals ( ½ of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein) in mind when packing lunches. Offer variety and keep portion sizes small. Remember there is no “parent fail” if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner. I try to include at least two colors of plant-based foods at lunch. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun! Examples: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks.

On those rare days when I have an extra minute, I try to label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus”—it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

Packing 

I plan, make my list, grocery shop, have it at home, prep it and send it. What do I send it in? I like containers, like these, that have the three compartments. They make it easy to have multiple items in the lunch box without colliding and smashing.  I am not a fan of the character lunch boxes; nothing against the characters, but they are just not big enough for the containers. We got a lunchbox this year that fits the containers, lays flat, and the handle on top to hold the containers flat.  If the handle is on the side, making the container on its side, it always leaks.

If your child’s school doesn’t have a refrigerator for cold lunches, then you need to make sure there is also room for an ice pack to help keep the lunch cool. If the lunch doesn’t stay cool then bacteria grows and the not so good happens—you get the idea.

Unpacking

When the lunchbox comes home, wipe it down and wash the container to use again.  Those lunchboxes can come home nasty at times and fill with lots of bacteria. Don’t forget about the box and wiping down the ice pack.

Here are some quick, simple healthy foods my kids will eat.

  • Sandwiches with
    • Bread, tortilla, flat bread, English muffin, bagel, day old Jimmy John bread and pita pockets.
    • To help mix it up I try to add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or cookie cutter and sandwich kabobs.
  • Leftovers
  • Entrees
    • Bagels with cream cheese, quesadilla, nachos, ravioli and pasta.
  • Fruit
    • Applesauce, fresh fruit (apple slices, grapes, orange slices, cutie or pear), or canned fruit, canned in light syrup.
  • Vegetables
    • Salad with salad dressing in a small cup to drizzle on, raw veggies with ranch dressing or hummus to dip in, or cold roasted vegetables.
  • Grains
    • Whole-wheat crackers, pretzels, goldfish crackers, or baked chips.
  • Treats
    • One cookie, rice Krispy treat, Oreo, or tootsie roll.

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping. There is no foolproof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!

Help Your Kids Eat Right

August is Kids Eat Right Month—what a great time to help kids learn about nutrition and better food choices! As a dietitian mom, you would think my kids are poster children. They definitely are not, especially my middle child. Goodness, do my children love their sweets, snack foods and treats; it can be a challenge to get them to eat right. I have discovered the best way to get them eating healthy is getting them in the kitchen to help and learn.

Having a 16-month, 3 year old and 6 year old it is limiting on what they can and can’t do in the kitchen. Often times it ends up being a much BIGGER disaster when they help, but it makes for good teaching and fun memories. Our two older children have their own apron with their name on it along with their own cooking utensils that I feel are safe and age appropriate to use. This helps to entice them into the kitchen. I try to get their input on what we should cook/make for the snack or meal we are working on.

To help things go smoother, I try to stock better-for-you choices in my pantry/snack drawer (yes we have a snack drawer), and then the kids have the choice to take it upon themselves to experiment.

That is what cooking – and creating – is all about: the discovery and the delicious result.

CLICK HERE to print off the Kid-Friendly Kitchen Tasks for Every Age PDF!

Here are a few of the things we like to make together in the kitchen.

 

 

 

1. Trail Mix

Whatever we have in the cabinet, pantry and snack drawer (within reason) the kids can grab and mix. Some ingredients they like are pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, cereal, whole-grain goldfish crackers, almonds and mini marshmallows.

2. Smoothie

We start with a base of water and ice, and add from there— fresh or frozen fruit of any kind, Greek yogurt, Sugar Free/Fat Free pudding powder. I also have a shake product we use from a former weight management program I worked with and we like to add that as well.

3. Wraps

We lay out whole wheat tortilla and then the kids use their age appropriate knife to spread peanut butter on the wrap. They sprinkle a few chocolate chips and lay a banana in the center. The kids with assistance from me roll up the tortilla. Either they eat like this or I will cut in to pinwheel size for them to eat.

4. Watermelon and Blueberry Salad

I slice the watermelon into thick slices and the kids use cookie cutters to cut shapes out of the watermelon. We then throw in any berries we have—blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and even grapes.

5. Chocolate Chips Banana Bread

This may not be the healthiest of recipes, but it is a huge hit in our house, and we only make it a few times a year.

What You Need:

  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup low fat sour cream
  • ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
  • 2 medium bananas

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease loaf pan.
  2. Mix together melted butter and sugar, and add in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, then add to butter mixture
  4. Add in sour cream, bananas, and chocolate chips. Spread in loaf pan.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until baked through.
  6. Cool on wire rack in pan, and remove from pan to finish cooling.

Back-to-school Breakfasts: Tips & Tricks

Back to school they go! On top of shopping for school supplies, arranging schedules, and all that goes in to preparing our kids for the new school year, it can be challenging to put together quick, easy and healthy breakfasts and lunches. Today, I’m going to share with you my dietitian breakfast tips.

Try these quick, easy and healthy breakfast tips and tricks to make back-to-school mornings a breeze.

In my household, we are not morning people. We push getting up until the last possible moment, hit the snooze button 6 times and then say, “CRAP, we are late!”. You would think after the first week of doing this, we would start to change our habits, but unfortunately, that is not the case. This all leads me to why quick, easy and healthy breakfast tips and tricks will make back-to-school mornings a breeze.

I know you are wiggling in your chair right now trying to figure out what I feed my kids. Let me preface by stating I can’t make this happen without PLANNING and having the food available. If the food isn’t there, we can’t eat it! Here are some things I like to keep on hand for breakfast and 6 of our go-to breakfasts.


CLICK HERE TO PRINT OFF ALL 6 RECIPES!


  • Fruit: fresh, frozen and canned
  • Whole Grains: quick oats, 100% whole wheat break, English muffins
  • Eggs & Dairy: eggs, milk (cow’s milk, almond milk or soy milk), light/non-fat greek yogurt, low fat cottage cheese
  • Vegetables: salsa, tomatoes, frozen peppers and onions

Banana Pops

Ingredients

  • popsicle sticks
  • bananas
  • Greek yogurt
    • Substitute: peanut butter or chocolate hazelnut spread
  • unsweetened cereal
  • optional: mini chocolate chips or coconut shreds or raisins

Instructions

  1. Peel the banana, cut in half and insert popsicle stick.
  2. Dip the banana in yogurt, or coat with a knife.
  3. Roll in cereal and optional items.
  4. Place on parchment or wax lined cookie sheet and freeze. Keep in the freezer until ready to eat.

‘Pop Tart’ Toast

Ingredients

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread
  • 1 tsp. butter or peanut butter
    • Substitute: chocolate hazelnut spread or cream cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. jelly/jam

Instructions

  1. Lightly butter/peanut butter both pieces of bread.
  2. Spread the jam/jelly onto one slice of the bread leaving about a ½ inch border. Then top with the remaining slice of bread.
  3. Cut the crust off the bread and seal the 2 slices of bread together using the tines of a fork. Put in the toaster and then the ‘pop tart’ is ready.
  4. You can also add fresh fruit for more flavor and nutritional quality.

Tortilla Wrap

Ingredients

  • 1 egg (can be whole egg, egg substitute or egg white)
  • Fillings: cheese, avocado, tomato, salsa, jalapeno, etc.
  • 1 whole-wheat tortilla

Instructions

  1. Scramble an egg.
  2. Mix in cheese, avocado, tomato, salsa, jalapeno—really whatever you like mixed with a scrambled egg.
  3. Place this inside a tortilla, wrap as a burrito and eat.
  4. Freeze up to one month. Microwave to thaw and cook.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

These are a treat in our household, and what is fabulous is the kids don’t even know there is a vegetable in it.  

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  3. In a bowl, mix together eggs, oil and buttermilk.
  4. Add in all of the dry ingredients, including spices. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Stir in zucchini.
  6. Fill the prepared muffin tin liners about 3/4 of the way.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the center muffin comes out mostly clean. Let cool.
  8. Divide into freezer Ziploc bags and freeze or leave some in fridge for the next few days.
  9. Serve a fruit or yogurt.

Egg and Cheese Mini Muffins

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray miniature muffin pan thoroughly with cooking spray or grease with butter.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and pepper.
  4. Pour egg mixture into prepared pan, filling cups about 2/3 full.
  5. Sprinkle cheese evenly among the cups.
  6. Bake for approximately 8-10 minutes, or until eggs set.
  7. Allow to cool in pan for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack. When completely cooled, muffins can be wrapped in plastic and frozen.
  8. When ready to eat, simply microwave each mini muffin for 15-30 seconds, or until heated through.
  9. Serve these with fruit.

Freezer Ready French Toast Sticks

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf bread
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • butter

Instructions

  1. Slice each slice of bread into 3 sticks.
  2. Mix the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon.
  3. Heat griddle to a medium-low temperature and heat butter on top of griddle.
  4. Put slices of bread into the egg mixture and place onto the griddle until griddle is full.
  5. Cook on each side until browned.
  6. Remove and set on a plate. Repeat cooking steps until all are done.
  7. To freeze: Lay cooked sticks on a greased cookie sheet. Freeze for at least a couple of hours. Then put in a freezer bag. Microwave for about 10-15 seconds when ready to eat. I don’t typically serve with syrup when in the car, as it can make a big sticky mess.

Food storage tips

Food

We have a 30-minute drive to town so we are typically eating our breakfast in the car. Rubbermaid TakeAlongs square food divided storage containers makes it great to have multiple items at breakfast without meshing and getting all over the car.

Beverages

Having a spill-proof cup is necessary for breakfast on the go in the car. Our go-to beverage for breakfast is milk or Carnation Instant Breakfast Light Start mixed with milk.

Should you be counting your calories?

The other day I was with a patient and she said, “Megan I’m frustrated with you”. That took me aback for a minute; I felt our sessions had been going well and she was working towards her goals. She went on to tell me I had not given her a calorie count to follow.

 

Now, this is not the first time I have heard this. We hear so many times calories in=calories out, so we must count our calories, right? NO! That is not so and I am not a dietitian that recommends calorie counting to my patients and here is why.

Our bodies are very complex. Trying to simplify the way our bodies work by tracking a single a calorie, is not necessarily effective.

Counting calories can leave you feeling hungry, deprived, upset, and eventually, right back to your original weight or higher. Not only can you feel exhausted and empty as you restrict your body of what it needs, but also any weight you do lose ends up coming back anyway once you start “eating” again. It’s a lose-lose situation. Not only do you not achieve the desired result, but you also feel defeated and terrible about yourself!

So what counts?

Eat healthier by cutting back portions and adding in non-starchy vegetables.
Remember your #plategoals— ¼ protein, ¼ carbohydrate and ½ non-starchy vegetables. Try this approach to every meal; it eliminates the need to count calories! The #plategoals method can provide half the calories of a typical meal, with the same volume, if not more— and get this, 1-2 times the nutrients.

 

Eat every few hours.
Snack between meals; be sure to include a protein and a carbohydrate. This frequent eating, not grazing, helps to fuel your body and boost your metabolism.

Here are some great snack ideas:

  • One half banana or one medium apple with 1 Tbsp nut butter
  • ½ c lite peaches and ½ c low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2 Tbsp hummus and ½ c sugar snap peas
  • 5 reduced fat Triscuits® with 1 oz low-fat cheese
  • One half of a whole-wheat pita stuffed with ½ c lite tuna or egg salad
  • One whole multi-grain English muffin topped with tomato sauce and 1 oz low-fat mozzarella cheese, then baked
  • 10 multi-grain Wheat Thins® with 1 oz low-fat string cheese
  • One small baked potato topped with salsa and 1 oz low-fat cheese
  • ½ c fruit blended with 1 c fat-free/low-fat yogurt and 2 Tbsp flaxseed meal
  • ½ c goldfish crackers made with whole grain and a medium apple
  • Whole-wheat tortilla, topped with ½ c apples and low-fat cheddar cheese, and then heated in microwave
  • 9oz angel food cake or reduced fat biscuit with 1 c strawberries
  • One small baked sweet potato, topped with ½ c pineapple tidbits
  • 3 c low-fat popcorn with 2 Tbsp nuts

Start today by simplifying your health and weight goals by no longer counting calories, but making sure your caloric intake is sourced from the right types of food.

Click here to print off Easy “Mix and Match Meals” using the #plategoals method.

 

6 Steps to Bathing Suit Confidence

Summer is just around the corner and that means weekends will soon fill up with beach trips, pool days and afternoons in the sun. As a dietitian, I often get asked on what are some slimming secrets and increasing confidence tricks for being in a bathing suit all day. Consider some of these tips the next time you are packing up your sunblock and beach towels and heading outdoors!

Consider some of these slimming secrets for bathing suit confidence next time you are packing up your sunblock and beach towels for some fun in the sun!

1. Don’t Skip Breakfast/Meals.

Nothing good will come from this action so please do not consider it. Skipping meals or going long durations without eating signals your body to prepare for starvation and will slow down your metabolism. Just like your computer, your metabolism will go into “sleep mode” when not being stimulated for an extended period of time. This causes your body to aggressively store calories and will also offset your body’s hunger hormone levels. Basically, you will find yourself extra famished by the end of the day and will be more likely to overeat.

2. Avoid carbonated beverages and salty snacks.

Both carbonated beverages (even sugar-free ones) and salty snacks such as crackers, pretzels, Chex mix and the like can cause water retention and extra bloating. This is definitely not the recipe one wants for feeling svelte and confident all day in a swimsuit.

3. Do pack lean protein sources.

Foods that are high in protein will help you stay fuller longer. This will allow you to spend more time splashing and playing in the water and less time breaking to eat. Protein go-to’s can include eggs, lean meats, protein bars/shakes, low sugar Greek yogurts, unsalted nuts, white cheese varieties. Another perk to frequent protein intake is that it can also help ward off sugar cravings.

4. Focus on water for hydration.

Believe me, I know nothing sounds better than ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day but fueling your body with liquid sugar isn’t the best recipe for staying fit and trim. Confession: I’ll be the first to admit that plain water isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to drink. Take advantage of fresh produce this summer and create natural flavor enhancers by putting fresh cut fruit, herbs or vegetables in your water.

5. Fresh fruit and vegetables make great hydrating snacks.

Fresh produce is naturally high in water, fiber and antioxidants. Choosing fruit and vegetables as snacks help boost your nutrient intake. Natural foods do not have any added chemicals or junk in them, which can often be the culprit for bloated, upset stomachs.  Save yourself some time preparing fruits and vegetables and purchase pre-cut bags and containers from the grocery store to be beach-ready in a snap.

6. Above all- kick back and have fun.

Despite the season of being more active, I understand summer can amplify body image issues with wearing a swimsuit. With constant reminders of magazine covers touting to have the perfect bikini body, even the most confident of women can become over critical of themselves. Try not to let worrying thoughts about how you look overpower the fun you could be having with your friends, family and kids. Summer always comes and goes too fast anyways, so grab your shades, sunblock and let out a big “cowabunga”!

5 Hidden Sources of Sugar

Cutting back on one’s sugar intake is always one of the best first steps to take towards healthier eating habits. However, sugar can be found lurking in every aisle of the grocery store. You know to limit sweets, soda and candy but watch out for some of these hidden sources of sugar that could be sabotaging your health.

Salad Dressing

You’ve heard the phrase that a perfectly good salad can be ruined by its dressing. This is especially true when that salad dressing is nothing but a spoonful of sugar. Believe it or not, a serving of salad dressing can have more added sugars than a candy bar. Beware of fat-free salad dressings as these are usually the ones with the highest amounts of added sugars. Classic ranch, Italian and unsweetened vinaigrettes are good low-sugar choices.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has become America’s excuse to eat ice cream for breakfast. You read that right. Most Greek yogurt options contain more sugar than ice cream. I know what you’re thinking. “But Amanda, I thought Greek yogurt was supposed to be healthy for me”. You’re right, it was when it originally debuted on store shelves a decade ago. However, most people couldn’t get past the thick, tart taste of natural Greek yogurt, so to boost sales and increase palatability, manufacturers began adding more and more sugar to their products.

Nutella

Nutella just sounds fancy and sometimes fancy-sounding foods are mistakenly taken as healthier options. There is nothing fancy about the amount of sugar found in Nutella. In fact, it’s nearly all sugar; it’s even the very first ingredient listed on the nutrition label. Putting Nutella on toast is no different than covering your toast in maple syrup. You’re much better off with toppings that provide protein and/or healthy fat like peanut/almond butter, mashed avocado or my favorite, an egg!

Granola/Granola Bars

Granola bars gained popularity decades ago because they were the perfect low calorie/low fat snack. Remember low-fat usually translates to high-sugar. Food manufacturers have known this for a long time. If you can’t flavor something with fat, you need to enhance taste with sugar. Even organic, whole-food bars fall victim to being high in sugar. Swap your granola bars for a low-sugar protein bar. Your insulin levels and waistline will thank you. 

“Energy” anything

In the world of food marketing, the word “energy” is code for sugar. Fancy labeling and flashy packaging may make items like energy drinks and energy bars look enticing (especially for athletes), they are simply expensive versions of soda and candy bars. Save yourself the $$ and blood sugar crashes and choose items that naturally provide sustainable energy such as lean proteins and healthy fats. Combine cottage cheese, cheese, nuts or hard boiled eggs with fresh fruit for well-balanced food choices.