5 Tips for Planning Healthy Back-to-School Meals

School is back in session and your schedule has taken a turn toward busy. How do you help your family stay fueled for after school activities? The answer is simple: planning. The time you take to plan will help you stay organized and healthy even through the busy back to school season.

One of the biggest reasons families are not eating healthy is that we aren’t planning our meals. We’re running from school to sports and other events without knowing what we’re eating for our meals and snacks. We drive-thru when we could be eating a healthy snack. Not only are we becoming an unhealthy nation, we’re spending money that we could be saving.

Here are five tips for planning healthy back to school meals:

1. Prepare the Menu: Review your local grocery store ads finding items your family likes that are on sale. Create a menu of meals based on the sale and other items. For example, if chicken is on sale, buy enough to make for dinner with leftovers. Use the leftovers to make chicken salad (using low-fat mayo) for lunches the next day.

2. Make a Grocery List: Now that you know what is on sale and which ingredients you need for your meals, make a grocery list. Stick to the list. Families that meal plan and stick to the list find they shop primarily the perimeter of the store – produce, lean meats, nonfat dairy & calorie controlled whole grains – and avoid the inner aisles containing foods that are not as healthy.  If you are having a hard time making it to the store, consider ordering your groceries online.  Companies like Fresh Direct and Peapod make it easy to keep your house well stocked with healthy choices, and deliver from 6am to 10pm, 7 days per week.

3. Go Green: Rather than packing meals and snacks in plastic bags, buy reusable storage containers. Pack the containers in advance with non-perishable snacks like nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, and then quickly throw in some fresh items like fruit and low-fat cheese sticks to grab and go on your way to after school activities. This will help you avoid the unhealthier fast food options.

4. Know your Food: Plan meals and snacks around lean protein. Protein fuels the body for the busiest of days and will help stave off sugar cravings. Natural peanut butter, almonds, egg whites, 0% Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken and fish are good sources of lean protein.

5. Rely on your Freezer: Some days are just busy and we don’t have time to plan and pack meals. When this happens, instead of picking up higher calorie (not to mention higher fat and sodium) foods from out of the house, you should be able to rely on a well stocked freezer for fast and healthy dinner options.  Many stores have interesting frozen entrée options, you can pair this with a bag of frozen vegetables, and dinner will be on the table in just a few minutes.

Planning back to school meals takes a bit of time but the benefits include having more energy, being healthier and saving money. Do you have a healthy meal idea? Share it in the comments.

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Elizabeth DeRobertis, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, a Westchester, N.Y. working mom of third grader Nicky and new Kindergartner Lily, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. Elizabeth is the Director of Nutrition & Wellness Services at Scarsdale Medical Group, and has helped thousands of people to lose weight and keep it off. Elizabeth is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of diabetes and weight management, and frequently quoted in the media, including national television shows, publications and web sites. She is a co-creator of HungerShield, an innovative appetite control drink mix and the only product in its category that was created by healthcare professionals. It contains all natural ingredients and works with any diet plan. For more information visit http://www.hungershield.com.

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