Back to School Nutrition Guide and Recipe round up
Aug 12, 2022
It’s that time of the year – the start of a brand-new school year for our kids!
As parents, it’s not unusual for our excitement to come with some level of anxiety in getting our kids
school ready. Whether it’s preparing our kids emotionally for the new adventure, shopping for non-toxic school supplies, or planning around daily schedules, things can get a little overwhelming, and if you are anything like me, nutrition is at the top of that list.
So I thought I’d share some tips on a few things we can do to fuel our kids throughout the day to help them learn better and thrive in school.
What are the basics?
I always consider their meals with these 5 things in mind:
- COMPLEX CARBS: This gives them energy - Whole grains like oats, millet, buckwheat, brown/wild rice, quinoa, teff, sorghum, whole wheat, barley
- CLEAN PROTEIN: This helps them grow and repair tissues - Organic soy products (tofu, edamame, tempeh, soy milk), legumes (chickpeas, lentils), quinoa, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, chia), and if you eat meat: pastured raised eggs, wild-caught fish
- HEALTHY FATS: This provides energy and is important for brain health too - Avocado, nuts and seeds, yogurt, wild-caught salmon, olive, or avocado oil
- FIBER: This is important for a healthy microbiome, which then translates to a healthier immune system. Fiber also binds onto toxins and helps us eliminate them - Seasonal fruits and veggies (leafy, cruciferous, starchy & crunchy) that are easily accessible, easy to prep and pack
- DIVERSITY: Gut health is central to overall health and the first step to detoxing that I teach in my Detox Right course. One of the biggest and most important determinants of gut health is the diversity of plants we eat. So I try to look at what colors are on my kids' plate and incorporate as many colors from the rainbow as I can. Each color represent different polyphenols that feed our gut health and help us fight diseases.
A well-balanced breakfast can offer a great start to the day for your kids (and you too!). And the best thing is, it doesn’t need to be complicated. With a few simple ingredients and a little planning, you can have a yummy breakfast ready without needing to do much in the morning.
Here are some simple breakfast ideas to incorporate the good sources above:
- Overnight oats: This is one of my favorites - Prep this the night before and warm it up in the morning or serve it cold. You can play with countless flavor combinations to keep things fun. Here's what I normally do.
- Chia pudding: Similar to overnight oats, flavor this with any fruits of choice or nuts/seeds combination. One of my favorites is a strawberry chia parfait. I have a recipe in my ebook.
- Fruits with yogurt/milk and granola: Granola can be store-bought or homemade. You
can also vary this with store-bought cereals. This is my favorite homemade granola recipe.
- Smoothies/smoothie bowls: The easiest way to incorporate all the different food
sources into a nutrient-dense easy breakfast. So many to choose from, but my ebook has my favorite one. If you are making it for breakfast, try to incorporate a good amount of protein in - either in the form of seeds (e.g. hemp) or protein powder. I use Vivolife (affilaite discount code: platefulhealth) in mine.
- Tofu scramble/omelet: This is a great way to incorporate vegetables into a protein-packed breakfast. (my recipe in my ebook)
- Avocado Toast: Look for whole grain bread, or better yet, seeded or sprouted for extra
goodness. My favorite gluten-free bread are Young Kobras (platefulhealth 10% off) and Cocobakes (platefulhealth 10% off) - she also sells cookie mixes and treats with better ingredients.
- For extra protein, sprinkle some hemp seeds on your avo toast, or add eggs if you eat them.
For store-bought brands, check out my back-to-school IG post for some Dr. Viv approved products. You can also find make-ahead breakfast ideas from recipe blogs such as https://happykidskitchen.com/kid-friendly-make-ahead-breakfasts/
Thinking about what to pack in your kids’ lunch boxes can feel like a daunting task some days. I certainly feel the school lunch fatigue sometimes, so I usually batch make patties at the weekend that I can warm up during the week for their lunches when I'm in a pinch (which is quite often #workingmom).
Here are some simple ideas on how to make nutritiously balanced meals with common ingredients you can find at home:
- Veggie & Fruit Platter: Use whatever fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season
or available at home. Bell peppers, cucumber, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes,
jicama, snap peas, edamame, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, berries, melons, and
mango are some good options. Serve with crackers and dips/hummus, either store-
bought or homemade. You can spice things up with different colors and flavors for
the hummus, e.g., red (roasted bell pepper), green (peas, spinach, edamame,
avocado), pink (beet), brown (chocolate) or orange (carrot).
- DIY wraps or rolls: No one likes soggy sandwiches or wraps in their lunch boxes. Try
serving them deconstructed and let your kids make their own (it’s fun and they’re
more likely to eat it). You can use the vegetables that you’ve prepped for the platter
or leftovers from dinner. Besides bread or tortillas, you can also use nori sheets or
lettuce leaves. Serve it with a side of your kids’ favorite sauces/dressings. If you want to make wraps at home, Plantyou has a great 2 ingredient tortilla recipe here.
- Burger patties/bites: This is a great way to incorporate whole grains, beans/legumes,
nuts/seeds, and vegetables all into a form that is easy for kids to enjoy. Make extra
during the weekend and freeze them so you can just reheat in the morning. Serve
them with a side of fresh fruits and veggies, and your kids’ favorite sauces/dressings.
- Pasta: I always make extra when we have pasta for dinner, so that they can take it to school for lunch the next day. While most kids may not choose to eat certain vegetables on their own, you
can make it more palatable by adding the vegetables into their favorite pasta dish.
Carrots, zucchini, peas, mushrooms, and leafy greens are some easy additions.
Also try using legumes-based pasta (edamame, chickpeas, lentils, peas) for added
- Repurpose dinner leftovers. For example, when we have rice for dinner, I will make sushi for their school lunch the next day. When meal planning for the week, make some extra
food for dinner that you can easily pack for lunch the next day. Stir-fry noodles or
rice, pasta, soups, stews, or curries, make good leftovers. Cook once and eat twice
If you want to buy patties, these look good ingredients-wise (I've not tried them for taste). Hilary's are ok, but they changed their oil used in ingredients to safflower/sunflower oil...
I haven't mentioned meats here - I personally don't buy ham or processed meat, because they have been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer and are classified as a Class 1 carcinogen by WHO. If you eat meat, unprocessed is better - slides of chicken breast vs ham or salami.
Snacks aisles can feel like a parent trap sometimes, with tons of kid-friendly looking
snacks and marketing ploys to get your kids’ (and your) attention.
No doubt, snacks can be a great way to help fuel your kids in between meals, especially for those who are
small eaters. But not all snacks are created equal, I am looking at some store-bought options and will put together an Instagram post soon, but healtheir products usually come with a hefty price tag, so here are some simple nutritious snacks you can make for your kids.
- Fruit bagels/sandwiches: Bananas or apples sliced into round shapes spread with
nut/seed butter of choice and sprinkled with pumpkin, sunflower or hempseeds.
- Energy bites/bars or pudding: These are easy and fun ways to serve proteins (e.g.,
black beans, cannellini beans, adzuki beans), healthy fats (e.g., nuts/seeds,
avocado) and fiber (oats, dates).
- Instead of Rice Krispies bars, make a healthier one with this recipe. Rice can be a source of arsenic, which does not concern me if it does not feature regularly in your diet. However, if it does, you may want to sub puffed rice here with puffed quinoa or millet instead - switch up the whole grains :).
- Baked goods: Homemade muffins, flourless brownies, socca (see my ebook), or scones are quick and easy ways to incorporate whole grains, veggies or fruits like zucchini, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, berries, and nuts/seeds.
- Trail mix: Mix up your own with your kids’ favorite nuts or seeds, roasted chickpeas,
or edamame, chopped dried fruits and dark chocolate.
- Smoothies: Smoothies can be turned into quick snacks that you can keep cool in
stainless steel thermos.
- Fun foods (aka treats): Whether homemade or store-bought, there can be a place
for fun foods in your kids’ balanced meals. Some good options are stovetop popcorn
with nutritional yeast, dark chocolate-covered fruits/nuts, stuffed dates with
nuts/seeds butter, or homemade cookies.
If you want to come into an integrative doctor's kitchen, and see my simple yet nutritious recipes, check out my Plate for Health e-book (10% off via this link), where you’ll find recipes like chocolate chia parfait, tofu scrambles, powerhouse oats, beet hummus, spinach, and bean dip, navy bean, and sweet potato patties, and many more.
My recipes take the nutritional principles I outlined above into consideration and are delicious ways I've used to nourish my family.
Lastly, please give yourself grace and remember the 80/20 rule. Life is busy and hectic. And you are doing the best that you can. Nothing has to be perfect, just implement one small change at a time. For example, instead of buying conventional ham, look for nitrite free, or buy slices of roast pork or chicken breast instead of cured meats.
I want you to know that my kids do not eat perfectly 100% of the time, and I am ok with that. I outlined the main principles and suggestions here but you do not have to implement ALL of them ALL at once. Choose the low-hanging fruits, what looks easy for you - and implement one step at a time. YOU GOT THIS!