The worst thing about the start of school? In my opinion, it's the frantic food preparation. For my family, gone are the lazy summer mornings, lingering in jammies over a balanced breakfast; ambitious, nutritious evening meals, sometimes hours in the making, are a thing of the past. Now, it's rushed breakfasts, hurried dinners, last-minute snacks, and countless lunches, usually thrown together in the brief hiatus between the end of dessert and start of bath time. After a week or two, mac 'n' cheese for dinner every night starts to sound like a dandy plan. If this sounds familiar, before you throw in the dish towel, check out some of these more healthful meal and snack options for kids. They'll let you slow down enough to enjoy eating again.
Fresh fruit for dessert is always the best choice. If you can get away with that, stop reading here. If not, stock up on healthful alternatives to Oreos. Keep an eye on sugar and saturated fat, and buy desserts that contain whole fruit.
The best thing, really, is to make a few big batches of something, then freeze them for future use. But there's that time thing again.
Extra credit tip: Combine frozen blackberries with plain organic Greek yogurt, and top with toasted coconut flakes and ground walnuts (they're rich in omega-3 fats) for a creamy frozen treat.
Stahlbush Island Farms Marion Blackberries
Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt
Wholly Wholesome Cherry Pie
Newman's Own Organics Newman-O's
Super Bowl: Best Breakfast Cereals
Lets' just say it: nothing beats boxed cereal for a fast, convenient breakfast. And for some kids, it's either a bowl of cereal or nothing at all. But even "natural" cereals may have unnatural amounts of sugar in various incarnations; organic evaporated cane juice, fructose, honey, and other concentrated sweeteners still cause blood sugar surges and add empty calories. Choose an unsweetened cereal, or one that has fewer than 4 g of sugar per serving; wheat-free and gluten-free are even better choices. Add diced apples, berries, or other whole fruit instead of raisins for more fiber and less impact on blood sugar. Other fast breakfast ideas: oatmeal topped with chopped almonds, or smoothies made with organic yogurt and berries, and fortified with flaxseeds.
Extra credit points: Add a scoop of green foods powder to breakfast smoothies, or even oatmeal; some are concentrated enough to account for a full serving of greens in one scoop.
Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Flourless Almond Cereal
Fiona's Gluten-Free Quinoa Crunch
Pacific Organic Unsweetened Almond Milk
Arrowhead Mills Organic Oatmeals
New Chapter Organics Berry Green Powder
Bag It: Healthful Lunch Box Additions
If your child brown-bags it to school every day, you've packed more than 500 lunches by third grade. No wonder quick-and-easy lunch box additions are so appealing. Simple selections, such as cheese sticks, applesauce containers, and plain yogurt (the flavored varieties contain as much sugar as an Almond Joy candy bar), aren't bad choices; look for organic versions, and be aware of the environmental aspects of individual packages. Sandwiches are a natural for lunches; choose whole-grain breads with at least 3 g of fiber per slice, and check labels to make sure they're free of high-fructose corn syrup (good luck finding sugar-free versions). Sprouted wheat breads are the best; they're high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. PB&J sandwiches are OK, but alternate fillings for varied nutrition. And check peanut butter labels; a shocking number (even the "natural" ones) have added sugar.
Extra credit points: Spread sandwiches with hummus, and layer with dark, leafy greens, shredded carrots, tomatoes, and avocado to sneak in fiber, antioxidants, and healthful fats.
Organic Valley Organic Cheese Sticks
Kalona Organics Cultural Revolution Peach Yogurt
Santa Cruz Organic Apple Blackberry Sauce
Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Flourless Bread
Once Again Organic Almond Butter
Bionaturae Organic Sour Cherry Fruit Spread
Emerald Valley Kitchen Organic Hummus
Snack Attack: Feeding the Troops
After school, before sports, or between outdoor games, kids can storm through the door, hit the kitchen, and consume their weight in Goldfish or Raisinets before you can say "Wait! I'm making you ants on a log!" Choose less-evil versions of the yummy, snacky munchies kids love. Scrutinize ingredients labels, and look for gluten-free, organic, low-sugar versions of chips, crackers, and bars that are portable and fun to eat. Keep an eye on sodium; your treat should have no more than 250 mg per serving. Avoid artificial ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, and trans fats like the plagues that they are. And look for portable selections that you can keep stashed in the car for last-minute munchies.
Extra credit points: Choose a snack that contains at least 3 g of fiber per serving.
Barbara's Bakery Wheat-Free Juice-Sweetened Fig Bars
Terra Chips Plain Sweet Potato Chips
Newman's Own Organics Hi-Protein Pretzels
Greens+ Protein Bars
Mary's Gone Crackers Organic Rice and Seed Crackers
Kopali Organics Dark Chocolate Covered Mulberries
Dinner Quick Fixes
Somewhere on the spectrum between home-cooked meals and mac 'n' cheese, there lies a quantity of healthful options. Start in the frozen foods section of your natural grocer; choose vegetable-rich selections that have less than 500 mg of sodium per serving, and shoot for at least 8 g of fiber per serving. Boxed dinners like mac 'n' cheese or pasta meals can be fortified with cubes of leftover proteins and diced vegetables. And as far as quick dinners go, you could do worse than brown rice penne pasta with organic tomato sauce and a vegetable-rich side salad.
Extra credit tip: Stock up on bags of frozen carrots, green beans, and broccoli spears; you'll always have a quick vegetable side on hand.
Tinkyada Rice Penne Pasta
Walnut Acres Organic Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce
Columbia River Organics Butternut Squash
Cascadian Farm Organic Cut Green Beans
Alexia Foods Sweet Potato Julienne Fries
Amy's Light in Sodium Vegetable Lasagna
Glutino Gluten-Free Spinach & Feta Pizza