Back to school: Family nutrition 101

  • Published
  • By Kayla K. Scherf MFCS, RD, LDN
  • The Health and Wellness Center
So it is back to the hustle and bustle with a new school year that came too quickly. Many parents work full-time and struggle to plan healthy meals and snacks for themselves and their children.

As the years have gone by, the world has changed and so has what we eat. With parents working, is the drive-thru the way to go? Well, it may satisfy a hungry child's appetite quickly, but in the long run it may not be the best choice.

Fast foods not only pack in a lot of extra calories, sodium, sugar and saturated fat, but eating on the run leads to a loss of quality family time.

Having a goal of a sit-down meal at least once a week is important. Keep in mind that this should not involve the television. Make it a time where everyone catches up on what is going on in their busy lives.

It is also a good way for parents to touch base with their kids and find out what they are doing. In addition, sitting together at the table helps us to be mindful of our food. Children and adults may overeat at meals because they are not paying attention.

Eating as a family helps to slow down our rate of speed when eating. Eating too quickly has been known to cause overeating because it takes 20 minutes for our brain to relay the message to our stomach that we are full.

Get the kids involved with preparing the meal and have them help when grocery shopping. Planning meals and snacks is a great way to help budget your money and calories. Take one day out of the busy week to do the shopping for the entire week.

Get the kids into a routine of packing their lunches the night before and allowing them to choose what fruits and vegetables to put in their lunch. Encourage them to pack at least one serving of each of the food groups.

Packing a lunch will teach the children how to prepare healthy choices and you as the parent will be assured that they are eating a healthy lunch. Be sure to send them with healthy after-school snacks so they avoid the vending machines.

Many kids will participate in after school sports and need quality snacks to keep them fueled. Try sending a trail mix with whole grain cereal and dried fruit, which is packed with healthy fat choices, protein and carbohydrates to keep them going. Send a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread or fresh fruit, which comes in its own package and is easy to grab.

What about dinner on the run? Try using the crockpot that may be currently sitting in the cupboard collecting dust. You can turn it on in the morning and when you and your family return home, you can have a full meal that includes your meat, vegetable and starch. Add a side salad to boost your vegetable intake and add some extra vitamins and minerals.

On the days when it is impossible to avoid the "grab and go" food, simply try to make the better choice. It is better to skip the fries and add a side salad instead. Watch out for the dressing and extra bacon bits; a salad can end up being worse than a double burger.

Skip the soda and opt for a bottle of water or unsweetened tea with lemon. Try to go with grilled chicken instead of crispy whenever possible. Get children a low-fat milk beverage and offer fruit, yogurt or vegetables in place of french fries.

Sitting down and taking it all in does seem overwhelming, but once you get into a routine it will become easier.

Making changes now and teaching kids healthy habits will make it easier for them down the road. With the rise in diabetes and obesity among today's children, teaching good nutrition is essential and will benefit you as the parent too!

For questions or to make an appointment with the dietician, call Kayla Scherf at 229-257-1443 or e-mail