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5 Things Every Family Needs For A Better New School Year

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These 5 nutrition strategies will help you help yourself and your family have a better start for a better school year fueled by better nutrition!

You want them to have the best year ever. You know life is not perfect, but that will not stop you from trying, really hard, to make it perfect for them, but in trying to make it their best year, will it make you worse for the wear?

Their best year can not happen without you being in good shape too!

So, first things, first – it can not be all about them. Back to school means nerves, schedule disruptions, excitement for everyone in the family, which means potential health threats for everyone too.

But, it also means there is opportunity to set everyone up for a better year! A year of better health, better performance and better energy fueled by better nutrition with these 5 tips.

Better Nutrient Balance

So often when I see a beautiful school lunch image on Instagram or Twitter or when my patients share school menus, I cringe.

Let us be clear, we have come a long way from hyper-processed meal kits (most of the time!) and in an effort to make a photo stand out I see some really impressive stuff like a variety of real colors or fun shapes, but that does not add up to what will actually deliver better nutrition for any of us – small or tall.

We need nutrient balance just like our car needs gas, oil (engine), air (tires), wiper fluid and so on.

Avoid Skimping On Carbs For Lunch

When we skip carbs at lunch; usually what parents do in an effort to shed some lb’s (think grilled chicken salad without the croutons and dressing on the side!), we do not get quick energy to give our brains, bodies and mood the lift they need to make it to the next nutrition pit stop.

And, so we often hit the coffee shop or the cookie jar or the pretzels – hey they are fat-free, score, right?! – at 3 pm.

Skip the croutons, but do add some chickpeas or beans or a piece of fruit or some sweet potato to that lunch and the nutrient balance will fuel you for a better afternoon.

Add Protein And Healthy Fats To Your Diet

When we go all carbs, but light or non-existent on protein and healthy fats, we get a rush of energy, an overwhelming rush, that does not have direction or pace and that wears off before the next class period ends.

I get it! Kids love and will eat carbs, the other stuff, often, not so much and especially challenging can be what proteins and fats can look and taste like after they have spent time in the school lunch bag.

So choose differently. Check out hemp hearts – a crowd-pleaser – they provide complete plant protein, essential omega fatty acids, iron for growth, fiber for regularity and to help you feel full and they can be an add-on to any carb (because they do not contain other carbs themselves).

They are not a nut and are naturally gluten-free so they are an allergy-friendly option too.

Include More Of Non-Starchy Vegetables

Nutrient balance includes a 4th food group so often left out of the “macro” nutrient discussion, which is non-starchy vegetables.

They are the body’s clean up team and we need to aim to get in a rainbow of colors most days to give our bodies what they need to clean up and stay healthy.

Our rainbow includes white and brown too; do not forget how great cauliflower, onions, and mushrooms can be and there are ways to make them delicious too.

The cauliflower rice at Trader Joe’s is making everything from pizza to muffins and smoothies more nutritious, and caramelizing onions is what actress Teri Hatcher calls the best cooking technique she has ever learned to create kid-friendly (and adult-asking-for-seconds!) meals.

In addition, mushrooms may take some time, but if you bake shitake “fries” with some organic cheese you might be surprised by who you get as takers.

Better Quality

Our bodies run best when we give them fuel that they recognize, and have the least likelihood to irritate or disrupt optimal functions.

There is no perfect food! Today, we have aging soil and we have chemical residues and other pollutants stored in our land or blowing through our air.

We have not always taken the best care of our environment, and it can show up in our food, no matter how much care goes into production.

However, choosing organic means that the system of production used for your food endeavors to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and does not allow for chemistry lab projects (like GMO seeds) that do not have long term human health safety studies, especially to know the quantity and frequency of exposure that could be acceptable for a growing body or an aging mind.

Better Quantity

Too much of a good thing, too little of a good thing. Better nutrition is not about portion control, but it is about making sure you do not overload the system with too much at one time.

On the flip side, no one runs well without enough fuel, so it is important to learn proper quantities for you and the kids. While trying a bite is an awesome way to encourage new tastes, it is key to back that up with ensuring their bites add up to enough nutrients per nutrition pit stop.

Make Bites And Sips Delicious And Nutrient Dense

This means skip the hyper-processed snacks that promote missing key ingredients like that is a win (fat-free, sugar-free etc.) and instead choose whole foods or minimally processed snacks that you either assemble yourself or that read like a recipe of ingredients you would assemble yourself that are full of delicious nutrition.

There is nothing wrong with chocolate and peanut butter for a snack with a glass of water, just make sure it is real chocolate and peanut butter without loads of added sugar or hydrogenated oils.

Portion According To Size

I like to use the fist and the palm and then remind your kids (and self!) that you do not have a fist the size of Shaq or a palm the size of Michael Phelps…not yet, at least.

So that means your pasta portion or your burger size needs to be in line with your actual physical size.

Better Frequency

Timing is when we go too long without nutrition our bodies get creative (aka cranky!) at trying to prioritize what they should do and how to do it with less.

This is not a recipe for success. I get that some kids (and parents) do not like to break the fast until midday. Others do not like to be bothered with eating or find what they have to eat unappealing in the moment when compared with online shopping, a stop to the restroom or recess.

So they skip lunch, skip snacks and then get home or stop on the way and proceed to backload all the calories they missed during the day.

Unfortunately, this is a recipe for digestive overwhelm as well as fueling up with energy at a time when the body (and mind) should be prepping for rest and recovery.

So plan the pit stops. Do not pack a lunch, pack a few pit stops. And then plan a pit stop for everyone before afternoon workouts or activities or immediately after them.

Sure that can be called dinner, but it can also be any nutrient balanced pit stop and if you do not give it the “d” word, it may be more successful because that opens the door to a lot more food choices.

Why not have dessert smoothies at 5pm? Or can’t overnight oats happen at 4pm as easily as 7am? Then at 6pm mini burgers in a bowl of some veggies may go down at lot more successfully.

Better Foundations

What goes on your body, goes in your body, every single day and it does not go through the normal vetting process that food does (aka the digestive system).

So it is worth investing in quality nutrition in the form of better skincare choices – body wash, face soaps, sunscreen etc.

So now you have it!

The not-perfect, but better strategies to help you help yourself and your family have a better start for a better year fueled by better nutrition. I hope it turns out to be a deliciously wonderful adventure!

Ashley Koff RD

Ashley Koff RD is an internationally-renowned registered dietitian who believes better nutrition is simple and is on a mission to help people achieve their personal health goals by providing understandable and highly effective tips and strategies. A self-described “qualitarian,” Koff emphasizes the value of quality nutritional choices in achieving optimal wellbeing, and has developed online tools such as The AKA Qualitarian Nutrition Plan and The AKA Personal Shopper to help people make better-quality choices. Besides maintaining a Washington, D.C.-based clinical practice, Koff is a much-sought-after expert in the media, social media, and is a go-to dietitian for the nation's leading doctors.

Ashley Koff RD

Ashley Koff RD is an internationally-renowned registered dietitian who believes better nutrition is simple and is on a mission to help people achieve their personal health goals by providing understandable and highly effective tips and strategies. A self-described “qualitarian,” Koff emphasizes the value of quality nutritional choices in achieving optimal wellbeing, and has developed online tools such as The AKA Qualitarian Nutrition Plan and The AKA Personal Shopper to help people make better-quality choices. Besides maintaining a Washington, D.C.-based clinical practice, Koff is a much-sought-after expert in the media, social media, and is a go-to dietitian for the nation's leading doctors.