Better Bets for Back to School

Food choices the whole family can feel good about

As you gear up for a new school year, it’s important to put your kids’ nutrition on the school checklist. Countless studies link school performance and healthy eating habits. Treat this season of “academic beginnings” as a chance for the whole family to take a fresh approach to better-for-you eating.

From on-the-go breakfasts and brag-worthy brown bag lunches to after-school snacks and family-friendly dinners, there are plenty of ways to pack nutrition and flavor into every meal. Often, creating healthier meals can be as easy as simply trading-up or swapping one food ingredient for a more nutritious choice.

Selecting menu options that help your family eat better begins at the grocery store with your shopping decisions. If the A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s of food labels make your head spin, you can rely on tools such as the NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System, which provides scores near the price on the shelf tag to identify better-for-you foods. Based on a scale of 1 to 100, the scores rank foods and beverages on their nutritional content with the most nutritious choices scoring highest.

You can take other steps to make shopping easier for healthy eating, says Marisa Paolillo, a nutritionist with NuVal.

First and foremost, she says, don’t go when you’re hungry. “It really is true. If you shop hungry, you’re more likely to toss foods into your cart that will satisfy the hunger pangs at the moment, rather than what you actually need for the week ahead,” she adds.

Another smart shopping tip is to plan, plan, plan. Paolillo suggests starting out right by planning a full week’s worth of menus, then creating a shopping list. This not only streamlines meal preparation, it saves household budget, aids nutrition choices and reduces the frustration and extra time associated with return trips to the store.

1. Determine what you will serve for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.
2. Create a grocery list of food ingredients that are needed.
3. Don’t forget to check specials and coupons in your store’s weekly circular. (Consider swapping listed ingredients for seasonal or on-sale foods.)

“Taking a list to the grocery store will ensure that you stick to your budget and only buy what you need,” says Paolillo.

If you’re pressed for time and on a spur-of-the-moment shopping run, however, keep these better-for-you food basics in mind. Consider these:

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs are a quick and easy breakfast — but hardboiled eggs are a great option for an on-the-go snack.

  • Mid-Day Snack: Get a quick protein and calcium boost during the day with cottage cheese or plain yogurt with fruit or granola.

  • Lunch and Dinner: Make sure to include vegetables in all meals.

  • On-the-Go Snack: Fruit like apples, bananas, tangerines and pears are perfectly portable for on-the-go ease.

  • Dinner: Round out your day with lean protein at dinner, such as poultry or fish seasoned with herbs.

Paolillo offers some final healthy eating, back-to-school shopping tips. Take advantage of in-store nutritional scoring systems or services to help guide food choices, and make the majority of food selections from the outer perimeter of the store.

“Think produce, dairy, fish and meat,” Paolillo says. “This will ensure that most of your food choices are more nutrient-packed and fresh, versus heavily processed foods that tend to be loaded with additional sugar, salt and fat.”

Bring Breakfast-to-Go
Even if breakfast finds you crunched for time, prime the kids with morning nutrients to energize their day. Give them a breakfast boost with make-ahead options that can be enjoyed on-the-go in cars and buses. Try portable Scrambled Egg Cups or Oatmeal Cups, which provide plenty of protein to get them through the day.

Unbeatable “Brown Bag” Tips
When it comes to packing school lunches, stick to what your kids like. If they aren’t crazy about something, it may end up in the garbage or get traded for an unhealthy snack. These simple swaps will make your kids’ brown bag lunch unbeatable:

1. For sandwiches, swap white bread for a higher NuVal-scoring brown bread or pita.
2. Replace deli meats with lean roasted beef or poultry or low fat cheese.
3. For a delicious, nutritious sandwich spread, trade mayonnaise for a mashed avocado. Make fruits and vegetables a go-to snack. Chop up carrots, peppers and celery in advance and stash some in lunch bags with hummus; or sprinkle apple and pear slices with lemon and cinnamon to satisfy a sweet tooth.
4. Choose water to hydrate and calcium- and vitamin D-rich milk to strengthen growing bones.

Smart Swaps for After School
Chips and packaged cookies, move out of the way. Swap them for smart after-school snacks that are homemade, nutritious and fun to make.

Custom-create a smoothie. Have kids choose their favorite fruit and vegetables. Toss them into the blender with ice and fat free yogurt for a snack that’s easy, fun and filling.

Make banana sushi rolls. Top a whole grain tortilla with nut butter and a whole banana sprinkled with cinnamon. Roll it up and slice like sushi rolls. (These are great for lunches, too.)

Other after-school smart snacks include:

  • Apple slices topped with almond butter.

  • Air-popped popcorn (Avoid microwave popcorn, which is often high in trans-fat and sodium.)

  • Fresh salsa and tortilla chips.

Find nutritious trade-ups and family-friendly meals to kick off the new school year at

NuVal Nutritional Scoring System

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