Three Tips for Easy Back to School Meals

Asian Family Sitting At Table Eating Meal TogetherWith the school year started, families are settling into a new routine. If your family is like many, coordinating school, work, and activities can make it difficult to find time to prepare meals. Here are three tips to help you make mealtime a breeze!

  1. Have a plan.
    Creating a budget and menu for your weekly meals can save time, money, and stress in the long run! Utilize grocery store ads, foods that are in season, and a specific grocery list to get the best bang for your buck while shopping. To save time and eliminate stress, plan out when to cook around other activities. This will also keep you from resorting to eating out (which can be expensive and less nutritious) because you will have food ready when you need it! Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has meal planning tools to help you get started!
  1. Meal Prep.
    Prepare food ahead of time so that meal time is stress free! Cleaning and cutting fresh veggies for the week is an easy way to make sure healthy snacks are always on hand. You can even pre-portion them into containers or bags so they are ready to take on the go! Another way to make sure healthy food is on hand is to batch cook. Cook enough of a main or side dish to last for several meals. Freeze them or store them in the refrigerator for up to four days. Here are some recipes that freeze well. Give them a try and see how easy mealtime can be!
  1. Create “Planned-Overs”.
    Preparing a family dinner can be very satisfying! It can also make following meals a breeze! Casseroles and slow cooker dishes are easy to make for dinner and store for meals throughout the week. If you are making a dish with a whole cut of meat, poultry, or fish for dinner, cook extra to use in salads or sandwiches for lunches. Side dishes like cooked vegetables or grains can also be saved and used for later meals. See (link to my meal plan) for a few examples of how to plan leftovers into a menu.

What has worked for you? How do you plan meals, meal prep, or utilize leftovers at home? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by Emily Wisecup, ISU Dietetic Intern

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Let’s Party!

Let’s party! What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

jackolantern

For many of us it is getting some yummy food and drinks together for the celebration. Halloween is in just a couple of weeks and this is a time when many of us have far more junk food around for us and our kids than we even want. There are a lot of things we can do to try to make celebrations more about fun with friends and family than junk food.

One place to start is with school celebrations. Many classrooms celebrate every child’s birthday plus all holidays with cupcakes, pizza parties or treat exchanges. This can add up to thirty or more celebrations per school year! With so many celebrations, it often does not even feel like a special occasion anymore.

No one is interested in denying a child a cupcake on their birthday, but it is possible to show kids how to celebrate these occasions without so much unhealthy food. Here are some tips for helping your child’s class have a healthy celebration, but the same tips apply to celebrations and birthday parties at home.

  • Start by talking to the teacher and offering to help organize a party this year or get a group of parents together who are willing to serve as a party-planning committee. You can take it one step further and work on an addition to the school wellness policy related to parties.
  • Make the party about fun, not just food. Think about games, crafts and adventures for the kids to enjoy.
  • Play your way! Hold your party at the playground or create a scavenger hunt for the kids to do so the focus is on active play. Offer a free period when the students choose what they would like to do or the class plays its favorite game together.
  • Choose prizes and favors that are not food-related. These can be crafts or small toys the kids can take home with them.
  • Encourage parents to provide tasty snacks that are also healthy:
    • Apple slices with cinnamon sprinkled on them
    • Vegetables with low-fat dip
    • String cheese or yogurt
    • Trail mix with whole grain cereal and pretzels
    • Whole grain crackers
    • Make-your-own fruit and yogurt parfait cups
    • Water or 100% juice in place of high-sugar beverages like punch or sports drinks

Take-AlongTrailMix

Some Halloween candy is fine and part of the fun of this time of year, but with these tips you can keep the holiday about fun and memories and take the focus off of the junk food.

The tradition in my neighborhood is that a child has to tell a joke when they come to your door trick or treating. Here’s one from last year:

What is a ghost’s favorite pie?

Booberry!

Happy Halloween!

s Signature-1

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Schools Back in Session

Here in Iowa, schools are back in session. For some families this means packing lunches, although the cost of school lunches is hard to beat, and packed lunches are not automatically healthier than school lunch.

I think the key to getting kids to eat what is in their lunchbag—rather than trading it or throwing it away—is involving them in choosing the food. I take my lunch to work almost every day and I’m sure that no one else could guess what I would like!

Consider letting your kids choose what they want from a list of healthy alternatives, and even take them with you to shop for it. Ideally, a lunch would include food from at least 3 food groups. Use MyPlate as a guide.

Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Low fat dairy: nonfat or 1% milk; low-fat yogurt (even a smoothie or drinkable yogurt);
    low fat cheese; cottage cheese
  • Fruits: fresh fruit that travels well such as apple, grapes, orange, banana; fruit canned in juice; single-serve applesauce; cut-up fruits served with a fruit-flavored yogurt as a dip
  • Vegetables: baby carrots; colored pepper strips; broccoli or cauliflower; lettuce and tomatoes in a sandwich; V-8 or tomato juice; cherry tomatoes; zucchini slices (don’t forget to include a little ranch dressing as a dip)
  • Protein sources: turkey, lean ham or roast beef; peanut or other butter; nuts; tuna; hard-boiled egg;  bean soup or chili;  leftovers; mashed beans with salsa rolled in a flour tortilla; peanut butter and banana wedged between slices of cinnamon raisin bread or a pita
  • Grains: pretzels; popcorn; cereal; trail-mix with dried fruit chips
    Think whole grains! More nutrition and more fiber!—whole wheat pita bread; whole wheat bagel; whole wheat or corn tortilla; whole grain crackers

If a “treat” is a must and fruit just doesn’t cut it, consider something very small like a couple of
chocolate kisses or a cookie. It shouldn’t take much to satisfy the sweet tooth!

A few recipes from Spend Smart.Eat Smart. that are ideal for packed lunches are:
Wraps “Your Way”
Make-ahead Mexican Rollups
Popcorn Trail Mix
Fruit Kabobs with Yogurt Dip
Crispy Granola

Finally, don’t forget food safety when packing your lunch.

-pointers from Peggy

Plan a lunch that won’t get traded away

Have you ever visited your kids’ school lunchroom. Imagine the New York Stock exchange–only with yogurt being exchanged for a sack of chips instead of stocks being bought and sold.

One of the most important tips for packing lunches that your child won’t trade away is to involve them in the planning, shopping and preparation of their meals. Children who help select items are likely to remain interested in their selections…and will probably look forward to trying them. This is also true for meals at home, but even more important for meals eaten away from you.

-pointers by Peggy

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