How to Avoid Fall Food Challenges
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
Although many of us are still enjoying at least a few “lazy days” this Summer, for many, mid-August means back to school—and back to the grind—for kids and parents alike.
As vacations and long-weekends become distant memories, many of us get overwhelmed by thoughts about how we’ll logistically navigate daily schedules and routines packed with school events, shuttling to after school and weekend activities, and let’s not forget homework.
As much as we want to feed ourselves and our families in a healthful way throughout the year, taking the necessary steps to achieve those goals when Summer turns to Fall and there’s a new routine often takes a back seat to fulfilling the daily demands of domestic life. The good news is, with a little planning and preparation, they don’t have to.
I asked my Twitter followers and Facebook friends and colleagues to share the biggest back-to-school food and fitness challenges they—or their clients—face. Here are some fixes for some common falls to help you eat optimally as we usher in a new season.
The Fall: Registered dietitian Marilyn E. Jess says her clients' biggest challenges center on having healthy foods on hand at home. “I review food logs and often don't see many fruits or vegetables eaten,” says Jess. She adds, “The whole shopping experience seems to be difficult for many people.”
The Fix: For those in a “I don’t have enough food in my house” rut, Jess suggests heading straight to the produce section when you grocery shop. Some delicious, affordable, in-season fruits and vegetables include apples, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, watermelon, and raspberries as well as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, squash and zucchini. Jess recommends filling your freezer with four different types of plain frozen vegetables (ideally, with no salt added) as well as frozen, unsweetened wild blueberries. Finally, she recommends aiming to consume one more fruit or vegetable serving per day—a small, but achievable goal for many.
The Fall: Getting breakfast into teenagers--and children in general--can be a real challenge, according to Rosanne Rust, RD. Having breakfast is associated with so many health and other benefits, including improved academic performance and a healthier body weight. Despite these benefits, many children and parents fail to put having breakfast on their morning to-do list. .
The Fix: “For those who think they’re too busy to eat in the morning, I say something is better than nothing,” says Rust. She suggests several portable options such as smoothies, breakfast bars, yogurt, a banana, and even an instant breakfast drink made with 1 percent milk. “To save time, you can make an egg sandwich and wrap it in wax paper the night before, and then microwave it in the morning,” says Rust. “For a growing teenager especially, having something like even just a glass of milk is better than running on empty in the morning,” she adds.
The Fall: According to Heather Mangieri, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Eating around after school activities is one of the biggest school-year challenges for families.” She adds, “Kids come home hungry, and if nothing is planned ahead of time, they can end up filling up on whatever they see first in the pantry.” Registered dietitian Christy Wilson couldn’t agree more. She says, “I fall into that trap with my kids. My son used to have karate at 6 pm, and I didn't get out of work till 5. He needed to rush and eat something before and after class...it was awful!”
The Fix: Both Mangieri and Wilson agree that planning meals and healthy snacks ahead of time are key to staying on track. Mangieri suggests cooking 4-5 meals over the weekend or on a day when you have a larger chunk of time. “Having items such as pre-cooked chicken breast, turkey burgers or chili, fruits and vegetables that are washed and ready to eat, and yogurt or cheese cubes can make it easy for kids to eat a healthy after school meal or mini-meal,” she adds. Finally, Mangieri suggests being open minded about changing meal times. She says, “A traditional 5 p.m. dinner may not work during the year.” This I know far too well, as my kids have basketball practices and religious school on most weeknights. “It’s ok to forget the after school snack and to opt instead for a 4 or 4:30 p.m. dinner time; then you can have another small meal or mini-meal when the evening activities are over,” Mangieri suggests.
What’s your biggest back-to-school or Fall food challenge? How do you overcome it?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.