Nutrition: Routines help healthy eating when school starts

Take some time to think about healthful nutrition for the entire family.

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Packing a school lunch the night before can become a healthy family routine. Getty Images
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It is time to admit summer is winding down, and back-to-school season is upon us. This time of year is full of schedule adjustments. My No. 1 piece of advice is to practice your back-to-school routine. Often, kids sleep later during the summer, so they'll take some time to adjust to waking up earlier and eating breakfast in the morning.

Take some time to think about healthful nutrition for the entire family. If possible, make breakfast a family event. Parents are examples for their children. It is very difficult to ask a child to follow dietary guidelines if the adults in the household do not.

Start your day out right with a healthy breakfast. Research shows that children who eat breakfast often perform better in school. Many schools offer breakfast. There are also many breakfasts that can be prepped the night before and cooked quickly in the morning.

Place a few whisked eggs and a handful of chopped vegetables (onion, spinach, peppers and mushrooms) in a sealed microwaveable container and store in the fridge overnight. In the morning, heat the uncovered container in the microwave for 45 seconds, stir and heat again until eggs are fully cooked (approximately 45 seconds). Eat scrambled eggs out of the container or wrap them in a tortilla for a to-go breakfast burrito.

Pre-make a large batch of your favorite flavored smoothie. Make sure to include lots of fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy. Freeze into small popsicles.


Make an oatmeal buffet. I have a basket with oatmeal toppings such as nuts, nut butters, coconut flakes, seeds and dried fruit. Also, include fresh fruit and dairy. Diced apples, canned pumpkin, ginger, grated carrots and cinnamon provide some seasonal fall flavors. Don’t be afraid of occasional sweets like honey, chocolate chips, jams or mini marshmallows.

Toast is a quick classic. Top with your favorite fruits and vegetables. Some examples: peanut butter and strawberries; ricotta cheese with salmon or ham; or avocado and tomato.

If your student brings a lunch to school, pack it the night before. A good trick is to keep the lunchbox in the same place in the refrigerator so your child knows where to grab it every morning. After school, make sure your child knows to remove any waste from their lunchbox and place the ice packs in the freezer. When packing a lunch, make sure to include a protein, a whole grain, vegetable and fruit. A bento-style lunchbox helps organize all food groups.

For healthful after-school snacks, set up a snack station. Have a designated basket or cabinet drawer filled with individually portioned snacks. Some ideas are nuts, whole-grain crackers, popcorn or dried fruit. Also, have a designated snack space in the refrigerator. Make sure the refrigerator is stocked with cut-up fruits and vegetables. Other refrigerated snack items could be string cheese, yogurt, hummus or cottage cheese.

If you require assistance to pay for school meals, there is an application for free and reduced meals. Per the Duluth School District: “Children in households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Minnesota Family Investment Plan (MFIP), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) and foster children can get free school meals without reporting household income. Also, children can get free or reduced-price meals if their household income is within the income shown for the household size on the application instructions. An application must be submitted each school year. Approval for school meals is good for the school year.”

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Brenda Schwerdt, RD, LD, CNSC, is a St. Luke’s clinical dietitian.

Brenda Schwerdt, RD, LD, CNSC, is a St. Luke’s clinical dietitian.

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