fruit vegetables and cheese with a cutting board

By: Lindsay Malone, MS, RD, CSO, LD

As we enjoy every last drop of summer the inevitable back to school season is looming in the background. I personally love this time of year – growing up, the beginning of the school year was a clean slate, a fresh start. Often school supplies and clothes are the focus but what about school fuel??? That’s right – our little ones (and big ones) need a good breakfast and solid lunch to power them through the academic and social rigors of the school year.

Now, most people think as a dietitian I would be super strict about what my kids eat but, I’m not. It’s important to remember as parents it’s not our job to make our kids do anything – especially when it comes to food. The focus should be on creating an environment that supports healthy habits and an awareness of how choices influence mental and physical health. Making good food available and modelling healthy behavior moves the needle more than forcing the choice we want them to make.

School Fuel, Top 5 Tips

With that said, here are my top 5 tips to help guide you:

  1. Make water the beverage of choice. Juice, sports drinks and soda are filled with sugar and sweeteners.
  2. Pack and serve fruits and veggies with every meal. Have a variety of fresh, frozen and dried produce on hand to serve with meals and pack in lunches. If you’re dealing with a picky eater, play some taste testing games to get them used to the taste and texture of different produce items. My favorite is to taste test different colors of produce blindfolded to see if we can guess what color – for example green and red apples, purple and orange carrots, red and yellow peppers etc. Have fruits and veggies ready to eat, the fewer barriers the better.
  3. Involve kids in the planning, shopping and prep. Give your kids a little bit of control by having them pick out some things they would like to see on the menu. My favorite time to do this is when the grocery mailers arrive each week.
  4. Limit the processed snack foods. Goldfish, pretzels, crackers, cereal bars. These are often different variations of the same ingredient list (refined flour, sugar, salt, vegetable oil). It’s hard to avoid these but minimize how many show up in the lunch box and as after school snacks. Look for simple ingredient foods with few ingredients (ex. popcorn and salt)
  5. Add protein and fiber. Kids need protein and fiber to grow and support gut health. Incorporate whole grains, beans, hummus, wild fish, pastured eggs, grass fed beef and free range poultry throughout the week. Lentil pasta and dry roasted chickpeas are great ways to disguise beans for picky eaters.

Meal and Snack Ideas for the Win!

Ok, you have the general idea – but now you need to know what to actually serve. Here are some winning meal and snack ideas to fuel your little world changers throughout the school year. Be sure to check with your school on rules regarding food allergens, some options listed below would not be acceptable for tree nut or peanut free schools.


  • Egg Muffins
  • Quiche
  • Breakfast Burritos
  • Smoothie
  • Overnight oats
  • Crockpot oats
  • Chia pudding
  • Avocado Toast
  • Energy Bites
  • Peanut butter and banana or apple


  • Snack packs: hummus, nut butter (sunflower seed if tree nut free school), salsa, guacamole, olives, pickles
  • Top fruits: apples, clementines, strawberries, pears, peaches, plums, blueberries
  • Top veggies: baby cucumbers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks
  • Wraps: veggie, nitrate free turkey
  • Crunchmaster crackers
  • Skinny pop: popcorn, popcorn cakes
  • The good bean or bada bean: dry roasted, seasoned beans
  • Bars: lara, kind, perfect, rx (check out kid varieties)
  • Orgain kids shakes
  • Hint water
  • Fruit leathers
  • Organic yogurt or good culture cottage cheese


  • Veggies and dip. I like Bolthouse yogurt ranch, flavored hummus or guacamole.
  • Apples and peanut butter
  • Air popped or stove top popcorn
  • Bars: lara, kind, perfect, rx (check out kid varieties)
  • Lundberg rice cakes + toppings (organic cheese, yogurt and berries, guac, nut butter, etc.)
  • Smoothies

Bring Some Awareness to the Equation

We all want to feel good, even if we don’t quite have the language for it yet. Talk to your kids about how they feel both mentally and physically and make the connection of food as fuel. For example, how did you feel at school today? How did your tummy feel after eating that donut? How did soccer practice go after chugging that Gatorade???

Eating healthy isn’t just about following a list of healthy foods, it’s about learning how to eat to feel your best. Support your family in making good choices by talking about health and food regularly throughout the school year. Over time, as they learn about their bodies, eating healthy will become more of a natural default than a conscious choice.
Take care and happy lunch packing!

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