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Food and Family

Back-to-School Checklist

There's an air of excitement in the house and the kids can't stop talking about who their new teachers will be—it's definitely back to school time. You've spent the entire summer with them and shared lots of healthy family meals, but the school year brings a whole new meaning to crunched time, and that can often translate to hurried meals and little time for enjoying family dinners.

Getting the kids ready to go back to school means new clothes, backpacks and books, but don't forget that your kitchen needs to be ready for the new season too. Our back to school checklist helps you and your kids get ready for the new school year and gives you great ideas for having a fun and healthy back to school season.

Don't underestimate the power of breakfast. Studies demonstrate that children who are breakfast-eaters score almost a whole grade higher on tests. Make sure the pantry and refrigerator is stocked with breakfast essentials like hot and cold cereal, fresh fruit, milk and orange juice, and pancake or waffle mix. There are even some nutritious frozen whole grain waffles on the market that can be quickly toasted for a great breakfast.
Once a week, have your kids plan a dinner—with your help—and participate in shopping for and cooking it. Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have great ideas for getting little ones involved in the kitchen with their taco dinner.
Post the school lunch menu on the fridge and have the kids decide whether they'll bring their lunch or buy the school lunch the next day. Help them balance the week's menus, for example if they want a burger at school on Monday and pizza on Friday, they can bring healthier lunches from home the rest of the week.
To avoid the pitfalls of the school salad bar, teach your children what portion sizes are. Let them know that they can have as many veggies as they want, but high fat and sodium toppings like cheese, croutons, and bacon bits only get sprinkled on. Salad dressing either gets drizzled on or put on the side.
Add a cute note or a fun sticker to your kid's lunch. It will let your child know you're thinking about them when they're at school, especially during those often nervous first days back.
When you're balancing so many different schedules, it can be tough to get the whole family together at dinnertime. Don't give up—try making breakfast your family meal, even if it's just 15-30 minutes. You might be too groggy to discuss world events, but it's still a great time to be together.
Take a trip to the local farmer's market and have the kids pick out their own fruit for school lunches and snacks. Fall is the perfect time for crunchy apples, plump grapes and sweet pears. You're all sure to find a new variety you've never tried before and even get recipe and serving tips straight from the farmer.
Make sure at least one of your child's after-school activities involves exercise. If your kids aren't into team sports, see if they'd like to take a dance class or martial arts. You're the best role model for your child—go for a walk together after dinner, or even in the morning before school. Shoot some hoops, play catch or frisbee with the dog and make fun out of fall yard work. Set a goal to achieve the Family Fitness Award from the President's Council on Physical Fitness and sports.
Always have healthy snacks on hand. Discuss what snacks you'll be getting before you head to the store and make a list of snacks that you and your kids both agree on, including fruits, veggies and healthy granola bars and frozen fruit bars. Take the kids grocery shopping with you, but remind them that they can only pick out things that are on the list. Cut up carrots and celery to have in the fridge when the kids are hungry. Cherry tomatoes make great snacks too.
Encourage walking, bike riding and blading to places that are close to home, like to the store, to school, the movies and friends houses. Make sure that your kids have the appropriate safety gear, including a helmet, and knee, shoulder and wrist guards for blading.
Have fun with food! Spice up family dinners by trying an "Around the World" theme. Make a Thai inspired meal and teach your kids about native ingedients, like lemongrass and Thai basil, and then show them where Thailand is on a map of the world. Ask your kids to take turns picking where the next culinary adventure will take your family. Try this favorite Vietnamese dish for starters.
Make sure the TV is off during mealtime. It's nearly impossible to foster family conversations when there are other distractions like the television or loud music. It may also distract small children from eating.


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