It’s that time again…. Summer 2017 rolls to a close and parents are once again forced to tune in to school supply lists, back-to-school shopping, school notices, homework and afterschool activities. For some, it’s also an opportunity to hit the reset button on school-time eating habits that might be in need of an overhaul. Thankfully, school-provided breakfast and lunch services have come a long way nutritionally, so those who have great offerings available to them may already have a leg up. For those without these services – or with relatively poor options – here are a few pointers to help maximize your meals through your busiest times.

Great meals begin with a balance of protein, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and unsaturated fats. They also keep salt (sodium), added sugars and saturated fats down.

These are some back-end tips to help make meal preparation easier.

  • Prep Single-Serve Portions (freezing works, too) for a Quick-pull Breakfast

o   Fruit/grain muffins or breads like banana walnut, blueberry oat, morning glory, zucchini bread

o   Single serve frittatas including egg, cheese, greens, bell pepper and carrot strips

o   Hard-boiled eggs served with grain toast and avocado spread

o   Overnight oats can be made in advance and served with fresh berries, yogurt

  • Prep single portions of a variety of things all at once to simplify morning tasks

o   Simple to pack fruits like clementines, apples, small bananas

o   Raw veggies with dip like carrots, sugar snap peas, broccoli, grape tomatoes, cauliflower with hummus, ranch dressing

o   Cheese and crackers, nuts and dried fruit combos

o   Lunch sandwiches, tortilla wraps, kebabs can make use of meats cooked with dinner, and can be prepped as you clean up from the night before.

  • Prep early for an easy dinner meal

o   Crock pots or slow cookers are great for families who are out of the home all day and love coming home to a hot meal that practically cooked itself. Chili and hearty soups are easy to prep and have a great combination of nutrients in a one-pot meal.

o   Pull something from the freezer (as needed) to defrost, or even marinade, during the day while you’re out. Makes for quick grilling, broiling or sautéing, and pairs easily with a simple salad, steamed veggies and sliced fruit.

Great meals also minimize waste, which often occurs from the multiple layers of disposable paper, plastic and foil used in a brown-bagged lunch, as well as from the food you may have tried to pack, but your recipient refused to eat. Consider the environment for this school year with re-packable baggies, and reusable containers. You might spend a bit more at the outset of the year, but it will be better in the long-run – especially for the planet. Also think about doing some test runs, preparing meals and snacks at home to see how well (or not) they may be received once they are off in a lunch bag. Trial and error is always the best way to find what works, and to avoid good food landing in the waste pail.