Back-to-School Nutrition Tips for At-Home Learning

Chef Kyle Williams — September 10, 2020

As the father of two school-age children, I can empathize with the uncertainty and pressure associated with the new reality of virtual learning. On top of our typical parenting and job responsibilities, some of us also need to serve as de-facto homeschool teachers or tutors for our kids. Getting dinner on the table can feel like an impossible feat to begin with for some, and now we need to consider additional feeding and caring for our kids who would typically be at school during the day. However, I like to think of this as an opportunity to help teach my children not only their daily lessons from school, but the value of eating nutritious food and the importance of a balanced diet. In this blog post, I will share some tricks for parents to help make this school year productive in both the virtual classroom and the kitchen.

Ingredients for a Healthy School Day

There isn’t one magic vitamin or solution that will keep your children alert and full for the entire school day. It takes a combination of healthy habits including a balanced diet to keep the brain alert and a student full to engage successfully in virtual learning. To keep the brain active, I recommend serving food that includes omega-3 and vitamins E or B. These vitamins are so important in meals because omega-3 is a key nutrient for brain health, vitamin B is a great antioxidant that supports brain function, and vitamin E has been discovered to improve memory function. Try to feed your kids foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals rather than relying on supplements. Salmon is one example of a simple, healthy food that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. Egg dishes such as veggie omelets or scrambled eggs are easy-to-make sources of vitamin E. Avoid unhealthy foods and beverages like candy, soda pop and fast food, because these can negatively impact brain function, and are high in calories but low in nutrients.

Health is not just about what you eat – it’s about what you do when you’re not eating, too. Depending on how old they are, kids should drink 7 to 10 cups of water daily. Adequate sleep, exercise, socially distant interaction and a healthy home life are also crucial for keeping students alert throughout the school day.

Simple Meal Ideas

Though it can be a challenge, getting into a good routine for healthy eating is vital to your children’s academic performance. Two studies from Tufts University found eating breakfast helps control appetite and keeps kids focused on learning throughout the day. Here are a few easy-to-prepare ideas to add to your repertoire and keep your kids fueled throughout the school day:

Breakfast:

  • Low-fat Greek yogurt parfait with chia seeds, fresh berries, whole-grain granola and honey
  • Eggs, roasted potatoes, fresh greens and whole grain toast
  • Veggie omelet
  • Loaded oatmeal with chia seeds, nuts and dried fruits
  • For a great side to any breakfast, hard-boil two eggs

Lunch:

  • Salmon, brown rice, veggies, and avocado
  • Bibimbap, a Korean dish consisting of a bowl of brown rice, meat, and vegetables and hard-boiled eggs
  • Grain bowls or salads with a mix of fat, protein and vegetables
  • A turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with avocado, spinach, tomato and onion, veggie sticks with hummus and sliced fruit

Snacks

  • Components of the plant-based, Mediterranean diet, such as hummus, dates, vegetables, nuts, figs, fruits and olives
  • Dark chocolate, in moderation, is a good source of antioxidants
  • Food that involves “good” carbohydrates, such as brown rice or quinoa (limit “bad” carbs like candy and chips, as these can cause a spike in insulin and can lead to childhood diabetes)
    • When serving foods high in carbs, balance the meal with foods like apples, nuts or slices of turkey

Tips for Parents

  • Safety first: As always, be mindful of safety and try not to let your kids bite off more than they can chew, so to speak. For example, teach your child to cut vegetables with a dull butter knife rather than a sharp paring knife. Review a list of kid-friendly cooking tools.
  • Prep meals ahead of time: Take one day out of your week (or weekend) to prepare and store your meals and save time. Read through some of my tips for meal prepping.
  • Stock up without recipes in mind: Instead of planning your meals against specific recipes, buy food belonging to different food groups and create your own balanced meals. It’s important to focus on building your plate with macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat as well.
  • Find easy meals to make: For working and busy parents, everything doesn’t have to be custom made. Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t find time to prepare meals from scratch. There are plenty of quick, easy nutritious options for purchase at the grocery like frozen quinoa blends, stemmed vegetables and more. Another quick kid-friendly fix is instant oatmeal or Greek yogurt with berries and granola.  
  • Set an example: When preparing food with or for your kids, ensure you are enthusiastic and have a positive attitude so they will learn to think positively about healthy food, too. If you like broccoli, for example, tell them that you like it and it’s good, and your kid will develop that same attitude. Involve your kids in the process of selecting healthy food for their meals so they can learn to love healthy eating from a young age.

Don’t be afraid to look to friends, family or even the internet for meal ideas and kid-friendly cooking tips – we’re all in this together and should help one another. This school year will be unlike any other we have experienced before, so be patient with yourself and your children. It’s understandable to encounter some obstacles as you work to adapt to our new normal – just try your best for yourself and your family when it comes to your healthy eating journey.