“Excuse me, where are the loose leaf, wide-lined paper fillers? Oh, I also need a Spiderman lunch bag with the matching thermos. Make sure both have the new Spiderman character. Tobey McGuire is so five years ago,” I explained to the young sales associate during my back-to-school shopping escapade at Target. If any of you mothers are like me, you have mixed emotions about a new school year dawning for yourself and your kids. The excitement and anticipation of your child entering a new grade, meeting new friends, interacting with a new teacher, and of course learning an abundance of new material may have you grinning from ear to ear. But then, you’re forced to realize that your family’s very relaxed summer schedule of staying up late, road trip vacations, extended hours of video games, basketball summer programs, and especially lackadaisical eating habits will have to take a back seat to a more structured and healthier routine.
According to the Journal of School Health, a high quality diet has been linked to a higher level of academic performance in school children. So moms, as we’re getting back in the groove of things this fall – seeking balance between work, school, and home life – let’s discuss some quick, easy, and fresh meal ideas for you and the kids; more specifically, ideas that take 15 minutes or less to prepare, and your children can even help.
Breakfast: Keeping it Quick, but Healthy
In American culture breakfast is hailed as the most important meal of the day. So, why not make it the healthiest and most stress free for you and your kids? My 10-year-old son loves fruit smoothies in the morning. He says, “They’re a cold sweet treat that give me energy and keep me full.” Too, he’s old enough to operate a basic blender machine. So while I’m cleaning out the crusties from my three-year old son’s eyes, my oldest is knocking out breakfast, which shaves at least 15 minutes off my morning “To-Do” list. After all, every minute counts, right?
RECIPE: Super Tasty and Healthy Fruit Smoothie
- 2 cups of organic blueberry Kefir (liquid probiotic)
- 1 large handful of fresh spinach leave
- 2 cups of frozen strawberries
Blend these ingredients until the mixture has reached your preferred consistency, and VOILA, breakfast is served! It’s an easy meal that’s packed with probiotics and fiber to balance and maintain digestive health, calcium for strong teeth and bones, and vitamin C to keep away the germs. The Kefir and strawberries provide enough sweetness, so adding refined sugars aren’t necessary.
Lunch: Fun, Delicious Time-Savers that Kids Love
Another super time saver in my home is preparing and packing lunches the night before. My preference is for my boys to take their own lunches to daycare and school as much as possible. This way I am aware of what they are eating, and I can monitor their daily intake of each food group. A quick lunch my picky three-year-old absolutely loves is deli meat and cheese roll ups, with a side of baby carrots, and a “yogurt pop.”
RECIPE: Turkey and Cheese Roll-Ups
For this fun idea you will simply need the following:
- 1 or 2 slices of turkey breast deli meat
- 1 cheese slice
- ½ cup of baby carrots
- 5 finely shredded spinach leaves
- Yogurt sticks for kids
Lay the slices of turkey with the cheese on top on a flat surface. Sprinkle the finely shredded spinach on top of the cheese. Cut the deli meat with the other ingredients into ½ inch slices. Then roll each slice into a ball. Be sure to pack into a container that will allow the roll ups to keep their form.
As for the yogurt pops, they can either be made from scratch or bought. Since we’re all about saving time, grab a box of Chobani’s Champions from your local grocery store. They cost as much as the ingredients and tools needed to make your own. We love the Chobani brand specifically because it’s Greek yogurt, which has twice the amount of calcium as regular yogurt and typically less sugar. Simply take all of the yogurt sticks out of the box once you get home and freeze them overnight. The following morning, throw each item in a small lunch bag with a freezer pack. Your toddler will have fun finger food for lunch loaded with protein, calcium, vitamins A, B, and C. Yummy!
Dinner: Back to Tradition, Making Time for Connection
Last but definitely not least, DINNER! In my opinion, this is the most important meal of the day. Not only can you incorporate all of the food groups into this meal, but you can also sit down with your family around the dinner table and discuss the day’s funniest, most important, challenging, and special events.
Alright moms, before you roll your eyes and totally dismiss this article while thinking, “What working mother of two or three or more kids who fights through traffic for two hours, picks up the kids from ballet AND karate practice, and helps get homework completed, has time to cook dinner with ALL the food groups and sit down at the dinner table before getting the kids bathed and in bed before 9PM?!”
I’m right there with you! I also thought that sitting down at the dinner table to eat with family went out of style with other 80’s fads like asymmetrical Salt-n-Pepa haircuts, Bamboo earrings, and MCM jump suits. However, let’s take time to reflect on our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents upbringing. We’ll be reminded that convening at the table for home cooked meals at least five days out of the week was a time to pray, express gratitude for the food prepared, catch up with the “goings-on” from each family member, and essentially enjoy being in each other’s presence.
Mothers, I strongly urge you to slowly integrate this tradition back into your schedules at least three days a week. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that you and your children will become more relaxed, open to share about the highlights of your day, and ultimately will find the experience quite fun and humorous. This will help set a positive and uplifting tone for the remainder of your evening.
So OK, on to the quick dinner meal everyone will love (and the kids can help, too).
RECIPE: Homemade Pizza and Salad
- Pre-baked pizza crust (Try Udi’s gluten-free if there are wheat sensitivities)
- 1 cup of spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce
- ¾ cup of mozzarella shredded cheese
- 1 package of turkey pepperoni
- 1 cup of finely shredded spinach leaves (major staple in my home)
- 1 bag or container of fresh Spring Mix salad blend (be sure to wash)
- 1 cup of shredded carrots
- 1 ½ cups of grape tomatoes
Preheat oven to 350°. Lay the pizza crust on a non-stick pan. Spread the sauce on the crust until it’s fully covered to your satisfaction. Sprinkle the shredded spinach and mozzarella cheese over the sauce. Then layer the shredded mozzarella cheese with turkey pepperoni. Bake at 350° for about 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown and the cheese has melted. Then for the salad, after you’ve washed it, place it into a large bowl, and add the shredded carrots and grape tomatoes. Finally, toss with a light, fat-free or homemade salad dressing. Bon Appetit! A good meal packed with whole grains, protein, vitamins A, B, C, calcium, and fiber. If there is any pizza and salad left over, the kids can take it for lunch the next day.
I hope these few ideas will help ease some of the stress that comes with the back-to-school eating routine. Moms, before you stress out about what to cook, think of quick and easy meals, prepare the night before, and be sure to get the kids involved. This will allow you to have more time for yourself. YES, I said it! Time for yourself. In next month’s article, we’ll discuss tips and how-tos that help to nourish, heal, and balance the energies you expend serving and helping others.
We’d like to know: what are some of your favorite healthy back to school time savers, food tips, and recipes? Share with us.
Asbridge, Mark; Florence, Michelle D.; Veugelers, Paul J. “Dieting Quality and Academic Performance.” Journal of School Health 2008 Apr; 78(4): 209-15. Print.
About the Contributing Writer:
W. KaNeesha Allen is the Motherhood Empowerment contributor for the Phoenix Rising Collective. She is an educator with extensive project management, student support services, and community outreach experience in K-12 and higher education institutions. She is also the mother of two extremely rambunctious and fun loving boys – Ausar and Mikah. Seeking to master the balance between being a highly engaged mother and taking time to BE with herself in the divine energy of the universe, KaNeesha finds peace, solace, and regeneration through meditation, Vinyasa yoga, and her “Sistah Circle”. She welcomes mothers from everywhere to join her on a journey of self-discovery and evolution towards harnessing, embodying, and emoting the Goddess power within.