Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Fitting nutrition and exercise into the school year

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By Courtney Baechler, MD

Mom and son eating apples

As fall begins, those of us with school-age kids may feel more pressed for time. Yet we don’t want to sacrifice the health or nutrition of our families. This can be a challenge as more schools eliminate a daily gym class and when we’re faced with less than ideal school lunch options.

As a mom, I want to share some tips for keeping a family healthy:

  1. Set it up on Sundays. Do some weekly meal planning on Sundays. Usually, if you plan an extra portion or two for dinner, you will have left overs for lunch. Advanced planning also allows you to start cooking right when you get home, which helps you avoid mindless snacking.
  2. Have your child help plan their lunch. Getting children involved in their meal planning is a great way to educate them about the importance of true nourishment. I often tell my daughter that the best way for a kindergartner to learn how to read is to support her mind with healthy foods. She then picks out which veggie, fruit, protein and healthy carbohydrate she wants for her lunch. Favorites are often carrots and sugar-snap peas, whole grain breads with a nut butter spread, and string cheese. Even at age five, she can help pack these items.
  3. Keep healthy snacks on deck. If your kids are anything like mine, they are hungry and ready for refueling after school. Keep nourishing snacks on hand like non-salted nuts, ideally raw (roasted nuts go old faster). Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and cashews are all great varieties packed with protein and good monosaturated fats for our brains. Our family buys nuts in large amounts to cut costs. A great fall snack is Honeycrisp apples. One way to pack in veggies is to cut up in advance celery, broccoli, cauliflower, red and green peppers, carrots, cucumbers and sugar-snap peas, and serve them with a favorite hummus. You can get fiber, protein and a variety of important vitamins.
  4. Fit in activity. Think about squeezing in a family stroll or bike ride after dinner in the early evening to enjoy a gorgeous fall day. This is a great way to connect with your family and get some energy out before homework or bedtime routines. If the weather doesn’t agree, have a family dance party. It’s a great way for everyone to let loose, especially if you are trapped inside.
  5. Be creative with a crockpot. A slow cooker can come in handy when you grow tired of doing meal preparation. Throw in ingredients in the morning (black beans, quinoa, and veggies are my personal favorites) and spice it up when you get home ― dinner is served.
  6. Stock your cabinets and freezer with healthy reserves. I keep on hand a variety of beans, durum wheat pasta (cooks in four minutes), lots of frozen fruits and veggies, and tomato sauce. With basics like these, you can easily prepare a meal that nourishes your mind, body, and soul.

I invite you to share your favorite healthy, quick recipes in the comments!

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, practices at and is the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

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