With kids in after-school activities and adults working full-time jobs, ensuring that the family is eating, much less eating right, can be a challenge.
Making well-rounded meals or snacks is easier when parents get into the habit of thinking ahead.
Preparing snacks ahead of time alleviates stress when trying to keep tiny tummies full and tiny bodies nourished, said Alison Berg, an assistant professor in the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences Department of Foods and Nutrition and UGA Cooperative Extension specialist. Berg suggests that families looking to plan their meals and snacks in advance visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for meal planning ideas and nutrition information.
“ChooseMyPlate.gov is fantastic,” Berg said. “It’s backed by years of nutrition science to say, ‘This is what we should be eating,’ and it’s applicable for people ages 2 years and older to see what their eating patterns should be like.”
Berg’s go-to snack suggestions include whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables that are easy to transport.
Prepared snack foods are also options, but parents need to read those labels carefully.
“I see a lot of granola bars being consumed,” Berg said. “They come in a single serving, they typically have nuts and whole grains so kids get protein, carbohydrates and heart-healthy fats. It would be nice to complement that with a fruit that will last in the backpack. Homemade trail mix that has whole-grain cereal, nuts and dried fruit can also be a good choice on the go. Those will sustain your energy levels.”
Preparing food to eat prior to a physical activity
The best food choices before a physical activity depend on how far in advance the food is being eaten. If there are 30 minutes before the activity, eat carbohydrates, such as whole fruits or bread. If there is an hour before the activity, eat a carbohydrate and a protein, like half of a sandwich on whole-grain bread or a banana with peanut butter.
After the physical activity is complete, choose foods that provide both carbohydrates and protein to help with recovery.
“Chocolate milk is a good recovery drink,” said Berg. “It has carbs and proteins. Also, the snack that’s good an hour before (the physical activity) is good after, such as a banana and peanut butter, a peanut butter or turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread, or a yogurt with fruit.”
Time crunch at the drive-thru
Even on nights when meal and snack plans fall through, it’s not impossible to make nutritious choices, Berg said.
Fast-food restaurants are adding healthier options to their drive-thru menus. Berg suggests swapping out some foods for healthier alternatives, such as getting a salad instead of fries, or getting a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a cheeseburger. Oftentimes, the condiments are the culprits with hidden calories.
“Sometimes just asking for condiments on the side will save calories,” Berg said. “The burger might be fine, the bun might be fine, but the mayo and toppings can add a lot of calories. Just stick to the basics.”
As the school year comes into full swing, devote time during the week to prepare food or plan meals, Berg said. It can save time and lead to healthier decisions.