Back to school: They're three words that provoke different emotions and responses. For some, the phrase means no more sleeping in or lazy days at the pool. For others it means an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.
Others love the feeling of being challenged and learning new things, whether they admit it or not. Truth be told, school is a mixture of getting up earlier, working harder, socializing and increasing knowledge.
With all those things in mind, students need foods that are quick and convenient for when they're rushing out the door. They need fuel that will provide sustained energy for their minds and bodies. They want items that taste good and are somewhat cool -- or at least don't get them ridiculed at the lunch table. "Bobby's mom packed him a kale sandwich again!" Yes, even food can be fashionable and trendy.
Here, then, are some options that fall into all of the above categories and have the ability to power a great year.
If foods were entered in a popularity contest, clementines would rank at, or near, the top. Sales of these citrus fruits have been on the rise. More people are learning how tasty they are, and Spanish clementines have become big sellers in the eastern United States, making them a year-round treat [source: Furore].
Clementines are highly nutritious and, since they're the size of a cue-ball and easier to peel than an orange, they're perfect for kid's hands. Even a toddler can easily remove the peel. Keep in mind that these fruits from the tangerine family only last two or three days unrefrigerated. They'll keep for about a week if stored in a cold environment.
Almonds are unquestionably healthy -- they deliver a big dose of antioxidants to help the body grow, rebuild and become stronger. They're great for mom and dad, too, since they are credited with lowering cholesterol levels when eaten regularly [source: Applegate].
Almonds are also handy as an after-school pick-me-up or added to yogurt and fruit for a special treat. Almonds can even be sliced and toasted, providing some added taste and texture to a dinner salad. Because they're an excellent source of fiber, they won't create energy spikes and drop-offs. And unlike clementines, you don't have to worry about almonds quickly going bad.
Despite what you may have heard, carbohydrates are not inherently evil. In fact, they're the wood that fuels your body's fire most of the time. One healthy source of carbohydrates to keep a student's flames burning is bananas. Because of their convenient, no-mess packaging, a banana can be held and eaten out of one hand while the other hand carries books to and from school.
Another tasty option involves putting bananas in a blender with milk, peanut butter, ice and honey. It makes for a nutritious and revitalizing after class snack. Bananas mixed into yogurt are also good for breakfast. In addition, they're a great topping on our next food -- oatmeal.
Only have a few minutes before the bus arrives? Mix oatmeal in a bowl with soy or low-fat milk, microwave for two minutes and it's ready. Because it's warm, oatmeal offers a sense of comfort before you have to head off to school.
It's also all-natural and contains lots of vitamins and minerals for mind and body. Some kids may find it to be too bland. If so, use that as an opportunity to add additional healthy items -- not only bananas but raisins, strawberries or, yes, almonds. Like a new pair of jeans for school, oatmeal can go with just about anything.
Here's where you can have a little fun. Apple sauce used to be "old school," but now it comes in packets that can be squeezed, crushed or pinched to squirt the fruity goodness into your mouth. Plus, there are lots of varieties. There's apple-strawberry, apple-grape, and even apples mixed with carrots.
Be advised, not all applesauce packet products are created equal. Read the labels, and look for all natural ingredients and no added sugars. Once you find a product you can believe in, pick up a week or month's supply and add them daily to your child's lunch box.
It's happened again. The alarm clock failed to go off, you forgot to get to the grocery store last evening, and the bus is waiting outside for your kids. There's not even time for oatmeal!
Here's an occasion where a pre-packaged source of vitamins and minerals would be handy. That's exactly what a granola bar is. Depending on the brand and flavor, granola bars offer fruit, fiber and a quality source of carbohydrates in the form of, well, granola. No, you're not providing your children with a nice, sit-down breakfast, but today you're just happy that everyone is getting out the door clothed and with something healthy in their stomachs.
Drawing from the genius of apple-sauce packets, yogurt tubes are a relatively new offering. Kids simply tear off the top and squeeze the nutritious calories into their mouths. That is, of course, if you've been choosy and found the nutritious form of the popular product.
Unfortunately, many yogurt tube offerings contain added sugars and lots of fat. The yogurt tubes you're after will have a short list of ingredients that are natural and organic. Once you've determined which brand produces the healthy stuff, grab a variety of flavors and let those little students have at 'em. You'll know they're full when you find the empty tubes lying on the floor.
When the students in your family can't see themselves getting their homework done, ensure that there's no excuse for seeing clearly. Carrots, which are famous for contributing to good eyesight, have a lot more than vitamin A going for them. They are a pure and natural source of energy and antioxidants to keep that kid healthy and feisty for years to come.
In "baby" form, carrots can be quickly and easily packed into baggies for lunches. After school, a bowl of baby carrots and some low-fat dip will disappear faster than homework next to the dog -- the dog is really responsible for that homework fiasco, right?
A discussion of healthy ways to kickstart your brain isn't complete without blueberries. While you can't trade in your child's brain for a larger version -- it wouldn't fit anyway -- you can enlarge its capacity with the help of this vibrant fruit [source: Online University]. Blueberries also have an abundant amount of nutrients that help make a body agile and efficient [source: Online University]. And don't forget blueberry's antioxidants which help promote youth no matter the age.
It's the next best thing to starting the year off with a bang. You can start it off with a pop. While popcorn cooked in heavily processed oils and coated with butter and salt is certainly not on the school's food pyramid, there's nothing wrong with air-popped corn or popcorn cooked in extra virgin coconut oil.
In fact, there's a lot right with it. Popcorn contains fiber, while extra virgin coconut oil -- once considered a movie theater villain -- can promote weight loss and increase healthy cholesterol. Pack some fresh-made popcorn in a bag for your child's snack time treat. He'll think he's still on summer break [source: Vowles].
HowStuffWorks explores whether posting calories on the menu helps consumers make better food choices.
- Applegate, Liz. "The Best Foods for Runners." Runners World. Sept. 6, 2006. (Aug. 14, 2012) http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-301--10200-0,00.html
- Furore, Kathleen. "Summer Arrivals." Produce Retailer. June 1, 2011. (Aug. 14, 2012) http://www.produceretailer.com/produce-retailer-research/summer_arrivals_123000663.html
- Harris, Jennifer L., PhD, MBA. Graff, Samantha K., JD. "Protecting Children From Harmful Food Marketing." September 2001. (Aug. 14, 2012) http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2011/sep/10_0272.htm
- Online University. "20 Foods That Will Increase Your Studying Effectiveness." (Aug. 14, 2012) http://www.onlineuniversity.net/20-foods-that-will-increase-your-studying-effectiveness/
- Real Age. "Keep Skin Smooth with This Creamy Snack." (Aug. 14, 2012) http://www.realage.com/health-tips/foods-good-for-your-skin-include-chickpeas
- UC Santa Cruz Student Housing. "Eating Strategies For Exam-time." (Aug. 14, 2012) http://www.housing.ucsc.edu/dining/pdf/exam-time.pdf
- Vowles, Amy. "10 Great Ways To Cook With Coconut Oil." She Knows Chef Mom. (Aug. 14, 2012) http://chefmom.sheknows.com/articles/822719/10-great-ways-to-cook-with-coconut-oil