The WellSpan Spotlight

Diet and nutrition

Put nutrition on your back-to-school list

Put nutrition on your back-to-school list

As the summer days start to dwindle, the countdown to the first day of school is on.

Back-to-school season is upon us along with shopping for new backpacks, notebooks, and clothing. The bright blue lunchbox might be on your child's list, however, nutrition – not so much.

Children's nutrition has a huge impact on their health. While helping them with their multiplication tables or spelling lists, help them learn about balanced nutrition too.

"Balanced nutrition is vital to a child's health," says Christine Lutes, WellSpan's clinical dietitian. "It builds their brain, their bones, and their muscles and gives them fuel to learn. Learning about balanced nutrition doesn't have to feel like one more homework assignment. One of the best ways to teach your children about balanced nutrition is to engage them in meal planning and prepping. Make it fun by encouraging them to pick a new fruit or vegetable they've never tried, include them on trips to grocery stores and farmer's markets, teach them how to chop produce with a kid-friendly knife, or whip up a recipe together as a family. These are skills they will use for the rest of their lives."

Balanced Meals

Children are born with an innate ability to eat intuitively or to understand if they feel hungry or satisfied. Portion sizes also vary depending on a child's age. Maintaining a child's ability to eat intuitively helps to maintain a healthy relationship with food instead of eating in response to situations, emotions or rules. Provide your child with nutrient-rich foods at regular times spread evenly throughout the day, but avoid enforcing how much they should eat. Trusting your child to decide how much to eat and when to stop eating will help promote and strengthen their ability to eat intuitively. and provide resources and ideas for building a healthy plate for children at every age! A healthy plate for children should offer whole grains for fiber, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins (plant and animal source options). 

Importance of consistent meals

Breakfast is an important meal for growing children because it provides important nutrients that help to keep them energized and ready to learn. A healthy breakfast helps to fuel kids bodies and minds. Studies suggest that breakfast improves concentration, problem solving ability, and helps maintain a healthy weight. Because mornings can be hectic, especially during the school year, make sure a nutritious breakfast is part of the family routine. Quick meals like peanut butter on whole-grain toast with sliced fruit; a prepped egg sandwich with veggies on a whole grain English muffin; a smoothie using milk, spinach, bananas, and nut butter; or just a simple yogurt and blueberry parfait topped with rolled oats will do the trick.

Make lunch just as much of a priority as breakfast. Whether packing or buying, try including components from each portion of a balanced plate - whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Bento boxes are kid-friendly options that your kid can have fun filling with their favorite ingredients. The possibilities are endless and they encourage your child to actively participate in creating balanced meals by mixing and matching healthy foods.  Fulfilling your child's diet will continue to keep them focused and energized throughout the school day.

Along with a healthy breakfast and lunch, continue the trend at home with nutritious family dinners. Sitting down and eating as a family can provide stability, social skills, and a strong vocabulary. Family dinners are also a great opportunity to role-model healthy eating from an early age. Always on the go with after school sports and activities? Instead of relying on fast food consider tools like crock pots. Toss your ingredients in and you can arrive home to a hot, balanced meal.


An after-school snack will take the edge off of hunger and is a beneficial part of healthy eating. Keep nutrient-dense snacks available at home to fuel kids while doing homework or activities. Snacks should also contain lean protein or fiber to keep kids full and satisfied and colorful fruits and vegetables for essential vitamins and minerals. A healthy snack will help your child refocus after a long day in the classroom and fuel their muscles for activities. After-school snacks can include apples and nut butter, vegetables and hummus, or trail mix.


Staying hydrated will help your child focus and water is the best source. It's good for joints, teeth, and circulation and even better for their mood, attention, and memory.

Unsure if your child is getting enough water during school hours? Signs of dehydration include dry lips, a lack of focus, low energy, and irritability. Children who are active may need more fluids. Try to limit beverages with added sugar like sugar-sweetened juices, sodas, and sports drinks. Instead, encourage fluids by slicing fruit into their water or let your child pick a water bottle that matches their lunch box.

Milk not only provides hydration but also provides a top source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D which are extremely important for bone growth in children.

So, when purchasing that bright blue lunchbox your child so badly has to have, pick up some foods that emphasize variety and color to maximize their nutrition too. This can have a positive impact on their mental and physical health as the school year begins.

Want to talk more about providing your child with the nutrition they need? Click here for more information.