Six Great Back-to-School Nutrition Ideas to Love

From School Lunches to After-School Snacking, Nutrition AND Fun Are Essential.

When kids return to school this fall, chances are the one thing they won't go back to is the same old lunch fare. Schools around the country are doing their best to give kids more nutritious—yet still tasty—cafeteria choices.

As important as these changes are to the health of America's children, many families still prefer to feed their young ones from home. Is it possible to give your kids a balanced and healthy diet during and after school, while satisfying their taste buds AND your wallet? The answer is yes. Here's how:

Go Natural. Choices that are as close to nature as possible almost always trump those with additives, preservatives and flavorings. In sandwiches, go with whole grain breads, wraps or pita; tuna, sliced turkey or chicken, or lean beef will give your child the protein he or she needs to remain energized through the afternoon.

At Their Fingertips. Simple, easy to eat food doesn't have to be heavily processed. Cheese sticks, pistachios, even cooked and salted edamame beans are fun to open and munch on. Funky Monkey Snacks are both crunchy and bite-sized—and as 100% real fruit snacks made from apples, bananas, mangoes, and pineapples, among others, they're much better choices than bagged chips.

Make it Fun. Kids love to dip their food—and fortunately there is no shortage of fun and nutritious combinations of things to dip. Baby carrots with hummus or vegetable dip are a classic; so are apples with peanut butter or yogurt dip. Also try crunchy, raw green beans with low-fat ranch or French onion dressing, or sweet potatoes cut into wedges or shapes and served with honey mustard.

Freeze! Popping items into the freezer the night before is a great way to keep perishable lunches safe and fresh while also providing a cold treat. Grapes, blackberries, strawberries and applesauce will all freeze well, yet thaw by lunchtime. Also think about freezing water, which should always be your child's #1 beverage choice!

Include a Snack. This might seem counter-intuitive, but one small snack item will keep kids from trading away healthier items in their lunch bag. Low-fat cookies, a granola bar, or whole grain snack crackers finish off a midday meal well.

After School. It's just as possible to give kids great choices when they get home as at lunchtime. Smoothies made of milk or yogurt, ice, and their favorite fruit are easy to consume and loads of fun. Fruit parfaits with chocolate chips or granola on top are another alternative. Again, Funky Monkey Snacks are easy to serve, fun to eat, and totally nutritious.

As you plan your menus, experts agree there is one item you should avoid: sugary drinks. Beverages with added sugar are primary contributors to America's childhood obesity problem. Instead of processed juice drinks, flavored milk, energy drinks or sports beverages, serve your kids water, low-fat or fat-free milk, and 100% juice whenever possible. Remember, your children's health is your responsibility. Feed them well, and they'll thank you for a lifetime.

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