Editor’s note: This guest blog was provided by our sponsor, Western Dairy Association.
With another school year just around the corner, most of us moms are preparing for the busyness that will once again be “life.” While you might make healthy eating a priority during the summer months – when fresh produce and seasonal products are readily available – nutritious meals don’t have to be any more daunting as summer comes to an end and the school year begins once again.

The key to healthy eating is forward-thinking. And if you’re reading this, you’re already one step ahead. Try these seven tips for eating right, and give your kiddos the nutrient-rich foods they need to fuel their learning throughout the school year.

1. Start with breakfast

Research continually shows that breakfast-eaters do better in school, have fewer behavior issues, and get more of the key nutrients they need for growth and development. Breakfast and learning are mutually reinforcing, and serving breakfast to children sets them up for success. Whether they eat at home or at school, be sure your children eat a nutritious breakfast every day. Some kid favorites include yogurt parfaits, oatmeal made with milk and peanut butter and banana toast.

2. Review the school breakfast and lunch menus

172004c1879a0613e53e15625cc080fcIf your school offers breakfast or lunch, take time to go over the weekly (or monthly) menu with your children, making notes on the days they will purchase breakfast or lunch at school. Discuss the available options and help them build a healthy plate at every school meal – focusing on foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy foods.

3. Plan the weekly menu

For working and stay-at-home moms alike, dinner can be a challenge. Plan ahead by creating a menu for the week – and base your grocery list on this menu. When you have the ingredients you need to prepare the recipe you planned, weekly dinners come together more smoothly. For those nights with sports practices, piano lessons or parent-teacher conferences, choose meals that are easy to prepare, such as homemade pizza or taco bars, fresh chef or Caesar salads or breakfast for dinner.

4. Take your kids to the grocery store

Whether you are packing their lunches or providing healthy snacks and evening meals, taking your kids to the grocery store gives them an opportunity to choose healthy foods they will enjoy. The grocery store is also a great place for a discussion about nutrition and health. Talk about the importance of making half your plate fruits and vegetables while helping your kids pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables in the produce section, or talk about the bone-building benefits of milk, cheese and yogurt found in the dairy case.

5. Pack lunches together

Encourage your kiddos to pack their own lunches with foods they like. Good news: Kids tend to eat their lunch (and not trade items with a classmate or throw items away) if they have picked the foods out themselves. Also, if they see you packing a nutritious lunch, they will be more likely to do the same.

6. Prep on the weekends

When time is limited during the week, we are less likely to take the time to wash fresh produce or peel and cut the carrots we purchased. Use the time after your family grocery store outing to prepare healthy foods for the week. Wash, peel and chop those carrots, peppers or celery and place them in reusable, sealable plastic containers for an easy snack of veggies and yogurt dip. Or wash, de-stem and slice strawberries for easy use in smoothies or for topping cereal or yogurt parfaits. Healthy eating is easier when we have taken the steps to make nutrient-rich food the convenient choice.

7. Plan healthy snacks

Talk with your kiddos about healthy after-school snacks, and make sure some of these options are readily available and easy to grab when the kids get home from school. If the celery is already washed and ready to eat, talk about making ants on a log (celery + peanut butter + raisins). Visit here for additional snack ideas. Also, make sure to stock your fridge with items such as string cheese and individual yogurts – a favorite snack for growing kids.

Feeding your family right during the school year doesn’t have to be daunting with these simple tips and a little preparation.