Back-to-School Nutrition Tips

Back-to-School Nutrition Tips by Erica Beine, Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner and Certified Sports Nutritionist

Back-to-school means adjusting to a new routine and schedule (aka chaos to parents). In my experience as a parent, it takes a couple of weeks to get back into the rhythm of school and activities. When normal relaxed summer schedules comes to a serious halt and chaos takes over, food and nutrition can become our last thought as parents. Who can blame us when we have one-million other thoughts running through our heads and the school supply list is two pages long. 

Although nutrition and food often get pushed to the side during busy seasons, it’s one of the first things parents should consider to keep kids’ brains and bodies operating properly during this time of change. And one key dietary element that every parent should be thinking about? Protein. Here are tips on how to get the most out of mealtime, snack time, or any time during the hectic back-to-school season.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

In my practice as a sports nutrition consultant, the biggest issue I see when working with not only athletes, but kids of all ages, is lack of protein. There's a simple reason why this happens unknowingly to kids and parents.

First, most parents have absolutely no idea how much protein their kids should be getting. It’s not like during pregnancy we were sat down and given a class on proper nutrients for our kids. We’re thrown to the wolves in trusting that the products we buy for our families are nutrient dense enough for optimal growth and development.

So, when I sit down with a client and ask them to walk me through their day of eating, many kids are lacking in protein by upwards of 60-100 grams per day. An active teen weighing about 150lbs needs around 110g of protein per day. Ingesting 30g at dinner, maybe 15-30g at lunch, give or take another 10-15 during the day, they still lack about 40g of protein. No parent wants this as lack of protein can lead to fatigue, growth and development concerns, getting sick more often, healing slowly from injury, hunger, and more.

Ways to Maximize School-Day Mealtimes

Most kids are only getting protein at lunch and dinner at best. Breakfast typically is severely lacking in protein and arguably can be the most important meal of the day to ingest protein.

Dinner can sometimes be pushed aside or becomes a highly processed convenience or drive-thru meal in a bag.

During the school week, dinner must be a higher protein meal to combat the lack of protein at other times of the day due to routine restrictions.

A super simple way to eat more protein is with protein pasta, or what I call a “super pasta.” These pastas are made from legumes that have many other nutrients besides carbs. Typically, you’ll find around 6 grams of protein in whole wheat pasta. Unless that is paired with a rather large portion of meat, protein will be severely lacking at dinner.

“Super pasta” from ZENB contains 17 grams of protein per 3 ounce serving. Pair that with any additional protein sources and now you’re on the right track at dinner. Pasta is easy to make, so “super pasta” is a home run for any parent. And on a really tight day, you can have pasta, sauce, and some fresh veggies on the side and still feel good with a “super pasta” on the plate.

Ways To Get More Protein

It can be tricky for kids to get enough protein during a regular school routine. That’s why I look to snack time for ways to sneak in this essential macronutrient. 

Kids need nutrients to keep their brains and bodies working properly. However, many “kid friendly” snacks can be full of empty carbs and lack protein. They are also typically full of unnecessary ingredients such as artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, seed oils, and synthetic vitamins like folic acid. Not only are kids not ingesting enough of the right nutrients, but they’re also inundated with ingredients that may negatively affect their brains and bodies.

How to Boost Protein in a Pinch

Some of my favorite snacks high in protein that I send to school with my own children range from beef jerky sticks, high-protein granola bars, protein sticks, and peanuts or cashews with dark chocolate chips (because we like chocolate, we’re human too). But not all kids can snack at school or bring outside snacks. There’s a simple solution to this hurdle.

Every kid is allowed to drink liquid at school. Having a protein-heavy drink, like a protein shake or protein greens, is a simple way to keep protein ingestion high throughout the day when kids are not able to snack.

I’m not completely against carb snacks, kids need carbs too, but if we can pair a carb snack with a protein snack or get a two-for-one deal, that’s ideal to keep our kids brains healthy and functioning properly during a school day so that when we get home, we can feed them a great dinner to recover and refuel their body.

Amongst all the chaos of back-to-school, if there’s one area not to neglect, it’s nutrition specifically protein. Make a big effort to include protein in all meals and as many snacks as possible for your little and big kid this school year.

Erica Beine is a Board-Certified Holistic Practitioner, Certified Sports Nutrition Consultant, and President of Beine Wellness Building. She spent thirteen years as a Division I collegiate coach and has worked with numerous international medalists, American and world record holders, and collegiate national champions. Specifically, Erica and her team focus their work on epigenetics with athletes to help each individual understand how their genetics can impact how their bodies are affected by nutrition and supplementation.

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