It’s that time of year again. That time when school item checklists are complete, wardrobe piles are washed, folded, and put away, class schedules are ironed out, and all moms start to cry…..tears of joy that the kids are back in school!
Then the first week passes. Oh, you optimistically thought life gets easier? You must have forgotten about the incessant “I’m hungry”, “I’m bored”, “It’s too early”, “Can I have a snack”, “I don’t want breakfast”, “But, I’m hungry”, “I don’t feel good”, “I’m sick”, “Can I stay home because I’m hungry and I’m sick” demands. It’s THAT time of year when the tired, hungry, sick grumbling begins.
But dread not! I am here to help spread some deliciousness, positivity, and healthy facts in an effort to make THAT time of year a little bit easier. Because sometimes, regardless of how well you plan, you can’t muster up the brain cells to think of a healthy, satisfying meal for yourself. Much less your kids. And with the unlimited options for supplements and cold remedies, deciding on the right ones can feel overwhelming.
Let me help – I’ve teamed up with Vitacost to run this “A Healthy Start to the School Year” campaign. I am pumped about this campaign because I feel like it’s right up my alley. I LOVE reading and learning tidbits on over-all health, supplements, and nutrition. Especially when it comes to children (I have 2 boys of my own so I’m in a constant state of trying to decide what is healthiest for them). I am a fact finder, research queen (a term coined by my husband), wholesome food advocate, major germaphobe, knowledge is power mom!
I hope to enlighten you and lessen the burden of both planning nutritious, filling meals for your kids and keeping your family healthy during the school year by sharing with you the following:
- A healthy + filling breakfast recipe that will last your family all week (virtual high-five)
- An afternoon snack that will satisfy even the pickiest eaters’ post-school hunger pains (with some extra for you to enjoy, too!)
- A homemade moisturizing hand sanitizer recipe (say goodbye to parabens, phthalates, & triclosan)
- Lunch ideas (you can’t have too many)
- Additional tips that will help your family stay healthy during the school year
To make the process of gathering ingredients easier and more cost-effective, I shop online at Vitacost to get all of my non-perishable items. I have been ordering products from them for nearly 5 years now. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this company. Shopping from them is ridiculously fast, easy, & convenient. They carry all the brands I like (popular name brands and their own brand that’s both more affordable & top quality), they have great sales on top of their already discounted priced items, and the Vitacost team is incredibly helpful and kind.
So let’s get started with the recipes, tips, and facts!
Breakfast. Despite how cheesy this sounds, I personally think breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Consuming a breakfast that has a healthy dose of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber is a guaranteed way to jumpstart your metabolism, eliminate the mid-day energy decline, and help sustain your focus and attention for longer periods of time. I think it’s safe to say that most people have come to know the true meaning of “hangry” (feeling angry because you’re hungry), and we don’t want that for our kids. OR for our teachers who have to be in close quarters with, on average, 22 kids from 8am-3pm!
Here is a breakfast dish you can make on Sunday night and have enough to feed your kids every single morning from Monday to Friday. It has countless health benefits, is loaded with yummy flavors, is quick to put together, and kids of all ages love it. It is truly a game-changer!
RECIPE #1: BREAKFAST
BERRIES ‘N CREAM OVERNIGHT OATS
What you need:
Filling and tasty, gluten-free oats pack on 5g of fiber per serving (½ cup) which tallies up to be 20% daily value for fiber. That’s both a great way to start your day and a great way to keep you full for a longer period of time. You’ll want to use regular rolled oats for this recipe. Quick-cooking or instant oats will turn out to have an undesirable mushy consistency.
Almond milk is our liquid preference because it adds pleasant flavor and creaminess to overnight oats. You can substitute almond milk with any type of milk you prefer. Cow’s milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk all create smooth and creamy oats. If you prefer to not use milk, water is also a reasonable substitute. It will, however, lessen the taste & richness of the recipe.
You honestly do not have to use maple syrup – the berries, nut butter, and milk combined create a perfectly sweet flavor. However, if you like a little extra sweetness in your oats, I recommend using organic maple syrup. Other options include honey, agave, or brown rice syrup.
Almond butter adds not only creaminess and richness to your overnight oats but also fiber, protein, and healthy fats that will keep you feeling full for a longer period of time. Two tablespoons of smooth, unsalted almond butter contains 3g fiber (12% daily value), 7g protein (14% daily value), and 17g healthy fats (22% daily value). If you prefer another type of nut butter, any substitute will work perfectly. I personally love almond butter, cashew butter, or peanut butter for overnight oats.
Chia seeds, although small, pack on a ton of nutrition, making them an easy way to add healthy protein, fiber, and fat to your meals. One tablespoon of chia seeds contains 5g fiber (20% daily value), 3g protein (6% daily value), and 4g fat (6% daily value). It packs on more nutritional value with 80mg calcium (8% daily value), 1.9mg iron (11% daily value), 120mg phosphorus (12% daily value), and 40mg magnesium (10% daily value). They’re also loaded with healthy omegas, including omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, and omega-9 fatty acids. This little seed is truly a superfood! I make an effort to add chia seeds to everything, including savory dishes like meatballs, meatloaf, and salads along with sweet dishes like oatmeal, yogurt, and pancakes (check out these Homemade Blueberry Chia Whole-Wheat Pancakes I make almost every Sunday).
Another superfood that can add an abundance of nutrients to your meals is raw, organic hemp seeds. 1 tablespoon of shelled and raw organic hemp seeds pack on 3g protein (6% daily value), 80mg calcium (8% daily value), 1.4mg iron (8% daily value). They are also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. This is another seed can I easily toss in other recipes – salads, pancakes, energy bites, and soups.
Cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant, protecting your body from damaging free radicals. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties, helping your body fight off infections, which is much needed during the school year. Other great options are nutmeg, cardamom, pumpkin spice, and clove.
Everyone in my family LOVES fresh berries, with our favorite two being blueberries and blackberries. Berries are chock-full of antioxidants, fiber (1 cup of blackberries has 8g fiber), and nutrients, along with the capability to fight inflammation. Other fruit options for overnight oats include strawberries, raspberries, banana, mango, peaches, nectarines, and apples. If you want the overnight oats to last all week, you’ll simply add fresh fruit to the oats at the time you sit down to eat. That way you don’t have to worry about the fruit going bad if they’re mixed in the oats at the beginning of the week.
Another option (if you want to add the fruit in the beginning and it last all week) is using freeze-dried fruit. If choosing this option, make sure you select freeze-dried fruits with no added sugars or preservatives. Below are some of my favorites from Vitacost.
* I used these in the recipe
Berries ‘n Cream Overnight Oats Recipe
Make this creamy, scrumptious, wholesome dish on Sunday and you have a filling breakfast for the kiddos covered from Monday to Friday. How amazing does that sound?! It can easily be doubled to feed more people or, because it only takes 5 minutes to make, made again in the middle of the week.
- 2½ cups gluten-free rolled oats
- 3¼ cups unsweetened plain almond milk (for a thinner consistency, use 4 cups of milk)
- ½ cup maple syrup, optional (reduce milk to 3 cups if adding sweetener)
- ½ cup all-natural, unsalted almond butter
- 5 tablespoons chia seeds
- 5 tablespoons shelled, raw hemp seeds
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 3 + 1/3 cups blackberries, divided into 1/3 cup servings
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together oats, milk, maple syrup (if desired), almond butter, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and cinnamon until everything is well combined.
- Transfer oat mixture into a large glass container.
- Cover container with a lid & place oat mixture in the fridge for at least 12 hours, preferably 24 hours.
- When ready to eat, top with (or stir in) blackberries, or fresh fruit of choice. Enjoy! Makes 10 servings
Makes 10 servings
1 serving is about 1/2 cup overnight oats with 1/3 cup blackberries
- This recipe will make enough to last 5 days (for 2 children)
- You can double or triple the recipe to accommodate more family members.
- For the purpose of showing different variations, I added 1½ cup dried blueberries to the recipe.
- I personally use all organic ingredients, when possible.
Macros for 1 serving (with maple syrup)
352 calories, 10.7g protein, 43.6g carbs, 16.3g fat, 18.7g sugar, 8.3g fiber
Macros for 1 serving (without maple syrup)
310 calories, 10.7g protein, 33g carbs, 16.3g fat, 8.1g sugar, 8.3g fiber
RECIPE #2: AFTER SCHOOL SNACK
CHOCOLATE COVERED BERRY ENERGY BITES
What you need:
These sweet bites of nature’s candy are loaded with nutrients, like fiber, potassium, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese, iron and vitamin B6. They naturally sweeten any dish you add them to which is perfect for those of you looking for refined sugar-free snacks.
When you find cashew butter that is made with 100% unsalted, raw cashews, you benefit from its nutritional profile that holds tons of vitamins and minerals like vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin B6, protein, zinc, iron, selenium, and calcium.
The past recommendation of avoiding fats for optimal health has been debunked. Yes, fat contains more calories per serving than protein and carbs. But if you’re smart about fat intake (and it’s been shown that coconut oil helps improve brain function in certain populations ) and the source/quality of fats you consume, your body and mind will thank you. Coconut oil is also made of medium-chain triglycerides that can increase “good” cholesterol, also known as HDL. (8)
I chose hemp protein powder because it contains a specific kind of protein that is easier to digest than other forms of protein. One serving has 15g of raw, organic protein, 8g of fiber, 9 essential amino acids, and 2g of essential fatty acids. It’s also dairy-free and vegan-friendly, making it the perfect protein source for a wholesome afternoon snack.
This powder is not the same as cocoa powder, in both pronunciation and nutritional profile. Cacao powder, pronounced “Cah-Cow” or click here to listen, is the unprocessed version of a cacao bean, unlike cocoa powder that has much of its antioxidants and flavanols removed during chemical processing (also known as “Dutch processing”) and roasting. Cacao is best known for the incredible amount of antioxidants it contains, along with iron, magnesium, and calcium.
As mentioned above in the overnight oats recipe, rolled oats have 5g of fiber per serving. They’re also a beneficial source of carbs that will give your kids an extra boost of energy for any and all after-school activities.
This multi-use flour has one ingredient: almonds. It adds both a subtle nutty flavor and calcium, iron, fiber, and fat to these tasty bites. It’s a staple ingredient in my kitchen because I use it often in recipes like meatballs, muffins, cookies, and bites (like these Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cups), just to name a few.
These mildly sweet little berries have 140% of your daily value of vitamin A and are also an excellent source of iron.
I like to use freeze-dried fruits in snack recipes because it extends the shelf life, allowing the snack last all week (if the kids don’t devour them all before the week is over). Don’t be fooled, though. Freeze-dried blueberries pack on the same nutritional benefits as fresh blueberries.
Chocolate Covered Berry Energy Bites Recipe
This snack has a perfect combination of healthy protein, carbs, fat, and fiber, which is sure to satisfy the hungriest kiddos. Since their sweetness only comes from fruit, these bites are refined sugar-free and free of artificial sweeteners. Enjoy them straight out of the fridge or at room temperature. Either way, these chocolate covered berry energy bites are a perfect grab-and-go after-school snack that can be eaten at home or in the car.
- 1 cup medjool dates, pitted
- 1/3 cup all-natural cashew butter
- 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
- 3 tablespoons hemp protein powder
- 1/3 cup cacao powder
- 1½ cups gluten-free rolled oats
- ½ cup almond flour
- ½ cup goji berries
- ½ cup freeze-dried blueberries
- Optional: chocolate chips
- Soak dates in water for 30 minutes, drain, and then place in a food processor.
- Add cashew butter, coconut oil, protein powder, and cacao powder to the food processor.
- Process and blend the mixture until well-combined, stopping to stir a few times. (This mixture will not be silky smooth. It will resemble cookie dough.)
- Spoon mixture into a large mixing bowl. Stir in oats, almond flour, berries, and (if using) chocolate chips.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Take about 2 tablespoons of mixture and, using your hands, roll into a ball. Place on sheet pan and repeat until 18 energy bites are formed.
- Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Makes 18 servings
1 serving is 1 energy bite
- I found that using my hands to mix was much easier than using a spoon.
- They also store well in the freezer, up to 3 months.
- This recipe will make enough to last 5 days (for 3 children + leftovers, for you!)
- You can double the recipe to accommodate more family members.
Macros for 1 serving
179 calories, 4.1g protein, 20g carbs, 9.9g fat, 9.6g sugar, 3.2g fiber
RECIPE #3: FOR ANYTIME USE
HOMEMADE MOISTURIZING HAND SANITIZER SPRAY
What you need:
This essential oil has not only a pleasing, refreshing scent but also anti-microbial abilities. Studies have shown that tea tree oil has been used for nearly a century for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. (1.)
Studies have shown that cinnamon leaf oil has strong antibacterial activity against certain strands of damaging bacteria such as salmonella, staph aureus, and pseudomonas. It also presented significant inhibitory effects against both gram + and gram – bacteria. One study showed that cinnamon oil has the most, out of 21 essential oils studied, probable bactericidal properties. (2)(3) This is a perfect scent for the upcoming holiday season, too!
Some believe that lavender holds anti-bacterial properties, but I use it for the light floral scent and pleasant calming effect. This is a personal preference and can be omitted from the recipe if preferred.
Lemon essential oil smells like….a lemon! Like most citrus scents, lemon is uplifting, refreshing, and energizing. Its positive effects don’t end there – studies have shown that lemon essential oil exhibits significant inhibitory effects and antibacterial activity against one or more bacteria strains. (4)
Witch hazel is derived from the leaves and bark of a particular shrub that is native to North America. It’s most known for its ability to help ease skin inflammation while also offering soothing abilities for people with sensitive skin. The faint scent of witch hazel smells delightful on its own but is the perfect liquid to mix with essential oils.
Along with being a carrier for essential oils, almond oil is used to treat dry skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It has also been shown to provide anti-inflammatory benefits and immunity-boosting properties. (5)
This is a clear and odorless liquid commonly used in household items like shampoos, soaps, and cosmetics. This 100% natural product adds moisture to your skin and is a great, all-natural cleanser. I use this a together as an emulsifier and moisturizer.
Vitamin E Oil, Optional
When used topically, vitamin E oil has been shown to dramatically improve dry skin with each use. Since most anti-bacterial sprays easily dry out your hands, I add this natural ingredient to the mix to act as both a carrier for the essential oil and a moisturizer for your hands.
You can use any dark colored glass bottles which help prevent UV light from breaking down the essential oils.
Homemade Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer Recipe
This recipe is incredibly easy to make and takes only 5 minutes to complete. It is cost effective as well. Buying this brand that I have used in the past costs $4.24 per 2 ounce bottle. When making this homemade moisturizing hand sanitizer spray, it costs roughly $1.50 per 22-ounce bottle. You’re also saving money on hand lotion because you don’t need it with this spray! If using the exact amount and recommended ingredients, you can make this recipe a total of 2 times. You would only have to replace the witch hazel for future recipes. Every other ingredient provides enough product for at least 22 additional recipes. Another benefit of making your own hand sanitizer spray is the ability to avoid ingredients with known negative side effects, like parabens, phthalates, and triclosan. These nasty ingredients are unfortunately found in common, name-brand hand sanitizers. However, your mind (+ hands) will be at ease when using this homemade spray on your family.
- 6 drops tea tree essential oil
- 3 drops cinnamon leaf essential oil (*make sure it’s cinnamon leaf and not cinnamon bark)
- 2 drops lavender essential oil
- 2 drops lemon essential oil (you can substitute this with sweet orange essential oil for those with sensitive skin)
- 1 teaspoon sweet almond oil
- 1 teaspoon vegetable glycerin
- 3 drops Vitamin E oil, optional (for added moisturizer)
- 6 ounces alcohol-free witch hazel, divided (or high-proof vodka)
- Pour 1.5 oz. of witch hazel into a 2-ounce spray bottle (filling the bottle about ¾ full).
- Add essential oils, sweet almond oil, vegetable glycerin, and the optional vitamin E oil to the 2 ounce spray bottle.
- Twist the spray cap on and gently shake to combine.
- Repeat until 3 more bottles are made, making a total of 4 bottles.
- Now they are ready to use. Gently shake & spray as needed!
Makes 4 two-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer spray
- I did extensive research regarding essential oil use on children aged 2 years and older. Do not apply this hand sanitizer to children younger than 2 years of age. If using on a child younger than 2 years old, I advise you use less essential oils (cut them in half, at least). I found the ingredients used in this recipe are generally considered safe. Please make sure to use high-quality essential oils (read the labels and make sure it’s 100% essential oil with no added “fragrance”). Please know that while these oils are considered natural, they are powerful compounds extracted from plants that could possibly cause a reaction to you, your family, and even your pets. I encourage you to perform a “patch test” with each essential oil (test a small area of skin with diluted essential oil) on every family member to ensure there are no adverse reactions. Consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any use of essential oils. If you notice any type of reaction in yourself, your children, or your pets, discontinue use immediately and contact your healthcare provider.
- I put one in my purse, one in the diaper bag, one in the car, and one in the stroller!
If you’re anything like me, you enjoy seeing inside other kids’ lunchboxes. It’s easy to fall into a routine of packing the same lunch over and over again. Variety is always nice for everyone.
I am going to provide an assortment of lunchbox ideas. Each kid is different and you, as their parent, know what they will eat! My opinion is to pack items you know they’ll eat and be more adventurous at dinnertime.
Much like making overnight oats that equip you with breakfast M-Fr., organizing freezer-friendly containers with appropriately portioned lunch dishes on Sunday night can help save time during the week. Here are some yummy freezer-friendly options that can be paired with fruit for a wholesome lunch:
- Quinoa mixed with chia seeds, roasted veggies, and coconut oil.
- Brown rice pasta with homemade pesto (check out this pecan spinach pesto recipe) and veggies
- Brown rice mixed with cooked grass-fed ground beef, sprouted pumpkin seeds, cooked veggies, and grass-fed ghee.
- Sprouted lentils mixed with cheese, chopped almonds, and veggies.
- Pot roast of beef, carrots, onions, and potatoes.
Ok. I know. Positive thinking. If your kiddo’s palate would gag at the above suggestions, here are some other great ideas and lunchbox fillers that you won’t feel guilty about packing (I like to choose one out of each category):
Fruits: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, apples (a cool trick I saw is to slice the apple, place it back in the original shape, then secure a rubber band around it, which prevents it from turning brown), banana, pineapple, watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, plums, pears (the same tip for the apple can apply here as well), kiwi, and tomatoes (although my brain says veggie).
Vegetables: carrots, celery, beets, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, salad (dressing on the side), broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, corn, eggplant, asparagus, collard greens, spinach, and any + all greens they’ll eat!
Protein: chicken, ground beef, pork, tuna, salmon, fish, hard-boiled egg (these are great to make in advance), turkey, cheese, yogurt, hummus, nuts, and seeds (I love to stir seeds into rice, lentils, quinoa, pasta, salads, and yogurt).
Carbohydrate: brown rice, brown rice cakes, pasta, quinoa, lentils + beans (could also fall under the protein category), hummus, popcorn, sprouted whole wheat bread (make sure there are no added sugars), crackers, muffins (these blueberry lemon poppy seed muffins with pistachio crumble are loved by both of my boys), oatmeal, pancakes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Fats: olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed ghee, grass-fed butter, avocado oil, full-fat grass-fed yogurts, nut butters, nuts, coconut cream (a tasty addition to oatmeal), shredded coconut, and avocados.
Snack foods: popcorn, sprouted bars, almond flour crackers, freeze-dried fruits, freeze-dried veggies, veggie sticks, fruit bars (look for & avoid added sugar), homemade trail mix, rice cakes, granola (check out this delicious pumpkin spice granola – a tasty yogurt topping), and a few treat options like power snacks, gluten-free cookies, or an organic chocolate mint bar that I found on Vitacost.
See below for links.
Lunchbox Ideas and Products That Are Great For The School Year
- Sandwich/Snack Bags– made from unbleached,100% renewable resources
- Sanitizing Hand Wipes– stick these wipes in your kids’ lunchboxes for them to use before eating
- When you’re in the illness trenches, consider these products for extra germ-fighting powers:
- Cacao Goji Power Snack– (if you can’t make my chocolate covered berry energy bites, of course)
- Sprouted Chewy Apricot Bar
- My Chocolate Covered Berry Energy Bites are not only good as after-school snacks but also as lunchbox treats! (scroll up for recipe)
- Elderberry Syrup – I wasn’t a believer until I started giving it to my kids. I heard about it before I had kids & wondered why there was so much elderberry hype. And then I had kids. My kids got sick. And I would do anything to make them feel better and not get sick again. I’m not saying it will prevent any and all illnesses. However, I personally see a decrease in their sicknesses when I give this on a regular basis. I give this to them everyday in the winter & fall months/flu season and other times of the year when I know they’re exposed to someone who’s sick.
- Children’s Multi-Vitamin– (if your child can swallow tablets)
- Children’s Zinc– (if your child can swallow tablets)
- Vitamin D3– this is 400 IU per drop. Check on the dosage that’s right for your child. This dosage is for infants. However, you can give additional drops to meet the recommended dosage. I like this product because the only ingredients are vitamin D3 & olive oil. There are plenty of other Vitamin D options on Vitacost that may fit your child’s needs better than this particular one.
- Popcorn – a simple and healthy side for lunch!
- Freeze-dried Peas– these peas are tasty and light, a perfect option when you’re out of fresh veggies.
- Almonds– these organic, raw almonds (or any nut) will add protein and fiber to your child’s lunch, helping them stay full longer.
- Almond Meal Crackers– with 3g of protein per serving, these yummy and filling crackers are a great alternative for kid’s with a gluten intolerance.
- Earth-Friendly Lunchbox– this convenient reusable container is made from rice husk fiber (it’s plant-based and biodegradable) and is partitioned inside.
- Chocolate Mint– a no guilt chocolate surprise for your kiddos.
- Brown Rice Cakes with Almond Butter – a perfect combination!
- Glass Food Storage Bowls– an ideal container for fruits, veggies, meats & meals. Bonus: they’re BPA/BPS free.
- Tuscan Herb & Feta Turkey Meatballs– don’t let the fancy name fool you. This is one of my go-to dishes and is 100% kid-approved. They are perfect for lunch!
- Coconut Macaroons– this is a tasty, vegan treat that contains zero artificial ingredients or preservatives
OTHER WAYS FOR YOUR FAMILY TO STAY HEALTHY DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR:
- Children’s probiotic (there are tons of options here)
- Choose a reputable cod liver oil (it’s loaded with A + D vitamins and healthy fats) – I recommend reading this article to learn appropriate dosing for your family. Also keep in mind that a high-quality cod liver oil contains a healthy dose of vitamin D3, likely allowing you to skip a vitamin D supplement if your child consumes this oil daily. To enhance vitamin D3 absorption, consume foods high in vitamin K2 with the oil, like butter from grass-fed cows and grass-fed full-fat beef. Consuming vitamin D3 with vitamin K2 together enhances both of their bone supporting properties.
- A kid-friendly green powder mix like this one (this is great in smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal)
- For added electrolytes without all the added sodium, coconut water (with no added sugars) is a great option.
We, as parents, already have loads on our plate. I hope to alleviate some of the stress that goes along with planning meals and keeping the kids sick-free during the school year. Thank you for stopping by and browsing through my recipes and tips for keeping the family healthy during the new school year! Thank you, also, to Vitacost for always delivering (quite literally) healthy food, supplements, vitamins, and products. Stay healthy, friends!
* Feel free to share this post with parents you know!