Dietitians Dish: Back to school with nutrition

August brings back the ringing of school bells and alarm clocks. Back to the routine, which means rushing around in the morning, running kids from one extracurricular activity to another and then homework and dinner before bedtime.

Make sure that you start the school year off with a plan - a plan to eat healthy as a family.

I often find that parents, even more than kids, skip breakfast in the morning. But the old saying still stands - breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Consider your stomach like a fuel tank. While sleeping all night, your body has used the stores in your fuel tank for its normal body functions: breathing, heart beating and snoring. So when you wake up in the morning, it is important to top off your tank before starting your busy day.

Remember, a meal does not have to be slaved over; consider fast and healthy items that can be cooked while you're getting dressed or practicing last minute for the spelling test or that can be eaten as you drive kids to school or yourself to work.

A staple in our house is whole grain waffles with peanut butter. I like a little honey on mine, or you can skip those extra calories. But as simple as that breakfast seems, it has all the macronutrients (big word for those nutrients that provide us calories).

The waffles are the grain - and a whole wheat choice at that - and the peanut butter serves as both a protein and a fat source.

Other quick and healthy choices could include a protein bar and fresh piece of fruit, a fruit smoothie (with fruit, yogurt and even some kale or spinach) or cottage cheese and fruit. Of course, there is always an excellent choice of protein and carbohydrates to drink with breakfast: milk.

Remember, if you're watching your calories, the lower fat milk is better for you. The only thing different between whole milk and skim milk is the calories because of the reduction in fat. The calcium and vitamin D remains the same.

Lunch is typically covered at school, but if your child chooses to take their own lunch, remember to encourage including as many food groups and colors as possible. Make it a challenge to your young children to get as many colors from a variety of foods in their lunch as possible, but I'm not talking about getting multiple colors from Skittles or M&M's.

Also, remember that snacks are still important for growing children. Snacks are meant to be used to fill in the nutrients your children don't get at meal times.

For example, if lunch consisted of a large salad and vegetable soup, a snack should try to get in a serving from the fruit or milk food group.

Snacks are not intended to be potato chips, candy, sodas or other "filler foods." Make the snacks count toward your healthy eating goal.

To round off the day, remember to try and eat a well-balanced meal at night. If evenings are busy for you and your family, consider crock pot ideas or casseroles that can be cooked ahead and simply warmed up when you get home. There are a lot of ideas online to help you plan healthy and convenient meals for your family.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is the clinical nutrition manager/bariatric coordinator at DeTar Healthcare Systems. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a master of science degree. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.