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The Ultimate Back To School Food Guide

As much as it pains me to say it, summer is winding down and it is finally time to start seriously thinking about back to school nutrition.

Now, I know you have a million and one things to think about before September arrives, but as a dietitian I am sincerely hoping that the nourishment of your kids is near the top of that list.

Don’t feel bad if it isn’t though, that is what I am here for after all.

Today’s article will help simplify some of the food-related decisions you need to make for your child and guide you towards some of the smarter, healthier choices.

This will be a challenge given how inundated with  products our grocery stores are, but I will try my best  to offer simple solutions that I actually believe the average child will go for.

Best Cereal

back 2 school nutritionThe big problem with cereal is that your children will inevitably be drawn in by the flashiest and most fun types, but as often ends up being the case, simpler is better.  I’m going to say it’s a two way tie between General Mill’s Cheerios and Barbara’s Puffins as the best breakfast cereal that I believe your child will actually be willing try.  Being high in essential nutrients, fibre and whole grains and low in sugar, makes these cereals are a great choice.

Best Granola Bar

back 2 school nutrition I’m going to give this one a two way-tie between Kashi Honey Almond & Flax and Kellog’s Honey Nut All Bran Bars. Both taste great, are relatively high in fibre and modest in added sugar content , and I also believe that the average kid would be willing to give them a shot as well.

Best Overall Snack

Hopefully it won’t surprise you when I tell you that the healthiest snack that your child can bring to school (or eat after school) is not sold in any flashy packaging. Nope, a good old fashioned handful of sunflower seeds with a piece of fruit (apples, oranges and bananas all come to mind) is as good as it gets from an energy and nutrient perspective.   I’d say some good old fashioned carrot sticks are a great alternative as well. Carrots are an easy, affordable and one stop solution for vitamin A and kids tend to love them.

Best “Fun “Snack –  POPCORN!  Guess what… kids love it and it also happens to be good for them. Popcorn is relatively low in calories (so they can enjoy several cups of it) and offers fibre and a wide array of essential nutrients as well.  Plain popcorn is best and if your kids are digging it, I would recommend investing in an air popper so you can make your own at home.  Popping corn together is a fun and captivating activity for the whole family.

Best Yogurt?  I’m not going to bother picking a brand here. Much like the cereal and granola bar market, the yogurt market is saturated with a variety of options, but they really aren’t all that much different from each other. In a perfect world, it would be great to purchase a large tub of 0% MF plain Greek yogurt (which has extra protein ) and add 1 tsp of honey or maple syrup to a cup of that. This ends up containing much less sugar than the commonly available sweetened varieties.

Best Sandwich Meat –   Don’t get me wrong,  kids don’t necessarily NEED meat to be healthy but most children eat it and sandwiches are generally a go-to lunch food due to their ease of preparation. My #1 pick?  PC Blue Menu Turkey/Chicken (or any sodium reduced deli chicken/turkey).   Heavily processed meats like ham, bologna and prosciutto tend to be high in fat and sodium with only a modest sodium content.

Fast Food Survival

I’m going to guess that no parent will be particularly proud to admit it, but in the real world stopping for fast food happens, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.  With that being said, I will give you some of my best suggestions for eating well on those (hopefully) infrequent occasions you do need to grab something from a local fast food chain.

After School

Common fast food chains like Harvey’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and yes even McDonald’s all have grilled chicken sandwich options.  Heck, Mc Donald’s also happens to sell apple slices as well.

In my opinion though, the best fast food pick up meal is probably the quarter white chicken from Swiss Chalet served with a plain baked potato and multigrain roll. The chicken teriyaki stir fry they serve isn’t half bad either and comes with plenty of veggies.

Before School

When it comes to breakfast foods, the subway egg & cheese breakfast sandwich is a decent choice and both Starbucks and Tim Horton’s offer an oatmeal bowl which is a reasonable choice as well.

Final Thoughts

My hope is that today’s article helped simplify some of the food choices you will have to make this school year. There is obviously much more to nourishing your child than what has been discussed here, but this guide is a great place to start. If you are eager to learn more about how to feed your children right, have a look at my piece from this time last year, which goes into greater detail on all things feeding your kid.

Andy De Santis RD MPH

Andy is a Toronto-based registered dietitian and nutrition writer who holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition. You can learn more about Andy and his services at

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