School starts again later this month, which means families face earlier mornings and busier schedules. In the rush to get out the door to meet the bus, don’t forget about fitting in a healthy meal.

A lot of families resort to a familiar fallback on early school mornings: sugary cereal. It’s fast, cheap and convenient, not to mention a kid favorite. But while cereal is a breakfast food staple, it’s unfortunately mostly full of sugar, refined grains and artificial ingredients. St. Joseph Hy-Vee dietitian Sheri Caldwell has some healthier alternatives that are just as quick.

“One idea that we sometimes forget about is leftovers from a previous meal. In a lot of other countries, people eat fish for breakfast. ... It’s okay to make extra at some of your meals and have kids feel free to eat that for breakfast,” she says.

An easy, portable morning meal that’s gaining popularity is breakfast toast. Instead of slathering it in butter and jam, toast your favorite bread and top it with ingredients that are nutritious and filling. Yummy combinations include ricotta cheese, honey and cinnamon; apples and cheddar cheese; mashed avocado, tomato and feta cheese; nut butter and halved grapes; or fat-free refried beans, salsa and shredded cheese. Hummus, veggies, eggs and low-fat deli meat also are great options.

“Toast with toppings provides protein, whole grains, fiber, healthy fats and a variety of vitamins and minerals — key nutrients to keeping kids full, focused and energized for a day of work and play,” a Hy-Vee nutrition release states.

For families that like to plan ahead, Ms. Caldwell suggests making breakfast casseroles during the weekend and reheating portions on weekday mornings. Smoothies are another quick and healthy option. To speed up the process, package individual fruit portions and store them in the freezer. You also could pre-measure some ingredients to keep in the blender the night before.

“Just stick it in fridge, add fruit in the morning and it’s ready to go,” she says.

While breakfast is a vital way to start the day, a healthy lunch keeps students going the rest of the afternoon. Parents whose kids pack their lunches often resort to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and potato chips because they’re convenient and reliable. But sticking to all the main food groups is just as important at lunch as it is at dinner.

Bite-sized fruits and vegetables like grapes, strawberries, carrots and celery are kid-friendly favorites, especially when paired with low-fat dips. Fill a wrap with hummus, veggies and grilled chicken instead of making another boring sandwich. Make big batches of salads or healthy casseroles and include a scoop with each child’s lunch. Try packing lunches in bento-style boxes so each food group is separated from one another, which also helps determine the right portions.

If your kids eat school lunches, it takes a lot of guesswork out of making sure they’re getting balanced meals. However, that depends on whether or not they actually finish their plates. To encourage healthy eating habits and ensure your kids are getting what they need from school meals, talk to them about why healthy foods are important. Introduce new fruits and vegetables to them frequently at home, and model good eating habits for them.

“Really, school lunches are nutritionally sound and they are affordable. That’s what I, if at all possible, encourage,” Donna Wilson, a Heartland youth health coordinator, says in a previous interview with the News-Press.

If you need school meal inspiration, Ms. Caldwell shared recipes from the Hy-Vee’s Seasons magazine with the News-Press. These treats are great for breakfast, lunch or an after-school snack.

Cherry Mango Smoothies

1 (6-ounce) container vanilla Greek yogurt

1 small ripe banana, peeled, cut in chunks and frozen

1 cup cut-up mango

1/4 cup 1% milk

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1 cup frozen dark sweet cherries

3/4 cup pomegranate juice

In a blender, combine yogurt, frozen banana, mango, milk, flaxseed and agave nectar. Cover and blend until smooth. Pour mixture into a 2-cup glass measure.

In the same blender, combine cherries and pomegranate juice. Cover and blend until pureed. Divide cherry mixture among three 6-ounce glasses. Pour mango mixture over top. Using a spoon, swirl the cherry mixture through the mango mixture. You can substitute fresh or frozen blueberries for the cherries.

Zucchini Muffins

Nonstick cooking spray

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup almond flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup oat bran or wheat bran

3 tablespoons chia or flaxseeds

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup cinnamon applesauce

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups grated zucchini, drained (about 2 medium)

Chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a mini muffin pan with cooking spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, brown sugar, oat bran, chia seeds, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon; set aside. In another large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, applesauce and vanilla. Stir in zucchini, mixing just until combined. Stir in flour mixture just until combined. Do not over-stir.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup. If desired, top with walnuts. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for five minutes. Remove muffins to a wire rack. Cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter.

Taco Quesadilla Pizza Bites

2 (7-inch each) multi-grain with flax flatbreads

1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese

1/4 cup salsa

1/4 cup chopped cooked chicken (1 ounce)

1 tablespoon sliced pitted ripe olives

1 green onion, thinly sliced

2 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded

1/3 cup crushed nacho chips

Additional salsa, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. For quesadilla crust, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle one flatbread with Mexican cheese, spreading out evenly. Place second flatbread on top of cheese. Bake for five minutes. Remove from oven.

Spread salsa over top of quesadilla crust. Top with chicken, olives and green onion. Sprinkle with shredded pepper jack cheese and chips. Return to oven and bake for five to six minutes more or until edges are brown and crisp and cheese is melted on top. Cut into wedges. If desired, serve with additional salsa.

Brooke Wilson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPWilson.

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