Hello, hello! I hope you are all enjoying the rest of summer. While I’m off adventuring on Canada’s East Coast (follow along on Instagram!) my good friend Kayla, a Registered Dietitian is here to share some great back to school nutrition tips! Enjoy!
Hello followers of Mango About Town,
My name is Kayla; I am a Registered Dietitian working with people with Type 2 Diabetes. I am also a research assistant at the University of Manitoba.
Melissa is a good friend of mine who has asked me to write a guest blog post while she goes on an adventure to the east coast of Canada. She suggested I write about ‘back to school’ which is very fitting since it is the end of August already! Where did the summer go?
I believe it is common knowledge that in order to stay focused and do well in school we have to be nourished and be well-rested, right!? Great! So today I am going to go over the three main nutrition points that you need to remember and put into action on your way back to school this year. I will focus this blog post on back to school for University/College students however much of this information can be applied to any student/student’s parents.
On the menu:
- Quick, easy and healthy meals and snacks to keep nourished throughout the day
To be properly prepared, planning is the key for all three of these points.
I know you have heard it time and time again, but it still remains true – breakfast is the most important meal of the day! – Especially during school. Our bodies, including the all-important brain, need energy to:
- work properly.
- be able to think and ace those super fun i-clicker quizzes that always seem to start the first week of classes.
- be able to walk/jaunt/run half way across the campus for your next class.
- And of course to stay up late studying for those exams and finals.
Plain and simple, we get energy from our food. Start your day on the right foot and eat a breakfast that includes 3-4 of the four food groups. If you are not a breakfast-eater, try to start with quick simple foods such as smoothies, a piece of fruit, or a slice of toast with some peanut butter.
If you are one of those students who, no matter how hard you have tried, still hits the snooze button 10 times before actually getting up – plan your breakfast the night before. Make your smoothie the night before and keep it in the fridge to grab and go quickly in the morning. Have a fruit bowl on the counter to grab a fruit and run out the door. Prepare your oatmeal in a to-go microwavable container with the oats and milk and store in the fridge overnight for some “overnight oats” and keep your toppings ready to go in smaller containers on the counter for quick addition before leaving for school.
It is also important to note that breakfast does not mean the meal at 7 am. It is the meal that you eat soon after you wake up, whenever that may be. If your classes do not start until 11 am so you sleep in until 10 am, make sure that you are still having something to eat within the first half hour of waking up.
Breakfast is also important for kick starting our metabolism by “breaking the fast overnight” – hence “break-fast” and helping us to maintain a healthy weight. Skipping breakfast also means that you are less likely to get in all of the nutrients that you need throughout the day and makes us more likely to snack on unhealthy foods later in the day.
Yes, while it would be ideal to survive school on no caffeine, we have to be realistic as well. Most students need that cup of coffee or tea in the morning to wake them up. This is fine, however I know as a not-that-long-ago former student that it can be tempting to have coffee throughout the entire day to keep you going. I also know from making this mistake that this can cause an agitated, edgy feeling that is likely to keep you up at night.
Health Canada recommends no more than 400mg of caffeine per day which is equal to approximately 4 cups of coffee. Tea has anywhere from about 0 to 70mg of caffeine per cup so you will need to read the label on the box for that one, however tea generally has less caffeine per cup than coffee. And do not forget that you get caffeine from other foods too including from pop and chocolate.
Important tips to keep in mind to manage your caffeine intake throughout the day include:
- Set the number of thermoses or mugs you are allowed to have per day and stick to it.
- Have a water bottle with you at all times to keep hydrated and quench your thirst.
- Know your cut off time and stick to it so that you are able to have a good night’s sleep. I typically cannot have coffee after 2 pm or I will be up all night tossing and turning. If you are used to having your coffee till much later, make small changes such as cutting back the amount slowly or switching to decaf after that set time to start.
- Try switching to tea after the first cup of coffee if you are used to having that hot beverage throughout the day.
If you find yourself yawning and feel the need to grab some coffee – try taking a short nap and/or have a snack. Your body may just need a bit more energy to keep going. Something cool that I learned during school was that having short naps while studying actually helps you to remember what you learned as well.
Lastly, we all know the term “starving students” – well even though the $2 to $5 on coffee or tea per day does not seem like much, it definitely adds up. Try to plan to make coffee or tea at home to save some money. It will also save you time rather than waiting in those super long Tim Horton’s or Starbucks lines on campus that can also cause you to be tempted by the other delicious options at the till.
- Quick and Easy meals and snacks throughout the day
Time is the enemy for most people whether you are going to school, work, taking care of a family or all three of these at the same time. Here is where planning will be your best friend.
First, choose your meals and snacks for the week. Write these down including all of the ingredients you will need. Check your kitchen to see how many of these items you already have enough of and cross them off your list.
Next, go shopping!
Finally – preparing and packing. You will definitely need to block off some time for this, but it will be worth it and save you a lot of time and money throughout the week.
People always seem to be interested in what a Registered Dietitian eats. Even though I do not feel that I do anything super special, I will share some of the foods that I preplan with to prepare for the week.
- Sandwiches are an easy lunch food and a staple for me. Luncheon meat from the store is high in sodium, therefore I preplan to have egg salad, tuna or salmon salad, chicken, or roast beef for my weekly sandwiches.I boil a few eggs for my partner and I to make egg salad for 2-3 days. I then make sure I am either going to use chicken or roast beef for a meal later in the week to be able to use the leftovers for sandwiches for the next couple of days. If not, then I ensure that I have canned tuna or salmon at home to spend 5 minutes adding some mayo and onions to it on a weeknight for my next two lunches.
- Sometimes to switch it up I will make sure that I have a meal such as spaghetti during the week so that I can take some leftovers to work for lunch.
We also pack and portion out multiple healthy snacks to have with our lunch or in between meals as snacks throughout the day:
- We cut up and pack vegetables for the week in zip block bags. We will usually choose two different raw vegetables for each day – usually any combination of carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, and peppers. These are the vegetables we like, but you can be adventurous and add tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, cauliflower, etc. Sometimes I will pack little containers of ranch or hummus for a veggie dip.
- The same goes for fruit – we will cut up and package small portions of strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries – fresh or frozen, and/or have oranges, apples and bananas available to just add to our lunch.
- We also make sure that we have individual containers of yogurt available to take with us.
- Lastly we portion out foods such as ¼ cup of unsalted mixed nuts, light buttered popped popcorn, crackers and block cheese, and sometimes granola bars or homemade muffins to choose from as an added snack to satisfy us during the day.
Depending on how long I am going to be away from home I will take many of these snacks just in case so that I am not stuck somewhere without a nourishing cheap option to maintain my energy.
For those days that I know I am going to be home late as I do work at my research job after my full-time job or when I know I have plans in the evening, I will plan to make healthy quick and easy foods that I can freeze and quickly microwave or throw in the oven on those evenings. My partner and I love to make a bunch of par-baked homemade mini pizzas or bean burritos to store in the freezer. You can freeze almost any meal that you cook, though. Maybe you prefer to make a batch of chili or homemade soup and freeze it in small containers.
Some helpful tips:
- Make your shopping trip and prep day a time that you generally are the least busy such as on Sunday afternoon.
- Make it an event – get your partner, a friend and/or your kids involved so that you are able to spend some time together and make the time pass much more quickly.
- Have many containers and/or zip block bags available and organized – ready to go for plenty of food storage.
So once you have eaten your breakfast; had your coffee or tea; and have your meals and snacks ready for the day you will be well on your way to an excellent year of school. You will be able to focus on your studies and your sleep now that your nutrition is prepped and ready. The only thing left to do is set those 15-30 minutes aside to stop and take a break to actually eat your meals you spent so much time, and care, preparing.
Thanks for taking the time to read my guest blog post – I hope you have enjoyed the helpful tips I have shared!
You got this! Good luck and have a great year!!