Back to School Basics for a Healthy Diet

Millions of Missouri & Illinois children headed back to the classroom this month, and, for many, this will be their first experience with cafeteria meals. Some studies have confirmed a connection between what our children eat and how they perform in the classroom. Students who eat a well-balanced breakfast, for instance, pay closer attention and perform better on standardized tests. By consuming the right amount of nutrients, children improve their mental power as well as their chances for a healthy body now and in the future.


Parents may be confused about how to shop when trying to improve their family’s diet. Healthy eating is not about counting calories, but rather making calories count. Eating a combination of nutrient-rich foods helps to satisfy your body, helps you feel full longer, and provides your body with important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.


Here are some shopping tips to help you prepare nutritious meals for your family:


  • Colorful produce = lots of nutrition
  • To save money, purchase produce which is ‘in season’.
  • If you can’t find fresh, choose frozen… it’s just as nutritious!


  • Stock up on lean protein items when prices are good. Look for coupons and in-store specials.
  • Look for family-sized value packs of lean meats that can be used for more than one meal by freezing some for later use.


  • Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products for a great source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and magnesium.
  • Stock up on  milk, regular and Greek yogurt, and low-fat cheese.
  • Choose family-sized items for cost savings such as plain yogurt by the pint instead of single serve. For a protein ‘bump’ use plain Greek yogurt as an alternative to sour cream or mix it with chopped fruit for a yummy snack.


  • Select whole grains as a good source of fiber, folate and energy.
  • Look for flavorful options such as 100% whole wheat or grain bread, multi-grain pastas, brown or wild rice.
  • Think ‘outside your box’ and experiment with some of the other grains such as spelt, quinoa, bulgar or barley

– Liz Erker, RD