Healthy Eating for Back to School

September has always been my favourite month. It can be a hectic month full of fresh starts and schedule balancing, especially after the quieter, warm days of summer. It’s a new beginning for kids and students going back to school. For many grown ups who have enjoyed a little summer downtime, work is about to ramp up again. So, in order to get through this busy time, we need to be well nourished! If our bodies are given the proper nutrients, our energy levels will remain high, and we’ll be able to meet the challenges this month brings with ease.

The key to remaining balanced, energetic, stress-free, and happy is being prepared with nutrient dense, blood sugar stabilizing snacks you can carry with you. But before you run to the store to stock up on packaged treats, let’s take a closer look at snacking.

Big Sugar, Big Snack Industry

My sister and I used to love sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday morning watching cartoons. Every few minutes our little brains were set alight by a very colourful, very loud commercial selling some sort of sugary, over processed snack. We used to go to the grocery store with my mom and beg for Lucky Charms, Gushers, Oreos, Dunkaroos – if it had food colouring, corn syrup, a bright box, and a snappy name, we HAD to have it. Unfortunately for us, my mom refused to purchase any of these snacks. We were stuck subsisting on actual fruit and the occasional fig newton. Much healthier, sure, but boring.

We all know white sugar, HFCS, trans fats, food colouring, preservatives and ingredients we cannot pronounce are unproductive and dangerous. They are collectively contributing to obesity, diabetes, ADD/ADHD, depression, heart disease, food allergies, immune disorders, and many other conditions in today’s children and adults. Sugar has controlled the billion-dollar snack industry for far too long, pumping out products that are taxing our bodies and tricking our senses. The majority of mass-produced snack foods are addictive, scientifically formulated to stimulate all of our taste receptors and keep us continually going back for more.

So, are these packaged snack foods healthy?

You know the answer.

Unfortunately, the snack industry’s marketing strategies have morphed over the years to become even sneakier. Whereas it used to be clear that fruit roll ups were an unhealthy treat and oatmeal was healthy, now we are bombarded with words like ‘all natural’ and ‘real fruit’ and ‘sugar free’ which make the line between unhealthy and healthy even more difficult to discern.

What’s a Good Snack For Me?

Do you ever find yourself reaching for cookies, granola bars, candy, muffins, chocolate, or coffee to give you a boost in the afternoon around 3pm? Relying on pure sugar or chemicals for energy is an unsustainable way of fuelling the body. A hit of refined sugar leads to a blood sugar spike and subsequent crash, creating a vicious cycle that leaves us feeling lousy, tired, dizzy and prone to headaches. Sugar is also an empty food that requires precious vitamins and minerals to digest, without refilling our stores.

But, fear not: there’s another way to snack. We can easily choose foods that slow the release of sugar, keep us full longer, top up our nutrient banks, nourish our vital organs, and promote energy.

A good snack has real, whole ingredients the body can easily identify, absorb and use for energy. It contains some combination of the following:

  • Fibre
  • Protein
  • Natural Carbohydrate
  • Vegetable
  • Healthy Fat

Each of these nutrients encourages health by supporting our vital “energy” organs – brain, heart, adrenals – ensuring our systems are running optimally.

Ready to Swap your Snacks?

The easiest way to start swapping your traditional snacks for cleaner versions is to be prepared with a few go-to recipes that focus on combining healthy fats, proteins, vegetables, carbohydrates or fibre. If you spend a few minutes once a week preparing snacks, you’ll never go without something nutritious to keep you energized.

Here are some of my favourite swaps – they also happen to be either nut-free or easy to make nut-free for kids. Of course you can always rely on fresh cut fruit and veggies, but these are a little more fun:

Swap chocolate pudding + ice cream for: Raw Chocolate Pudding

You can store this in little mason jars or glass containers and take it with you for a sweet treat during the day. Sprinkle berries, coconut flakes, hemp seeds or slivered almonds on top to jazz it up. You can even add maca, probiotic powder, greens powder, bee pollen, or any other addition you like to increase the nutrient power.

Swap cookies, muffins + granola bars for: Energy Bites

There are millions of energy ball/bite recipes on the internet to suit every different palate and dietary restriction. From apple pie to carrot cake to chocolate peanut butter flavour, you can definitely find one you’ll enjoy. Experiment with the tastes you love, but stick to whole ingredients and recipes that balance natural sugar (honey, dates, maple syrup) with protein, fat, and fiber. You can replace seeds or sunflower butter with any kind of nut or nut butter to make them safe for school. You or your little people ill be super happy to dig into one of these at breakfast or 3pm.

Swap fruit roll ups + candy for: Gelatin Gummies

Who doesn’t love fruit snacks? What if you could have a healthy Haribo? These gummies are made with grass-fed gelatin, so they’re protein-packed powerhouses that heal the gut AND strengthen the immune system. They’re also portable, delicious and can be made in so many different flavours and shapes. I like to combine fruit juice with green juice for a veggie punch. You can also add in vitamin C powder (acerola cherry powder is good) or greens powder for an extra antioxidant, adrenal-supporting boost.

Swap crackers for: Roasted Chickpeas

As a child, I was obsessed with Goldfish crackers. I still love them. But this alternative is full of fibre, prebiotics, and flavour. Roasting chickpeas turns them into a crunchy, addictive snack you can feel good about. Experiment by adding garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, curry, paprika, sesame oil, chill powder, balsamic vinegar or raw honey to customize the flavour. If you’re using canned chickpeas, it’s always best to buy BPA free cans or tetra packs.

Swap chips for: Kale Chips

Show me a person who doesn’t love potato chips and I will show you a liar. The most difficult thing for me to resist is a salty, crispy snack. Kale chips, like roasted chickpeas, are so versatile and really curb my cravings for salty chips. They key to crunchy kale chips is to make sure the kale is fully dry before you season and bake them. If they’re still wet when you bake them they turn into a soggy mess. I like to mix kale chips and roasted chickpeas together for a quick grab-and-go hit of salt.

With a little forethought and preparation you can make any of these super tasty, healthy snacks to fuel you and your loved ones all month long. Best part? You won’t have to worry about feeling hungry or tired, you’ll eliminate sugar crashes, and you’ll never have to stress over reading labels ever again.

Lauren Marotta is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), lifestyle + wellness expert, cook, and writer obsessed with keeping it real. To learn more about Lauren, follow her on Instagram + Twitter @laurenmarotta, visit her website www.laurenmarotta.com, or get in touch with her by saying hi@laurenmarotta.com.