Back to School Fuel

Back to School Fuel

Leigh-Anne Wooten MS, RDN/LDN, FAND, LSS BB

Registered Dietitian


A recent poll showed that 90% of parents are concerned that their children have fallen behind in school due to the pandemic.  To pile on to that ever-growing list of concerns, now that kids are finally heading back to school, parents are responsible again to figure out what to feed them.  A breakfast that will fuel them until lunch, a lunch box full of tasty, healthy foods they won’t trade with their friends, and nutritious snacks when they come home “starving” from school; parents have their work cut out!  Well, we’ve got a not-so-secret ‘recipe’ for keeping those kiddo’s bellies full and brains energized throughout the day.  So, read on!


Do They Really Need Breakfast?

Many kids skip their morning meal because they’re rushing out the door or are just not quite hungry yet, but that’s a mistake. While there is debate in the scientific community on eating breakfast versus fasting in adults, children should not skip this meal (nor should they be experimenting with fasting at this age). Their bodies need the nutrition for proper growth and development.


In fact, studies have shown that compared to youngsters who don’t eat breakfast, those who do have:

  • Higher test scores
  • Better concentration
  • Lower body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat
  • Fewer complaints of being tired, cranky, or restless
  • Higher daily intakes of essential nutrients

If your child doesn’t want to eat in the morning at home, that’s ok!  Just pack something they can have on the way to school or in between classes.


So, what exactly should you give them?


The “Secret Recipe”

Alright folks, here it is.  Every meal, eaten at home or at school, should include three specific nutrients:  PROTEIN + FIBER + HEALTHY FATS.  When eaten, they slow down digestion making us feel fuller longer and happen to be essential for optimal growth and development.  And those are the goals, right?!  We also need to make sure that these nutrients are coming primarily from a VARIETY of WHOLE FOODS.  When you serve a variety of whole foods that are packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats, along with that comes all the other nutrients a growing body needs to thrive.   


Below is a non-exhaustive list of foods, and which nutrient they are high in. 



Healthy Fat


Seeds (chia, flax, hemp, sunflower)






Soy (tofu, milk, edamame)



Whole grains (whole wheat, oats, quinoa, farro)


Whole grains

Beans, legumes

Fatty Fish

Beans, legumes

Lean meats, seafood







Pro tip #1:

Get comfortable reading nutrition facts panels; looking for how much protein, unsaturated fat, and fiber are in each serving.


Pro tip #2:

You may notice that prepackaged snacks and foods are not listed above.  Again, read nutrition labels, opt for ones lower in salt, added sugar, and saturated fat, and use these as “occasional” foods, not an everyday “go-to”.


Now, It’s Time to Start Building Meals 

Truly, the possibilities are endless once you get the hang of it.  And don’t confine yourself to traditional breakfast foods at breakfast only, lunch at lunch etc.  In fact, our kids just might, for one brief second, think we’re cool for sending breakfast in their lunch box!

Here are just a few chia-based recipes to get you started, because as you hopefully noticed in the table above, chia is pretty amazing.  It falls into all three categories because it contains protein, healthy fat, AND fiber.   These recipes will work well any time of day, on-the-go, or in a lunch box (with a little ice pack):  

And remember, chia is so versatile that you can even drink it!  SOW® has a delicious chocolate chia milk that will go great alongside your kid’s meals at school and at home.  It can even be used in some of the recipes above, including the smoothies, baked goods, and chia pudding.   It only has 70 calories but is still packed with all the goodness you’d expect from chia including 740 mg of plant-based omega-3 fat per cup.  And studies show that the omega-3 fat in chia seeds may support brain health and cognition.   It’s also an excellent alternative for kiddos with food allergies as it’s free of the top 8 allergens.

All of that being said, what’s most important to remember is that, as hard as it can be to get our mini-me’s to eat, this is the time when you show them, by example, what healthy eating looks like.  This exhaustingly hard work will position our children for long term health and wellness.  

As schools reopen this fall, feel confident that you’re supporting your child’s learning by promoting healthy food and nutrition choices.