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With the start of the school year, there have been a number of articles, blog entries and reports relating to nutrition for school-aged children.  This week, I thought I’d share my own tips for keeping my kids well fed and healthy throughout the school year.

Let’s start with breakfast.  Remember that old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?  I’m not sure if it’s the most important, but I do agree that getting your kids’ metabolism revving with a nutritious meal is a good way to begin the day.  Since their lunch schedules vary from day to day, if they go without a good breakfast they’re sure to lose concentration by mid morning.  Instead of the standard bowl of cereal or toaster pastry, try a few more interesting (and healthier!) options like Perfectly Peachy Waffles, Heart Warming Oatmeal with Fruit & Nuts or a Vegetable Frittata.

Though lunches can be purchased at school, and as a result of initiatives like Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools there are healthy options available, I still prefer to pack my kids’ lunches on a regular basis.  I have teens and just because I tell them to purchase the side of fruit or salad, doesn’t always mean they will.  Packing lunch enables me to better ensure they are getting a serving of fruit or vegetables.  Make sure your sandwiches include things like lettuce, tomatoes or sprouts.  Include fresh fruit as a side or you can pack dried fruit and nuts for a crunchy snack.  Apple Tuna Sandwiches and Veggie Stuffed Pitas are two tasty lunch recipes to try.

Don’t forget the after-school snack!  If your kids are like mine, they start their homework shortly after getting home from school.  A healthy snack will keep them focused and hold them over until dinner.  Bookworm Apple Bark, Banana in a Blanket or Very Veggie Snack Pizza will all do the trick.  A quick smoothie like After-School Strawberry Shake will also go over well with your kids.

So this year why not try something different?  Include more fruits and vegetables to your children’s day to keep them energized, focused and healthy.  And, if you have tips or ideas that work for you–please comment on this blog entry and share them with us!

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One of the things I enjoy most about this time of year is biting into a sweet, crisp apple.  Since we’re just coming into their peak season, I thought I’d offer a little info** about the various varieties and a few ways I like to enjoy them.

Apples are a great source of fiber with 5 grams of dietary fiber in one large apple (that’s 20% of your recommended daily requirement!).  Plus, this time of year apples are in season, which makes them very budget-friendly.  Since there are around 2,500 varieties grown in the U.S., I’ll focus on some of the more popular.

Gala – Gala apples are small to medium in size and have a firm, crisp texture.  They tend to be pale golden yellow in color with a red blush.  These apples are perfect for snacking and ideal for using in salads.  They can also be used in pies or other baked goods.

Granny Smith – Medium to large in size, Granny Smith apples are known for their tart flavor.  They are green in color and they resist browning more than other varieties when cut.  These apples are popular for baking.

Red Delicious - These are the “classic” apple with their shiny, red appearance.  They tend to be medium to large in size and their texture is firm and crisp, which makes them ideal for snacking and salads.

Fuji – Fuji apples are medium to large in size with a red blush or red stripes over a yellow background.  They  have a firm texture, but what makes this variety stand out is how juicy they are.  Fuji apples are good for snacking, in salads, for baking and freezing, which makes them a perfect all-around variety.

I love apples prepared so many ways–applesauce, in baked goods, fresh for snacking, but my big weakness are caramel apples.  Yes, they are a treat, but if you make them at home you can control how much caramel coats the apple.  Lightly dip an apple in some melted caramel, add a few chopped nuts for protein and you’ve got a healthy treat that’s around 150-160 calories.  It only tastes sinful!

Stop by your local supermarket, produce stand or orchard this weekend and pick up your favorite variety.  In case you run out of ways to prepare them, we’ve got our top 10 ways to enjoyComment on this blog and tell us what your favorite variety is and how you like to prepare apples!

**More information can be found through the U.S. Apple Association.

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The fragrance of burning leaves has replaced the summertime scent of tanning lotion and lazy days have become a hectic mishmash of work, school and sports schedules.  Yes, we’ve officially entered a new season and, if you’re like me, it can be a shock to the system.  Don’t get me wrong, I love autumn, but I find I need a few weeks to adjust from my summer schedule and get back to reality.

For me, one of the most difficult things is getting used to having a LOT less time to spend on things like planning and preparing healthy meals.  Now that the kids are back to school I’m tied to their schedules, which can make an easy solution like take-out more appealing.  However, since it’s really difficult to make half your plate fruits and vegetables via most take-out (don’t even get me started on the hidden calories, sodium and fat that many contain), I’m determined to use this option as a last resort.

Luckily, fall is a great time to break out my crock pot!  It’s so easy to add some chicken or lean pork, cut up vegetables, seasonings and a low fat cream soup (I like cream of mushroom) to the crock pot in the morning and then have it ready by dinnertime.  Cook up another veggie like broccoli and add a salad–Voila!  You’ve got a home cooked meal that’s nutritious and delicious.

Even if I don’t use my crock pot, a healthy meal doesn’t have to take forever to prepare.  Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has a wide variety of 30 Minutes or Less recipe options specifically for the season.  Tasty entress like Fig, Apple and Chicken Stir-Fry or Oven Baked Salmon with Snow Peas  meet the Fruits & Veggies–More Matters healthy recipe criteria and all are ready within 30 minutes or less.  Plus, don’t forget to use produce that’s in season to save money and add flavor to your dishes.  Just like strawberries were at their peak a few months ago, you’ll find an abundance of apples right now at great prices in supermarkets around the country.

Just like every September, I’ll settle in to my daily routine and it will be second nature by the time December rolls around.  But having a little help to get me started is always a nice thing!

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