Over the next few weeks, children all across the country will start heading back to school. Whether your child will be starting preschool this year, as 75% of young children in the U.S. do, or your teen will be heading off to high school, it's your responsibility to make sure they eat nutritious food to keep their bodies healthy and strong. But as many families know, eating healthy doesn't always come cheap. If you're trying to stay on budget and encourage healthy habits, there are a few ways to tick off both boxes -- and they may be even easier than you think.
Make Food More FunAll of us, and especially kids, tend to eat with the eyes first. While we've all seen those amazing bento boxes some parents create for their kids, a lot of families don't have time to turn school lunches into Pinterest-ready masterpieces. Luckily, it's not really needed. Kids just want to see colorful, easy-to-eat elements. Cut-up vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, and snap peas can be great on their own or with a small container of hummus. Find out which fruits your child likes and include them for special treats. Roll up healthy deli offerings like turkey and Swiss cheese into mini "cigars" that are great for dipping. Being a little more interactive with their food will often encourage kids to like healthier options and will eliminate wasted items (like bread crusts).
Try Meal PreppingMeal prep can be a great way to get the whole family eating healthier. It may even reduce your morning stress levels! If you can plan the entire week's worth of meals on Sunday, you won't have to think about what your family is eating during the week. Doing so will prevent those take-out temptations when you come home too tired to prepare a meal. During your weekly shopping trip, pick out a lean protein (like chicken, fish, pork, or lentils), a complex carb (like sweet potatoes, quinoa, or brown or jasmine rice), and vegetables. Now's the time to use that crock pot you got a few Christmases ago! Cook everything and divide it up into Tupperware containers for easy transport to school or work. If the kids get bored eating the same thing every day, use those ingredients and add a few extras to repurpose the base into something new. These recipes can help get you started.
Swap Out The JunkBusy families often fall back on fast food to please the kids and alleviate the need to prepare a meal from scratch. It's no wonder that pizza is Americans' number one comfort food. Although fast food is cheap, it provides almost no nutritional value and can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Unfortunately, processed foods are incredibly easy to get. Many schools have vending machines with chips, candy, and soda within arm's reach. But your kids won't be so tempted to ask for junk food if you equip them with healthy snacks, like dried fruit, nuts, and pretzel sticks, to get through the day. You can also easily make healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods at home that are much more filling and satisfying. Although some of these items may cost a bit more upfront, you can actually stretch them out longer and thus save more in the long run. Be sure to pack any leftovers in your kids' lunch boxes the next day!
Look For DealsWhen all else fails, keep your eyes open for great deals! Keeping your pantry stocked with items that won't soon expire can be a great way to save money in the long run. Try to find nuts, dried fruits, beans, and other non-perishables your family likes in bulk. You should also buy whole produce, instead of pre-cut options. Although fresh items are a bit less likely to go on sale than processed foods are, you can still get a bargain on healthy eats. There are even websites that will notify you when items on your list go on sale at your local grocery store. If you plan your meals around those ingredients, rather that buying them as an after-thought, you'll be much more likely to use them and ensure nothing goes to waste.
It may not always be easy to eat healthy or stick to a strict budget, but know that there are tools that can help you. Using the apps on your phone and appliances in your kitchen may add an extra step or two, but if it means a more balanced checkbook and a healthier family, most would agree that it's worth it.
Image Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture