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Navigating the Dinnertime Rush

Back to school means back to busy schedules and routines. With the constraints of work, extracurricular activities, many parents may feel guilty for relying on fast food dinners or not cooking at home enough. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are plenty of ways to get quick, nutritious meals for your family that fit a variety of schedules.

Try these tips for navigating the drive-thru, embracing snacks for dinner and other ways to approach meal planning during the back-to-school crunch.

Navigating the Drive-Thru

Sometimes, the drive-thru is not avoidable. It even happens for dietitians.

“I’m an 80/20 person,” said Registered Dietitian Karen Mohn, RD, LDN, CDCES. “You can do a quick dinner, just try to make good choices. If you really have a taste for something, that’s fine too. When you pick something not as nutritious, that’s when portions come into play.”

Mohn suggests that if you know you’re going to be out a certain number of nights per week, plan to pack a dinner three out of those four nights and eat out on the fourth. Then, it’s planned for and can help parents achieve a better mindset, free from guilt.

When it comes to making choices at the drive-thru, there are more healthy options available now than ever before. Mohn suggests giving children a few choices to help guide them. Focus on adding something good instead of taking away other options. For example, if you want fries, get a small fry, but add a salad too.

“Try to make a good choice. Each meal is a new opportunity. Do what you can with what you have. It’s all about balance,” Mohn said.

Often, healthier choices are even more readily available at larger convenience stores. A dinner of a convenience store sandwich on whole grain bread, baked chips and apple slices is still a nutritious dinner.

FUN WITH FOOD: Dinner Snack Boxes

Charcuterie boards and boxes are all the rage for the adult crowd, and the great thing is those Instagram-worthy spreads can allow for a good mix of carbohydrates, healthy fat, and protein. Dinner doesn’t always have to be a hot meal, and children love to snack. Adapt the charcuterie trend to dinnertime with dinner snack boxes.

While there are many kinds of bento-style boxes (with multiple compartments) on the market, it can be as simple as using muffin liners to divide space in a sealable plastic container. Strive to include at least one protein, carbohydrate, healthy fat and fruits and vegetables in each snack box. For most ingredients, these boxes can be prepared a few days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

To get started, choose a few options from each category:
CATEGORY 1: Protein & healthy fats
Mixed nuts
Trail mix
Cheese cubes or cheese stick
Yogurt pouch, tube or cup
Hardboiled egg
Dried chickpeas
Nut butter
Yogurt-based dip
Protein bar

CATEGORY 2: Carbohydrate
Granola bar
Whole grain crackers
Rice cakes

CATEGORY 3: Fruits and vegetables
Grape tomatoes
Mandarin orange
Berries and grapes
Fruit and nut-based bars such as Larabar™
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