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Going back to school and setting up a routine can be difficult for any family. Every student—and parent—experiences this transition differently, and it may be hard to find a common ground for everyone at home. However, there are still some things you can do to ensure success in your kids’ academic and personal lives, one of them being finding practical ways to maintain a good nutrition. Remember, being aware of what your kid needs nutrition-wise can go a long way in how they tackle the school year.

However, kids are all different. And when it comes down to meal prepping, it’s important to keep in mind what they need at their particular age. Younger kids, for instance, might look for fun, colorful meals while older ones might be interested in trying healthier alternatives.

Different ages come with different nutrition requirements and challenges, so we’ve put together a guide to manage meal prepping while also catering to your kids’ age-specific needs. This way, the next time you’re at the grocery store, you know exactly what you need and how you’ll use it.

Elementary schoolers

We’ve all either seen or been the kid who orders chicken nuggets at a nice restaurant. This is because younger kids tend to be pickier eaters and gravitate towards what they already know. When it comes to food, they have a tough time leaving their comfort zone: They know what they like, and they like it a lot—cue the chicken nuggets.

As a result, it’s better to slowly introduce new ingredients into their Back-to-School meals. They’ll already be having a hard time with the transition to have another major change in their routine. Making Torrejas for breakfast, for instance, can give them the sweetness most kids are used to, and become a comfort food during an otherwise tough transition. Plus, these Spanish French Toast are also easy to make ahead of time and can conveniently be frozen.

However, it’s also important to slowly start adding new ingredients to your kid’s meals, especially ones that they may not be so thrilled about. Preparing a grilled chicken and veggie pasta salad is not only a fun and colorful meal but also makes eating veggies easier than if they were served by themselves.

Fruit popsicles are another way to both make snack time more fun and also incorporate more fruit into kids’ diets. And since it’s homemade, you can always give the recipe your own twist—swap agave with honey, a bit of sugar, or use different fruits to surprise the kids every time you prepare them.

As far as dinner goes, a BBQ flank steak can be enjoyed with the whole family, with sides such as grilled onions and corn that can expose the kids to new flavors and textures. Trying out these new meals as a family can also help get the kids excited about what they’re eating and meal prepping for school.

Middle schoolers

Being in middle school can be a difficult and awkward life stage, so you must try to be patient. Your middle schooler is not only at that age where they may not want to take a lunchbox to school, but they’re also going through a key growth spurt in their lives. And while you can’t always help them with everything they’re going through, you can always make sure they start their days with a big, healthy breakfast.

Some breakfast alternatives for this age group can include huevos motuleños and egg-stuffed arepa. These are all big, nutritious options you can make for breakfast to ensure that, even if you don’t know exactly what your middle schooler is having for lunch at school, they’re still getting the nutrients that they need to grow (even if it makes them a little cranky).

If your middle schooler does want to bring food from home, a healthy option with lots of protein and veggies is a salad in a jar. It’s not only a fun concept (and a fun presentation!), but also encourages middle schoolers to get creative and make their own salad. In choosing their own ingredients and packing the salad, your middle schooler will start playing a more active role in their health and overall wellbeing—skills that will come in very handy as they become more independent.

As far as snacks go, chips and hummus are never a bad idea. There are many hummus recipes out there, so you can alternate and try different ones every day. Hummus isn’t just a quick and easy snack alternative, but it’s also healthier than most snacks you’d get at the store.

High schoolers and college students

Older students eventually want to start taking control of their own health and nutrition and have a say in their meal prepping. However, both high schoolers and college students face a similar challenge: With classes, extracurriculars, work and friends, they may not always have the time or energy to cook when they get back home.

While parents can certainly help their high schoolers hands-on, students living in a college dorm don’t really have that option. But regardless of your situation, the key to a successful nutrition is good planning. A good, healthy breakfast option is oats with coconut milk and chia seeds, where the oats must be left in the fridge overnight. If you plan accordingly, you can have breakfast ready in the morning and could even use the time you’d spend making it to get a couple extra minutes of sleep. Or if you’re looking for lunch ideas, a rice and beans bowl can be your best friend, and you can make all the rice ahead of time and just have it ready for use.

However, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of planning ahead and just need something quick that works. In that case, a black bean quesadilla can be your best friend and, if you’re looking to try new things, can also be a great vegetarian option. Or if you need something refreshing to grab after working out, some Coconut Water or a Malta, which is a great source of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium (and a good alternative to soda or coffee).

Mix it up!

Some recipes are just too delicious to categorize. And when it comes to dessert, age shouldn’t be a limitation. You could even make these recipes more fun by baking them together as a family and adding your own twist to a brazo gitano or some Creamy Coconut Custard with Chocolate Crumbles.

If you’re looking for more recipes to kick off the new school year, look no further. Goya’s ready to help you find the right flavors for you and your family to enjoy rather than dread Back-to-School season. Click here to learn more about Goya.

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