Nutrition Tips For Back to School & OfficeAug 21, 2021
With September approaching, many individuals and families are getting ready to head back to the office or to school. Staying energized with nutritious food and supportive habits is a key strategy to do your best work and/or learning! However, keeping your body and mind well-fuelled can be a challenge with a full schedule or shift in routine. That’s why we’re sharing some of the tips clients inside of our Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching program have found most supportive in the transition from summer to fall.
1. Keep At Least One of Your Weekday Meals The Same
We’ve shared this tip in the past because we truly believe there are major benefits to automating a meal in your day whether that be breakfast, lunch, and/or a snack! As you return to school or the office, you’ll be making countless decisions in your day. By keeping one meal the same, you’ll reduce the decision making fatigue of planning, grocery shopping, and preparing a meal. This reserves mental space for other important tasks!
That being said, if you are craving variety, keep in mind that diversifying a meal can be accomplished through subtle ingredient swaps. For example, if you usually enjoy a Greek yogurt bowl with walnuts and strawberries, you might embrace variety by swapping walnuts for pumpkin seeds and strawberries for frozen blueberries. The base of the meal is the same but the subtle adjustments introduce new nutrients and flavours!
RECIPE ALERT: Dietitian Darian enjoys the same Egg White Oatmeal for Breakfast, Dietitian Courtney enjoys a daily yogurt bowl for an afternoon snack, and Dietitian Hannah always has ingredients on hand to make her high-protein breakfast sandwich.
2. Build A Breakfast with >20g of Protein
Whether you are back to school or back to the office, the morning hours tend to be a time where we want to optimize our brain power. A high protein meal to kick-start your day will keep your blood sugars smooth and steady to avoid the hunger, lightheadedness, shakiness, or fatigue that can distract you from the task at hand!
If you aren’t the type of person who feels hungry upon waking, keep in mind that breakfast is simply the first meal of the day! If you don’t feel hungry upon waking or you don’t have time to eat breakfast at home, try packing a breakfast with you on-the-go that you can enjoy when hunger strikes.
3. Have a Snack if There will be >5 Hour Between Meals
Let’s set the scene: It’s 6pm, you just got home, and you're ravenously addressing your hunger with dry cereal, chocolate chips, or crackers. Before you know it, you’ve finished the bag and no longer feel hungry for the dinner you’ve planned!
But, hey, we’ve all been there and it’s nothing to feel ashamed about! This is a very common response to going a long time without eating and/or having a low blood sugar. The solution, we’ve found, is to plan a snack when you have longer than 5 hours between meals!
A strategic snack situated between meals prevents your blood sugars from dropping low which also prevents the primal drive to eat anything in site to restore your energy. Additionally, having a snack between meals leaves you more satisfied so your less likely to eat quickly thereby preventing an undesirable swing from ravenously hungry to uncomfortably full.
We find that the gap between lunch and supper is the longest for most of our clients. For this reason, we recommend clients inside of our Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching program plan a high protein snack in the afternoon to bridge them to supper. By this way, they feel nourished and able to enjoy the process of preparing and enjoying a well-balanced dinner.
4. Combine Two Or More Foods For A Satisfying Snack
We’ve found the most effective snacks to be the ones that combine two or more food groups. By having two food groups at a snack you not only introduce a variety of key nutrients but also delay the digestion and absorption of those nutrients so you feel satisfied for longer! Let’s take a look at some of our clients favorite snack pairings. Keep in mind, you can also introduce a third or fourth element for an even more satisfying snack combination!
What’s your favorite snack combo? We’d love to try it and share it with our clients! We invite you to share by commenting down below!
5. Keep An “Emergency” Snack at the Ready
Whether you forgot your snack at home, stayed late at school or the office, or are simply having a “hungry” day, a back up snack is a great strategy to keep your body energized and fuelled. An emergency snack is ideally a non-perishable food item that you can stash in your backpack, desk drawer, or car for a long period of time. Some of our favorite emergency snacks to have available include:
- Protein bar
- Can of tuna
- Beef jerky
6. Carry a Water Bottle
You eat what you see - or in this case, you drink what you see! Having a water bottle with you will make the habit of staying hydrated a lot easier to accomplish. While staying hydrated has many health benefits, one key benefit is ensuring your blood can circulate nutrients to your brain and muscles. If you experience symptoms like fatigue (or a headache!), try drinking an extra bottle of water. If you still find yourself lagging in energy, we recommend reaching out to a Registered Dietitian for support. A dietitian can help you assess your micronutrient intake, sleep routine, electrolyte status, exercise routine, and more to help you boost your energy so you can make the most of your day!
7. Prioritize A 10 Minute Solar Recharge
Did you know the sun can boost your mood during the day? This is because natural light increases serotonin levels! Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods and a calm yet focused mental outlook (1). In addition to improving mood and mental focus during the day, exposing your eyes to 10-15 minutes of morning light can also improve your melatonin levels at night which leads to higher quality sleep (2).
8. Be Wary of Caffeine in The Afternoon
While it’s tempting to reach for another cup of coffee in the afternoon, consuming caffeine too close to bed can alter the hormones that regulate your sleep and wake cycles. Health Canada recommends no more than 400mg of caffeine per day.
In addition to considering your total caffeine intake, we recommend monitoring your personal time “cut off” for caffeine to ensure you obtain your best ever sleep. This is because high quality sleep is one of the most potent habits to reach a variety of health and wellness goals! Some key benefits to high quality sleep include improved energy, weight loss and body recomposition, and improved performance and recovery in the gym. Many of our clients find that having 8-10 hours “caffeine-free” before bed protects their sleep!
For example, if you plan to go to bed at 10pm switch to non-caffeinated beverages between 12pm and 2pm. If you are looking for a caffeine-free energy boost, adopt our previous recommendations like enjoying a blood sugar balancing snack, prioritizing extra fluids, or exposing your eyes to 10 minutes (or more!) of natural light!
We support clients inside of our Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching with their sleep habits because we know it is crucial to reaching their goals - whether it be weight loss, increasing muscle mass, balancing hormones, boosting performance in sport, optimizing energy, or simply feeling their best!
9. Cook Once, Eat Twice
Prepare a double portion of whatever you are making to incorporate into future meals, freeze to enjoy at a later time, or simply to eat as leftovers! By doubling your recipes, you are essentially ‘batching’ you work and saving time on preparation, cooking, and cleaning up.
Plus, cooking extra doesn’t necessarily mean packing your food in air-tight containers and eating the same recipe all week long! You can prepare one element that can be incorporated into a new meal the next day. For example, prepare a large batch of salsa chicken and enjoy it in tacos the first night, in a burrito bowl for lunch the next day, and as part of taco pizza the following night!
10. Have A Stash Of Freezer Ready Meals
A stash of freezer-ready meals is perfect for busy weeks where you need a grab-and-go breakfast, an easy lunch, or a quick weeknight dinner. Your future-self will thank you for being so thoughtful! Some of our favorite, freezer-ready meals include:
- Breakfast: Make-Ahead Freezer Burritos
- Lunch: Rockin’ Moroccan Stew
- Dinner: Buffalo Chicken ‘Spaghetti’ Bake
- Snack: No Bake Energy Bites
11. Have A Balanced, Go-To Restaurant Meal You Can Grab In A Pinch
Perhaps you forgot your lunch, ran out of time to prep, or are on the road. Having a go-to option from a restaurant near your school or office can help you make choices that are aligned with your health and wellness goals!
Luckily, many restaurants offer balanced options that feature veggies, proteins, healthy fats, and fibre-rich carbohydrates which will keep your blood sugars balanced and energy stable. Some of our favorite “fast food” orders in Saskatoon and area include:
- Mucho Burrito or Bar Burrito: try a burrito salad or bowl loaded with fibre-rich beans, voluminous vegetables, satisfying protein, and healthy fats like avocado and cheese. We love boosting the flavour of our meals with extra salsa and hot sauce!
- Sweetfin Poke or Wave Poke: we love ordering Poke Bowls and asking for half rice and half zucchini noodles to balance the ratios of carbohydrates to proteins and fats. This keeps blood sugars smooth and stable!
- Opa’s: we love the Greek pita wrap on a whole grain pita with Greek salad on the side!
- Freshii: we love all of the bowls at Freshii with protein added for extra staying power and dressing on the side to adjust the amount we add.
- Chopped Leaf: build your own bowl, salad, or salad with the four elements we prioritize with our clients including a source of carb (like rice, quinoa, or bread/wrap), some healthy fats (like cheese or avocado), protein (like chicken, salmon, beef, or shrimp), and as many veggies as you can get your hands on!
- McDonald’s: prioritizing lean protein sources at a fast food restaurant can prevent feeling bogged down or low in energy after you eat. Try an egg-based breakfast option like a classic Egg McMuffin or a Grilled Chicken Sandwich for lunch.
- Tim Hortons: while we think enjoying a donut from time to time can be part of maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship with food, if you are looking for a breakfast or lunch to keep you energized for longer, try focusing your choice around a protein like a classic breakfast sandwich with eggs or a bowl of chili which is also loaded with fibre.
12. Rely on Nutritious & Convenient Ready-Made Foods
Perhaps you’ve heard the tip to only shop on the perimeter of the grocery store. This tip encourages consumers to focus on filling their grocery store with whole, unprocessed foods. While a diet based in unprocessed foods is key to optimal health, there are many nutritiously convenient foods found throughout the store and in the centre isles! Incorporating these convenient ingredients can help you assemble quick and balanced meals!
Heading back to school or the office is a busy season for many individuals and families. Fuelling your body with nutritious foods and supportive habits can provide you with the energy you need to do your best work and studying. In addition to the tips above, browse our blog for ideas for breakfast, lunch, and snacks to keep your body well fed!
Ready to bring the evidence-based nutrition support of our Registered Dietitians into your kitchen?
Hungry for more?
Get recipes, tips, and updates from the Vitality Nutrition team straight to your inbox!
Don't worry, your information won't be shared.