The Back-to-School Pantry

By Special Guest Blogger : Cindy Santa Ana
As summer winds down, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to be packing in those lunch boxes and snack bags and what you’ll be feeding the kiddos when they come bounding off the bus. First and foremost is to feed them a nutritious, protein-packed breakfast to start their day. And, no, a Pop-Tart doesn’t count. Those tasty pastries are essentially a giant candy bar filled with sugar, HFCS, trans fats, artificial colors and sodium. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them growing up, but the over 50 ingredients inside can lead to a myriad of health problems down the road and sugar crashes before they even finish first period.

A great start to the day could include a scrambled egg with whole grain toast, whole grain waffle with peanut butter, oatmeal with berries, or a protein smoothie (blend berries, whey protein powder, nut butter, spinach, yogurt, milk or milk alternative).

There are many prepackaged options out there for lunches, but be careful of dangerous preservatives, trans fats, excessive amounts of sodium and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that are often laden in those foods. The worst offenders are Lunchables, 100-calorie snacks, packages of chips, cheez-its and juice boxes. The winner for worst offender is the Uncrustable sandwich. It contains 38 ridiculous ingredients (5 of which are sugar and more than a dozen are chemicals) like HFCS, transfats, sorbates, sulfates, and phosphates. A simple PB & jelly takes 1 minute to make – please make them from scratch. I’m disgusted that my children’s school offers these as alternatives to a hot lunch.

So, here’s my shopping list for the Back-to-School Pantry:

  • Lots of whole fruits – bananas, organic apples, organic peaches, pears, watermelon slices, organic grapes, organic berries or melon balls/cubes, orange slices, small boxes of organic raisins. Make a fun fruit kebab! Whole fruits provide fiber, potassium, antioxidants and tons of vitamins that they need for fuel during the day. (I suggest the organic option of those fruits listed on the Dirty Dozen.) Remember to shop/eat seasonally – some of these fruits won’t be available this fall and winter.
  • Trail mix – make your own with raw, unsalted nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped pitted dates, small amount of chocolate chips & dried apricots. (NO M&M’s!!)
  • Wraps – I like whole grain options to wrap up turkey slices, PB& jelly, cream cheese and veggies, chicken salad, tuna salad
  • Whole grain english muffins (make mini-pizzas or slather w/ PB & jelly)
  • Organic string cheese
  • Newman’s Own High Protein Pretzels
  • Gluten-free? Buy large lettuce leafs and wrap over creamy chicken salad, tuna salad with lots of crunchy pickles, turkey slices (not deli meat)
  • Make extra for dinner. Leftovers make for a great school lunch. Pack hot items in stainless steel or a thermos to retain their heat. My kids’ faves are homemade chicken strips, leftover quinoa spaghetti and ravioli.
  • Unsweetened organic apple sauce
  • Plain organic yogurt – place in a blender with berries, kale, nut or sunflower butter, process and freeze in a flexible Popsicle mold
  • Organic ham and cheese roll ups
  • Veggies – sliced cucumbers with hummus, organic celery with nut butter and raisins, carrots with hummus or ranch dip, red & yellow pepper slices with hummus or dip, kale chips
  • Whole grain crackers, like Triscuits or Multi-Seed (Goldfish don’t make the cut)
  • Brown rice cakes, real popcorn (not microwaved in a chemical-filled bag)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Roasted chickpeas with honey & cinnamon
  • Whole grain waffles (great for after school snacks topped with PB
  • Reusable bottle of ice cold water – no sugary juice needed

It’s important that lunch contain a lean protein item, a whole grain carb option, fruit and lots of water. Kids don’t need a sugary treat or cookie for lunch. Between all the treats and birthday parties at school, they get enough sugar! They need a highly nutritious meal that can carry them through the rest of the day for optimal learning.


  1. Annie

    Since poptarts and lunchables are “staples” in our school pantry, I will have to work on this – thanks for the list! Any suggestions for a picky eater?

    • Cindy

      For picky eaters, I would make a list of their favorite foods and keep it by the fridge. Then, you can rotate those items for lunch and add in some fun changes every now and then. Try new things on the weekends and see if you can add to the list. My little one was super picky, but we slowly started adding in healthier options and that’s translated into lots of options for lunches and dinners. For example, if your picky eater likes yogurt, there’s lots of fun things you could add to plain yogurt to make it special every day. Start with their favorite berries and honey. We like to make “smoothies” in our reusable yogurt tubes and add berries, spinach, honey and a little coconut milk to a blender, whip that up, freeze in the yogurt tubes and they are ready by lunch time. They never even know the spinach is there! Good luck and make small changes over time that will result in permanent ones.

      • Annie

        Thank you so much! This is something I can do!!

  2. Julia Neiman (@parenttrainer)

    What a great list Cathy. I once heard someone say you should never buy any “food” that has more than 7 ingredients. I’ve made that a general rule. These days, I eat light, I eat simple and mostly just fresh foods. I don’t have many boxes of food or even canned food. It makes a difference in my life and I know it’s better for kids.

    • Cathy

      Good for you Julia! The more whole foods we eat, the less chemicals we ingest. Your kids will thank you for years to come.

  3. Mindy Crary

    I love this list! I started rejecting high fructose corn syrup when I was 14, but my sweet tooth for other stuff often throws me off track. Recently, I fell in love again with watermelon, and I can tell it’s totally changed my health in so many ways within a few weeks! Next step: reignite my love affair with eggs :o)

    • Cathy

      Mindy, watermelon is the best! I could live on watermelon.



  1. Lunch and the Picky Eater | Simple. I Just Do. - [...] few posts got me started on this idea: this one from, and this one from  I like…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *