Back-to-school meal planning tips

| August 16, 2023

What you eat affects every aspect of your day, including your mood, energy, and school performance. To help start the school year off right, embrace these four tips that prioritize nutrition and health as we head into a new term, and for some, a new journey as a college student.

  1. Start the day off right: eat breakfast.
  2. Embrace food variety from all food groups.
  3. Stock up on nutritious snacks.
  4. Enjoy budget-friendly meals as a group with friends or roommates.

Start the day off right: eat breakfast.

Breakfast, like you must’ve heard over a hundred times in your life, is the most important meal of the day. Research shows that eating breakfast regularly, especially for developing brains (fun fact: the brain doesn’t completely develop for most people until the age of 25), improves concentration, problem-solving skills, and creativity compared to skipping breakfast.

Mornings can be busy (and sometimes cut short; hello oversleeping), but making a nutritious breakfast doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Here are quick and easy breakfast ideas to choose from:

  • Instant oatmeal with nuts, (dried) fruit, and cinnamon
  • A smoothie made with milk, Greek yogurt, and fruit
  • A toaster waffle with nut (or seed) butter, honey, and berries

Pro tip: prep breakfast ingredients the night before. This step makes the morning go quicker and leaves one less thing to think about if you’re in a time crunch.

Embrace food variety from all food groups.

Create a balanced meal including options from different food groups such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat and meat substitutes, and dairy. Bento boxes are an easy (and convenient) way to build balanced meals that include food from all food groups. Here are options from each food group to choose from that builds well in a bento box:

  • Fruit: cuties, berries, apple slices, grapes, melon.
  • Veg: baby carrots, cucumber slices, bell peppers.
  • Grains: rice, pasta, whole wheat crackers, wheat bread, wheat/spinach/corn wraps.
  • Protein: frozen chicken, deli meat, ground beef, hummus, beans, eggs, nut butter.
  • Dairy: yogurt, cheese sticks/cubes, cottage cheese, shredded cheese, milk.

Pro tip: keep a list of favorite foods from each group handy to make creating a balanced meal quick and easy.

Stock up on nutritious snacks.

Having healthy snacks ready to go can make powering through busy schedules more manageable. Packing snacks can make making healthier choices easier, while providing long-lasting energy needed for after-hours studying or extracurricular activities, sports, and other events. Nutritious snacks include protein and simple carbs to provide satiety and quick energy until your next full meal.

Try these simple snacks:

  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
  • Green pea pod snacks, seaweed chips, or roasted chickpeas with 100% fruit juice.
  • Hummus and whole grain crackers, carrots, or bell pepper strips
  • Whole fruit and string cheese

Pro tip: stock a resealable bag or lunch pack with shelf-stable snack options like granola bars or mixed nuts and keep it in your school bag. This way, there will always be snacks available no matter how busy your schedule gets.

Enjoy budget-friendly meals as a group with friends or roommates.

While schedules can easily get hectic, it is still important to prioritize ‘family’ (or group) meals. Sitting down to a meal together offers huge benefits such as encouraging balanced diets and regular eating, and lowering the risk of engaging in behaviors like disordered eating and isolation. It is also a great segue way to social engagement. Amp up the fun by having themed nights where everyone can make a dish or side to contribute.

Meals can also be made budget-friendly by adopting the meal prep model where you cook once, eat twice. Staple ingredients like whole grain pasta, rice, salmon, chicken breasts, and frozen veggies can be made on one night and eaten as leftovers the next day.

Similarly, leftovers can be used to create a new meal altogether. For example, leftover chicken breast can become a chicken salad; or leftover salmon can become salmon burgers (recipe below). Both of of these dishes only take a few minutes to pull together.

Pro tip: Short on time? Buy pre-made protein from the grocery store along with instant rice. You can also skip the trip to the grocery store altogether and have groceries delivered to your door using a delivery app like Instacart.

Salmon Burger Recipe


  • 1 lb cooked salmon
  • 1 cup cooked rice or quinoa
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ a lemon, juiced
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Oil for frying
  • Herbs like chive or dill (optional)


  • Mixing bowl
  • Large spoon
  • Frying pan


  1. Place salmon into a large mixing bowl. Add rice, tomato paste, lemon juice, and seasonings.
  2. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
  3. Gently fold in the beaten eggs.
  4. Form salmon mixture into ~1-inch-thick burgers.
  5. Add oil to pan and heat on medium-high heat
  6. Cook each burger until golden on the edges, about 2-3 minutes each side.