The end of summer is just around the corner: meaning kids returning to school, hectic schedules resume and days get shorter. Don’t let the healthy habits of summer fade with the sun. Here are some tips for fitting wellness into your back to school routine.

Stock Your Pantry and Freezer

Now that summer is ending, a sense of dread can set in when it comes to what to cook. But having some basic essentials on hand will ensure that an easy meal is always an option.

· Stock your pantry with dry goods like whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, farro), which last almost forever if stored properly, and can become a healthy base to many of your weekly meals.

· Quinoa and bulgur cook fairly fast if you are scrambling to get a meal on the table.

· Canned beans, nuts, and nut-butter all add fiber and protein to your meal at a moderate cost.

· Keep your freezer stocked with frozen vegetables; the nutritional value is just as good, if not better then fresh.

Finally, there are some very good prepared sauces to add different global flavors to your meals; just watch the sodium content of these. And if you’re looking for a quick and healthy end-of-summer sauce to make, try this Roasted Garden Vegetable Sauce.

Having all of these essentials on hand means you just need to add a protein and you have a complete meal.

Plan Ahead

Not many people dream of going to the grocery store and walking aimlessly through the aisles trying to plan meals for the week. Choose 2 to 3 balanced meals to prepare each week and make a list of everything you need before you go.

Cooking every night, especially if you are single or have a small family, can add stress and lead to increased food waste. If you are not a fan of leftovers try to take your protein from the night before and repurpose it on a salad or on some kind of sandwich.

Try to make one meat-free meal a week. This reduces your food budget, improves your health and is helpful to the environment.

Get the Kids Involved

Meal planning for kids adds an additional level of stress.

As a dietitian, I often get asked for suggestions on how to get kids to eat better or easy tips for feeding kids. The first suggestion I make is to ask what they want to eat for the week. It is surprising how in-tune children can be to what they like. The challenge is what they like today might change tomorrow so you need to ask often.

Give your children choices when it comes to meal planning, for example, you can offer 2-3 vegetables to choose from for the night. By having a freezer stocked with vegetable choices, you just need to heat up what they like. When kids are involved in planning they are more likely to eat what is given to them. Kids are also less concerned with variety in their food then adults; if they like something they will eat it almost every day.

Don’t be afraid to pack the same thing for lunch multiple days a week; it makes your life easier and also reduces waste.

Eat and Exercise Together

There is significant research to support the benefits of family meals.

Eating together as a family can lower rates of obesity, lower risk of depression, and improve academic performance. While most of the research focuses on family dinner, any family meal together could work. If work and activity schedules make sitting down at the dinner table hard, try to start your day with a meal together. Breakfast can be a quick and easy way to get family time in.

Rather than ending your day in front of the TV as a family, get outside while the weather allows it and take a family walk or bike ride. This is a great way to reduce stress and connect – as little as 15 min a night can have benefits.

The end of summer does not need to mean the end of healthy habits for the year. A little bit of planning will ensure you can have a healthier and lower stress return to the school year.