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Each back-to-school season, I try to add a few healthy habits to my family’s routine. Some are more popular than others; some failed because they just weren’t practical for our lifestyle, but a few “stuck” to become positive habits.

Following are some of those tips to help make the healthier choice easier. The theme is “Prep ahead,” and the tips include a few examples of how you might try new ideas to improve your health, save time and reduce stress.

Cut up veggies and fruits for snacks that will last a couple of days. I have my kids help by making a veggie tray for dinner — a surefire way to start them nibbling at their “creation” and eat extra veggies. Involving kiddos with age-appropriate tasks, like choosing the veggies, washing, cutting or arranging them increases their buy-in to try new foods.

Prep and bake more than one meal at once. Last weekend I roasted a chicken and red-skinned potatoes. Because the oven was already on, I put in a few sweet potatoes to bake. This week we had the sweet potatoes reheated with cinnamon and a little bit of butter for a quick, healthy breakfast. Prepping main or side dishes ahead saves a lot of time on weeknights when we’re all going in multiple directions and the urge to grab an unhealthier choice is so tempting.

Prep breakfast the night before. One of my favorite breakfasts this summer has been cold oatmeal. Simple and super healthy, it’s a great on-the-go breakfast. A versatile recipe that accommodates most tastes, it can be made in individual servings with a few recycled jars with lids. Per serving (so in each jar) mix one-third cup of oats and one-half to three-quarters cup of milk (almond milk is wonderful). You can add chopped or pureed fruit, nuts, yogurt or granola (add the granola and nuts in the morning to maintain crunch), shake it up and refrigerate overnight or for at least five hours. My favorite version has peaches, granola and slivered almonds. Mashed banana and cinnamon are also excellent. Experiment to see what you and your family enjoy, add more or less milk according to your preference in texture.

Keep fruit- or veggie-infused water on hand in the refrigerator. This success surprised me. After making this a few times, my eldest child now makes her own cucumber or fruit water to take in her water bottle to school. Major win! Sodas, juices, fruit “drinks,” and “teas” are one of the biggest sources of added sugars, and regularly consuming these can decrease the likelihood of drinking water and milk, the best sources of hydration and calcium in the case of milks.

As with all new habits, you win some, you lose some. The important thing with trying healthier behaviors is to persist, learn more about what works and build on your repertoire over time. Best of luck in the new school year!

Terri Ward is FoodWIse administrator for Kenosha County UW-Extension.

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