red-headed girl in the classroom

Photo: Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta/Shutterstock

As summer winds down and you look back on all those ice creams at the beach and grilling out with friends, you may well be turning your attention to your kids' return to school. Alongside all the shopping for supplies and meeting new teachers, it's important to remember that healthy lifestyle choices are a critical part of setting kids up for success.

Here are five ways that you can ensure a healthy, productive and enjoyable return to school.

1. Always eat breakfast

Your mother wasn't kidding when she said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. From the role that breakfast plays in maintaining a healthy weight to studies showing that kids who eat breakfast perform better at school (and enjoy more success in life!), there's plenty of reason to focus on a healthy breakfast as a way to kick-start your kids' day. But that doesn't mean you have to go making fancy meals from scratch. Healthy, whole grain breakfast cereals; slow cooker breakfasts; and grab-and-go healthy homemade breakfast bars are all great ways to work breakfast into your busy schedule. For more ideas, check out 10 healthy breakfast ideas for children.

2. Pack a (good) lunch

Just because your children aren't going to be with you all day doesn't mean you can't influence their eating habits. While some schools may be banning bagged lunches because of poor choices at home, I personally want to have a say in what my kids eat. Packing a healthy, diverse lunch for your kids will make sure that they get the nutrition they need while they are away from home. You don't have to restrict yourself to boring old sandwiches every day either - here are a few options for mixing it up: whole grain tortilla wraps with veggies and hummus; pasta salad with spinach, peas and cheese; turkey rolls and fresh veggies with a ranch dip; fruit salad and a slice of quiche. The options are limitless, but be sure to include plenty of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and a protein with every meal. (And pack a few extra ice packs to keep meals safe.)

3. Walk or bike to school

This isn't, of course, possible for everyone, but biking or walking to school can be a great way to bond with your children and to get them some daily exercise. If you live in an area where biking or walking to school is safe, consider coordinating with other parents to create a "walking bus" — the increased visibility of walking as a group will promote safety, and it's also a great way of letting the school know that there is interest in pedestrian- and bike-friendly transportation options.

4. Start a school garden

School gardens have been spreading like wildfire of late, and are being promoted by everyone from Rachael Ray to Michelle Obama. Not only do these gardens allow kids to connect with where their food comes from, but they are also an opportunity to get outside, enjoy some exercise and work on important developmental skills like cooperation, problem solving and learning to nurture and care for other living things. If tending to some radishes sounds too tame, it's worth noting that some schools are even installing beehives in their school yards (and witnessing improved behavior from troubled kids as a result!).

5. Campaign for a healthy food policy in school

If you are taking the time to read this post, you are most like committed to and interested in your kids' diet. And parental engagement is probably the single most important factor in ensuring a healthy start in life. However, it takes a village to raise a child. So it's important to push for healthy food policies at the school level too. From promoting salad bars and fresh vegetables in the cafeteria, through providing guidelines on a balanced packed lunch, to restricting or banning access to soda and other high-sugar or processed foods in schools, there are plenty of ways that schools can tip the scales in favor of healthier eating.

Yes, some will curse the "nanny state," but what our kids do and do not eat plays a central role in how they perform at school. Our schools don't allow kids to smoke, drink alcohol or carry guns. Why would we let them eat unhealthy, disruptive foods?

Jenni Grover is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Realistic Nutrition Partners in Durham, N.C. She specializes in child, maternal and prenatal nutrition, with a focus on whole foods.
5 healthy habits for kids heading back to school
Since summer is winding down, here are several ways to make sure your kids' return to the school routine includes healthy habits.