> Lisa Hark, PhD, RD, Director of the Nutrition Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, offers the ABC’s of back-to-school nutrition for parents and children.
> ACTIVITY is essential to staying healthy.
> BALANCE your meals throughout the day.
> COOK and shop with your children.

(PHILADELPHIA) – As a lazy summer filled with cookouts and ice cream cones draws to a close, it’s a great time to focus on incorporating a healthy lifestyle into the back-to-school routine. 

“Learning to enjoy nutritious foods and be physically active in fun ways are life lessons that parents can teach their children to help them develop healthy habits they will carry through their school years and on into adulthood,” says Lisa Hark, PhD, RD, Director of the Nutrition Education Program at the School of Medicine.

Dr. Hark, who also hosted TLC’s show “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids,” offers the following ABC’s of back-to-school nutrition for parents and children:

ACTIVITY is essential to staying healthy

  • Limit TV and video game time to less than 2 hours a day. Studies show that the more children are exposed to TV ads for junk food and sweetened drinks, the more likely they are to consume large amounts of unhealthy food.
  • Work in at least one hour of activity every day.  Children spend most of the school day sitting, so get them outside for some play time after school.  To get moving, choose activities like baseball, frisbee, jump rope, dancing, hula-hoop, and tag.
  • Use weekends for active family bonding outings.  Hiking, biking, walking, and sports all count, so get out, get moving, and have some fun!

BALANCE your meals throughout the day

  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Some healthy choices to start the day off on the right foot are low-sugar cereal with 1% low-fat milk and fruit, or  whole grain waffles with low-sugar syrup and a small glass of orange juice, or  one slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and jelly and a glass of 1% low-fat milk.
  • Don’t rely on school lunch options.  Pack a healthy lunch at least 3 times a week.  Healthy choices include whole wheat bread or a small whole grain wrap with turkey, ham or tuna salad, low-fat yogurt, fruit, and a water bottle.
  • After school is a great time to get children to eat their vegetables because they are so hungry.  Try baby carrots, cut up cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, or celery with low-fat ranch or French dressing. You will be surprised at what they eat!
  • Everyone is busy at the end of the day, but it is important to plan ahead and prepare a healthy dinner at least 3 times a week. Include fresh vegetables and salads, lean meats such as poultry or seafood, and whole grains such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta.  Skip the soda and juice and serve either water or 1% low-fat milk every night.  A healthy meal and time with the family is a great way to end the day, teach children about socialization, and catch up on the day’s activities!

COOK and shop with your children

  • Create a healthy shopping list with your children at home before going to the market.  Before you leave, help children understand that, “If it’s not on the list, we’re not buying it.” Remember that it is okay to take control and say no to your children, especially when it comes to junk food and sweets. You are the boss.
  • Make shopping a fun and educational outing.  Use the produce section to teach young children about colors, shapes, and expand their vocabulary of fruits and vegetables. They will be more likely to try new fruits and vegetables when you get home.
  • Get children involved in safely preparing healthy foods such as vegetables for salads, scrambled eggs, turkey burgers, and smoothies.  Children will be excited to eat what they’ve made and proud to share with others, as well!

“Children and teenagers are experiencing medical complications, such as high blood sugar levels, diabetes, and high blood pressure at alarming rates due to sedentary lifestyles and consuming too many calories,” says Hark.  “By setting a good example, providing healthy foods in as many settings as possible, and being active with their children, parents can play a huge role in improving their children’s health now and in the future. Follow the ABC’s for a wonderful 2007-2008 school year.”


PENN Medicine is a $3.5 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #3 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals, all of which have received numerous national patient-care honors [Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center]; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $6.7 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2016 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2016, Penn Medicine provided $393 million to benefit our community.