Dietitian Susie Pearson Offers Ideas, Recipes for Back to School Meals

Susie Pearson, a graduate of Auburn University in food and nutrition, is sharing ideas for serving flavorful, nutritious meals for your family. Sitting down to dine together at the table has been linked to children having better school performance, better behavior and being healthier. Photo by ANN CIPPERLY

By Ann Cipperly

Now that school has started back, it is a hectic time for mothers getting children to school on time and doing homework, as well as challenging to prepare tasty, nourishing meals. Dietitian Susie Pearson is offering ideas for meal planning and nutritious recipes that children will enjoy.

Susie knew at an early age that she wanted to attend Auburn University like her mother and grandfather. When Susie was growing up in Centerville, Ohio, she heard stories from her family about the Auburn-Opelika area being a wonderful place.

Later, when her parents moved to Mobile, Susie attended Auburn University to become a dietitian. While at Auburn, she met her husband David. They both graduated in 1973.

While Susie was working on her internship in nutrition and foods, the couple moved to Columbus, Georgia, where David, who graduated in building science, began his career. They moved to South Carolina and then to Montgomery where David worked with Blount International.

David formed his own firm, Pearson Management Group, Inc., while Susie worked at the Baptist Diabetes Center in Montgomery. While at the center, Susie presented programs on weight loss and worked with media on presenting ideas for healthy eating and a diabetic diet. During the holidays, she was on television to present ways to reduce calories while enjoying good food.

The Pearsons have two children, Jon David, and Jenny, and five grandchildren. In early 2019, the Pearsons bought a home in the Auburn N. College Historic District that was built in 1922. After spending two years designing and renovating, the Pearsons moved into the home in December 2020. David is moving the family business to Auburn and turning management over to his son, Jon David, who also graduated from Auburn in building science.

Susie has maintained her interest in helping families teach children the importance of healthy eating, an interest that she is passing on to her five grandchildren.

Susie strongly believes that families should make family mealtime a priority.

“I think mealtime is important for children to sit down and talk about their day and have tasty, healthy food in front of them,” she said. “Dining together at the table has been linked to better school performance, better behavior and being healthier.”

Susie suggests removing distractions by having the television off and not allowing cell phones and iPads at the table during a meal. Children find plenty of time for cell phones and iPads at other times during the day.

Susie also suggests making menus a week ahead. If the menus are prepared for the week, moms know what they need to get at the grocery store in order to have all the ingredients. Crockpot meals are great for busy days when the family has after school activities. The meal is ready and waiting when they get home and will cut down on picking up fast food.

 “Stress is reduced when the mother knows ahead what the kids will be eating,” Susie said. “There are now many healthy easy-to-assemble food options at the grocery store. Most pre-assembled meals include a meat, starch and vegetable. Pick up a fresh fruit for dessert.”

When grocery shopping, Susie said to remember that the perimeter of the grocery store is where the nutritious foods are located. If you stay on the perimeter, you will go through the fruits and vegetables, meats, milk and bread. If you stay there, you can eat healthy. High calorie, low nutritious foods lurk in the mid-isles.

When shopping, avoid sugary fruit juices. Instead, select whole oranges and apples that provide fruit juices plus nutrients and fiber. Enjoy highly processed foods such as cookies, candies and ice cream in limited quantities. Purchase whole wheat breads and pastas.

Susie suggests instead of purchasing sweet cereals, select a whole grain cereal with no added sugar, such as basic Cheerios. Add bananas, blueberries or another fresh whole fruit for sweetness.

Susie serves Egg and Cheese Muffins with Vegetables to her grandchildren for breakfast, and they enjoy them. The muffins cook quickly and can be reheated.

“If a child tells you they don’t like a food don’t assume that they will never like it,” she said. “You should serve the food at least 15 times before the young child can really form an opinion about that food.

“When I was growing up, my mom told me and my sister to eat what she cooked or not eat at all. That was a tough message for me to accept, but looking back on it, it made a lot of sense. It helped me learn to eat a wide variety of foods.

“If you cave in to your children’s demands and serve them only what they like to eat, you are making them picky eaters. Instead of labeling your child as a picky eater, say that your child is learning to like new things. Don’t give them the label picky eater. Teach your children to try healthier foods so they learn to eat healthy.”

Find interesting ways to serve fruits and vegetables. She suggests giving vegetables interesting names, such as carrots being x-ray vision coins that help children see at night. Beta carotene in carrots does in fact help children’s night vision.

To enhance the flavor of low-fat Greek yogurt, add a teaspoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of cinnamon, both of which add flavor without adding sugar. Consider serving yogurt as a dip with fresh fruit.

When dining out, add more nutrition to children’s meals by ordering a side of vegetables or fruit instead of fries. If there are two children, get one order of vegetables and one order of fries and let them share. Another idea is to order an adult meal for your child and have the kitchen cut it in half. Have the other half placed in a to-go box to take home for another meal.

Calcium is extremely important to children.

“Think about calcium as a regular necessity,” she said. “For girls, 90 precent of bone mass is reached at age 18 years old and twenty for boys. If children are not regularly fed enough calcium, they may not develop a sufficient bone mass. Good sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, almonds and green leafy vegetables.”

Look for ways to add more calcium to their diet by using milk in puddings or milk instead of water for cooking oatmeal.

Susie feels it is better if you have a healthy snack prepared for a child when they come home from school. If you tell children to pick something from the pantry, they are not going to make a healthy choice. Serve a sliced banana with peanut butter. Make peanut butter sandwiches and cut with cookie cutters for fun shapes.

“Children below the age of two should not be fed processed sugars (cookies, cakes, candy),” Susie said. “For children aged two and above, processed sugars should be no more than ten percent of their total calories. Occasionally, artificial sweeteners can replace processed sugars. While some are concerned about potential health hazards associated with artificial sweeteners, reliable studies show that artificial sweeteners can be used in moderation.”

Susie loves children. For many years she has been involved in church and school sponsored volunteer work with disadvantaged children. Since moving to Auburn, Susie volunteers with the Our House after school program.

Following are Susie’s recipes for adding delicious, nutritious dishes and snacks to your menus for the coming week.


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