Back-to-school season is officially underway. But while we're busy outfitting our kids with essential school supplies like books and pencils, we sometimes forget about another must this season: saving for our children's college education.

Laying the foundation
College costs for today's newborn will run nearly a quarter-million dollars. Higher-education costs have historically increased at least 5% annually and show no sign of slowing. But don't let the escalating cost of college discourage you. Instead, outpace those costs by investing in growth-oriented stocks. Then let the power of compounding growth work for you.

Here are three companies that can help you build a solid foundation for your child's future.

Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM)

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Whole Foods store interior. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

John Mackey, Whole Foods' co-founder and co-CEO, identified the organic-food movement more than three decades ago. Since that time, the nation's first coast-to-coast certified organic grocer has grown to a $20 billion retailer with a presence in three countries. Organic-food sales growth is outpacing the rate for all food sales, and that trend is expected to continue.

While Whole Foods is continually recognized for doing good deeds for its employees (it's been named one of Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in America every year since the list's 1998 inception), the retailer has also done right by its shareholders. It has grown same-stores sales and boasts a cornucopia of domestic and international expansion opportunities.

PetSmart (NASDAQ:PETM)

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Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Pet ownership is growing by leaps and bounds, with industry sales currently near $60 billion and expected to top $74 billion by 2015. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. households own a pet. We have huge emotional connections to our pets, and we're treating (and spending on) them them like members of our families.

Besides boasting strong industry growth, PetSmart has grown its net sales an average of 9% annually during the past five years. Same-store sales were up 6.3% in 2012. The pet-centric retailer's focus is on differentiating itself through its services, which include grooming, training, and boarding. As North America's largest provider of pet services, PetSmart's services sales have increased more than 60% in the past five years. And with stores only in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, the retailer hasn't even come close to marking its territory internationally.

Disney (NYSE:DIS)

Dis

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Mickey's massive empire, which includes a monolithic brand, theme parks, movies, and television, yields a diversified stream of revenues. The company's successful Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar acquisitions are generating franchises and assets that will likely create shareholder value for many years to come. Disney's oft overlooked cable networks account for almost half the company's revenue and two-thirds of operating profit. Disney's return on investment and return on assets both dwarf the industry average.

Invest for the long haul
In the blink-of-an-eye 18-year period during which your newborn could have grown to a college dorm dweller, Whole Foods, PetSmart, and Disney have returned a wildly impressive 4,013%, 456%, and 295%, respectively, to shareholders. Of course, these stocks may not grow at the same rate in the coming 18 years, but even if they perform half so well as they did, that would put your kid's savings at the head of the class.

Fool contributor Nicole Seghetti has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleSegehtti. The Motley Fool recommends PetSmart, Walt Disney, and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.