For many kids, parents, and caregivers, the back-to-school season means a return to early morning wakeups, after school activities, and new eating routines. While it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed as you adjust, there are ways to help ease the transition.
What helps many of my clients adjust to the life changes that take place this time of year, is learning to anticipate and prepare for one of the biggest changes: back-to-school eating routines for their families and themselves. Don’t feel like you need to incorporate all of these suggestions at once; small changes can have a positive impact too. Start small and build on your success as you go.
Here are some of the back-to-school eating hacks to simplify your life:
- Before the beginning of each week and/or month, take stock of any upcoming events and schedule changes to see what you will need to plan around. Knowing ahead of time which activities or commitments you’ll need to work around can help tremendously as you think about meal prepping, cooking and eating. For example, this can help you get a sense of which days you may need to pack extra snacks or have a game plan for a night you’ll be out of the house at dinner time or have no time to cook. Many of my clients have found that sharing a digital calendar with family members can help with this too.
- Have a sharable doc (like a Google doc) where you keep a grocery list and meal planning notes. This document will come in super handy as you plan your week’s food and meal needs. You can have family members add to it as well so everyone is on the same page (no pun intended!)
- Ask your family members for input about favorite and least favorite meals. No one wants mealtime to be a struggle and no one wants to feel like the effort they put into cooking a healthy meal was a waste of time. Planning out favorite meals to ensure everyone will eat, will greatly simplify your life…and you might even see a happy plate from your little one!
- Keep a list of favorite healthy takeout orders to make decision-making easier in the moment. The reality of back-to-school busyness is that sometimes you don’t have time to cook. Having some family-favorite and healthy go-to takeout restaurants handy will be a lifesaver on the busiest of nights and make it easier to resist unhealthy impulse decisions you later feel bad about. .
- Outsource what you can. Today’s world is full of conveniences at a whole range of price points, and it’s okay to make use of them. Don’t have time to go grocery shopping? Lacking meal planning inspiration? Have groceries delivered or consider ordering a meal kit a few times a week or month when you know you’ll be especially busy.
- Don’t be afraid of shortcuts like cooking with frozen and/or pre-cut produce or serving a rotisserie chicken. There’s nothing wrong with stocking your freezer with frozen fruits and veggies, or buying a rotisserie chicken from the local store. Aside from still being healthy options (in fact, frozen produce retains just as much nutrient value as fresh—sometimes even more!—because it’s frozen at peak freshness), they save a lot of time.
- Think about your own needs. Sometimes we get so caught up in caring for others that we forget that we need to have stable energy too! Feed yourself balanced meals and snacks that provide a combination of protein, healthy fat, and fiber. Planning these out too can help—I keep a note on my phone with a loose meal plan for myself during the week to give me a little guidance during hectic weeks where my mind is focused on others.
- Buy healthy snacks in bulk and stash them in convenient places. When hunger strikes, you’ll want to be well-armed. Fiber-rich snacks like roasted chickpeas, freeze-dried beet or carrot chips are some of my favorites to stash in my purse.
- Make sure your gear is up to date. Right before the back-to-school season begins, take stock of whether any water bottles, lunch bags, reusable snack and lunch containers, ice packs, etc. need to be replaced. As you’re rushing out the door on the first day of school is not when you want to discover that your child’s water bottle is leaking or your own lunch bag no longer keeps cold food cold!
I hope these tips and tricks help your back-to-school experience be a smooth and happy one. Remember that times of transition can be stressful, so be kind to yourself and your loved ones. I like to use the phrase, “Give yourself some grace and some space” as you adjust to the new schedule and figure things out. Some days you’ll feel totally on top of things, and others you’ll feel like a disaster, and that’s totally normal! If you have a challenging day where things go off the rails, resist the urge to beat yourself and move on—you have a fresh start the next day.