It’s that time of year again. Kids are back in school (or schooling from home), and they’re not the only ones with jitters. Parents around the country are trying to figure out how to navigate this unprecedented school year. With kids home more than ever, it can be tough to create a balanced schedule—especially in the kitchen. Thankfully, our own Nicole McLaughlin has some tried-and-true back-to-school meal prep hacks to help ease the transition:
1. Schedule Meals Before the Week Starts
Two words: Plan ahead! When you follow a (flexible) meal schedule, you don’t have to worry about scrambling for ideas at the last minute. Scheduling also saves you money in the long run, as it’ll limit impulse buying at the grocery store. You can create your own simple calendar like Nicole does, or you can purchase a cheap printable template online—this one from Etsy is super organized and it comes with a grocery list template (plus, it’s less than $4)!
2. Teach Kids How to Make a Balanced Lunch
Give a kid a lunchable and they’ll eat for a day. Teach your kid to make their own lunch and they’ll leave you alone while you’re trying to work. That’s how the saying goes, right?
When Nicole doesn’t have time to prepare a midday meal, she gives her kids loose guidelines for a healthy lunch: one protein, one carb, one fruit or veggie, and one “treat.”
3. Limit Snacks
We all know by now that quarantining makes 24/7 snacking seem extra appealing. It’s no wonder some kids, if given the choice, would eat a week’s worth of groceries in one day. Limit their snack intake (and hanging-around-the-kitchen time) by offering more loose guidelines: At snacktime, grab one fridge snack and one pantry snack. Usually the fridge snack is a little healthier, while the pantry snack is a little more processed—so it all evens out in the end.
Related: 10 Easy Recipes to Make With Your Kids
4. Turn Lights Out In the Kitchen
Here’s a simple one: Turn your kitchen lights out when the room is not in use. According to Nicole, this’ll remind your kids that the kitchen is closed outside of mealtime.
5. Schedule Kitchen Chores
Make kitchen chores part of your child’s daily school routine. It’ll teach them responsibility and take a bit of the cleaning stress off of you. It helps to have a physical chore chart to keep them accountable. You can make your own à la Nicole or you can take to Etsy again. This cute and simple-to-follow printable is great for all ages.
6. Use Slow Cooker For Lunch
WATCH: How to Make Slow Cooker Beef Fajitas
Your Crock-Pot isn’t just for dinner anymore! Throw your lunch in the slow cooker while you’re making breakfast, then set it and forget it. You’ll have a warm meal ready to go in just a few hours. Check out our collection of our favorite healthy slow cooker recipes for some tasty ideas.
7. Create a Lunch-Making Station
Throwing together a lunch-making station before mealtime serves you and your family in two ways: 1. It contains the mess to one area of the kitchen (you’ll thank us later, we promise) and 2. the kids will feel like they have a little control over their food—and who doesn’t love a little independence?
8. Leftovers For Lunch
Remember tip No. 1? When you’re making your dinner schedule, try to consider which recipes will lend themselves to leftovers the next day. If your kids don’t like leftovers, just switch it up a bit and tell them it’s something completely new (for instance, leftover pot roast can easily transform into a roast beef sandwich). What they don’t know won’t hurt them.
9. Bring Activity Time Into the Kitchen
Create lasting memories in the kitchen by letting your little one help you prepare meals, desserts, or fun snacks. Small children will love decorating our simple sugar cookies, while older kids might appreciate a bit more independence. Let them bake a dessert completely on their own using a boxed mix (here are our tips to make boxed cake mix taste homemade).
10. Get Takeout Once a Week
Because we all deserve a break. Also, it’s important to support your local businesses!