Making Food Fun · Mom Life · Real Talk

Countdown to Back to School: My Tips To Get Ready and Be Prepared

Summer 2023 has flown by, and we are knocking on the doorstep of the next school year yet again. This isn’t a post to convince you of all the fancy new things you need to buy, because truth be told, none of it really matters. This is meant to show you all the ways that you can prepare you, your child, and your child’s teacher for success this year and beyond. Please note the following suggestions come from my experience as a parent of neurotypical children, and may not be realistic or applicable to neurodivergent children with more complex needs. Consider this a starting off point to build on.

Get Started Now:

  • Find out how long their lunch break is and begin setting a timer at home so your child learns to eat within the confines of their meal time. School is distracting and fun and new and cool, and kids who aren’t accustomed to short meal times WILL forget to eat or tell you “they didn’t have enough time”. Start now. The first few months of school, my daughter came home absolutely ravenous! I asked her why she didn’t touch the food I packed her, and she said she was busy. Turns out, she had been accustomed to lengthy hour long meals at home and at school, she had a mere 20 minutes to eat (but also socialize and mess around and go to the bathroom, etc). Get those kiddos used to eating a little quicker.
  • For lunch time, I love bento boxes (for the whole family!). I value being able to ditch single-use plastics, working to decrease our carbon footprint, and eliminating waste as much as we can. These boxes are NOT a necessity, just a sustainable avenue to reduce waste. They range in price from very budget-friendly to quite pricey, but there is certainly something for every budget. Whatever you decide to pack lunches in this year, you and your children can practice taking bento boxes out of lunch kits, opening them, closing them properly, replacing into lunch kits and backpacks. There won’t be a huge mess if they learn to do this properly. Teachers have so many little folks to keep watch on, they certainly don’t have time to be opening 25 lunch boxes while trying to eat their own lunches.  Which option is “best”? You’ll love this blog post on that exact question.
  • If you’re sending your child with packaged food, teach them to open it independently (or put into reusable container). Yogurt tubes, fruit cups, fruit leathers – these are the bane of a teacher’s existence. I’ve volunteered in my children’s classrooms and let me tell you there is nothing grosser and stickier than exploded fruit cups on desks and floors. 
  • Practice zipping jackets, putting shoes/boots on, and getting fully ready to go to/from school independently. Can your child’s teacher help? Of course! But doing it for 30 children will suck for everyone so the more kids who can do it themselves, the better. If your child can’t tie shoes yet, opt for velcro closures or slip on styles (I do love these ones from Jan and Jul). 

  • Begin making cold lunches for your kids. It is next to impossible to ensure food safety for hot food in a thermos (more on that here) so reserve that for weekends and get them used to chilled lunches. Hundreds of ideas on my Instagram feed! My favourite hack I’ve seen is from a follower of mine, a grandmother of 3 who cares for her grandkids during the week. She printed out the bento box photos on my feed, and put them in an album – then let her babies pick from the “menu” for lunches that week!
  • This is the true crime aficionado in me but teach kids your primary phone number (home or cell phone), *HOW* to dial the number in an emergency, and their parent/guardians first names. You never know if they may need it. It’s crummy to think about a situation in which they need to use the information, but it’s even crummier to be in a situation where they need that knowledge and don’t have it. My oldest daughter’s kindergarten teacher had a whole month-long lesson on safety and they learnt their addresses, primary phone numbers, and full names of all parents/caregivers. It was so impressive and relieving.
  • Plan out a chore routine (if necessary) and rough daily schedule. Summer is a time of staying up late, sleeping in, eating whenever, and chasing that last bit of summer sun. That isn’t conducive to a successful school day. If your children have planned extracurriculars, chores, obligations, or commitments – consider prepping a visual calendar or chart for them to look at and consult. Include bath time, screen time, paper routes, etc. This will assist with time management for the whole family, and there won’t be any surprises for kiddos who insist you never told them. 
  • Lay the groundwork for healthy sleep habits. Set bedtime expectations now, whether that’s a set time for the whole week, later options for weekends, etc. If they’ve had a summer of late nights, beginning to introduce quieter evenings and slowly decreasing bedtime will help when they need to wake up early for school. Much like what we experience with time change in the Spring and Fall, a little pre-planning goes a long way. This might mean an alarm clock for extra stubborn kiddos!
  • Bathroom independence is a must. Teaching your child to ask to use the bathroom, close the bathroom door, and independently use the toilet (including wiping their bum and washing their hands properly) is one of the most important parts of school readiness!

Get Started Soon:

  • Take inventory of your children’s *needs*. Are school supplies provided by the school, or will you need to purchase your own? Do they need indoor shoes? New winter boots? Have they grown three sizes this summer and need new pants? Make a list and check it twice. The past few years have taught us about instability in supply chains and major issues with inventory – shopping a bit early will help you in the long run.
  • Speaking of new school gear, check your local buy/swap sites for folks selling pre-loved items your kids may need. Once Upon A Child is a great children’s consignment store with locations all over North America and budget-friendly pricing. Value Village, Walmart, Superstore, Varagesale – all great options to give garments a new home and reuse what already exists. Need new stuff? Summer is the best time to buy clearance winter gear! Depending on your climate, you may need a few different options for rain/snow/wind gear. Here in Calgary, my kids will need snow boots rated to -40°C/F (spoiler alert: there aren’t infinite options), and I know folks in Vancouver need heavy duty rain gear. Get that planned out soon! For heavier winter gear, I always search the sale section at Columbia Sportswear.
  • Labels. Yes, labels. If you have any chance of a rogue 6 year old bringing *anything* home with them at the end of the day, it needs a label. Every jacket, every pair of snow pants, every umbrella and lunchbox and water bottle and pencil and marker and shoe needs a label. I love Mabels Labels (dishwasher safe and washing machine safe) for my own kiddos because they’re Canadian and soooo easy, but you can easily find some inexpensive options at your local dollar store.

Lunch Making:

  • Have you ever felt like you’ve run out of children’s lunch ideas by the 3rd week of school and you have 9 more months to go? You’re not alone. My best tip for this is to get accustomed to “ingredient prepping”. What does that mean? Unlike meal prepping, where you cook a large batch of one meal at a time and dish out the week’s worth, ingredient prep has you investing time into cooking/cutting ingredients in advance to make lunch making faster (and leads to less waste).
  • Some ideas for ingredient prepping:
    • Hardboil some eggs (stove, instant pot, or air fryer) . Store in an airtight container (shells on) in the fridge for up to 5 days
    • Cook some bacon (kids will eat it cold and it makes BLT’s fast and easy!)
    • Mix up some tuna salad
    • Bake a loaf of banana bread or pumpkin bread
    • Bake some homemade cookies for a lunchbox treat
    • Wash strawberries, grapes, apples, etc
    • Chop carrots in advance and keep in a closed container with water in the fridge. They’ll stay crispy all week!
    • Grocery shop and/or make a lunch packing plan for the week (ie. Monday sandwiches, Tuesday wraps, etc)
    • Pre-cut your deli meat/cheese/pickles. Stored in separate containers (or a divided one) these will last the week and make assembly a breeze.
  • Most important part of the lunchbox (in my opinion) is an ice-pack. Keeping the meal cold ensures food safety is maintained throughout the school day. We use these lunch bags with ice packs included, but we also have these (USA link here) and love them as well.

How I *try to* make all my daughters’ meals: all the colour, all the texture, and all the food groups.

“Ewwww I hate [random food} – I don’t want to eat this!” – sounds familiar?

How I handle these comments:

  • “Wow look at all the colours in this bento box. Do you think the whole rainbow is here? Let’s sing the rainbow song.”
  • “I know you normally like beef, did you know this beef came from Amy and Kevin’s ranch?”
  • “Do you know cashews are full of protein? Do you think they are soft or crunchy?”
  • “Look at these veggies, which one will make more noise when you chew it, carrots or peppers or cucumbers?”
  • “Would you like to try a bit of egg? It has a lot of protein too.”
  • “These cucumbers look like flowers, what is your favourite flower?”
  • “Do you think a piece of beef will fit on your cucumber slice? No way. Bet you can’t fit that piece in your mouth…”

By making meals fun, engaging, interactive, and pressure-free while eating along side the girls, we allow them to experience new foods at their own comfort levels. No forcing them to eat anything, just engaging them in ways that appeal to their developmental level. Exposure is SO important – the more they see something, the less scary it is. My tip? Make sure to include a “yes food” (something they love) with every lunch you pack. Better yet? Ask them to help you pack it!

At the end of the day, It really doesn’t matter what bento box you choose or the backpack you decided on or if your budget allows for none of that. None of us had them in the 80’s and we’re fine. But setting them up for success is something we can do at any stage and any budget and will go farther for their independence than anything we buy them. Maybe your kids go back to school this week, or maybe they don’t. Maybe you’ll be home schooling or home learning, maybe you’ll be navigating another uncertain year in-person. Maybe you’re feeling excited or scared or nervous or frustrated or happy or hopeful or anxious. Maybe you’re overwhelmed at the sheer number of ways the internet has warned you that you can irreparably traumatize your kids.

Let me tell you….

Bento box or brown paper bag.
Brand new shoes or dusty hand-me-downs.
Processed snacks or plant based & homemade.
Big box discount store or small maker shopping.
Trendy and fun or plain and functional.
Big budget or government assistance.

None of that matters.

Here’s what matters —> Loving your kids. Let them see you’re their safe space. Ask about how their day went, but also if they felt supported, excited, alive. Kiss them goodnight and read that extra book they beg for. Stressing about lunchbox packing? “Fed is best” doesn’t stop being applicable when your baby transforms into a toddler. Be kind and teach your kids to be kind. The cost of this? *nothing*.

You’re doing a great job.

xoxo Rachel

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