Monday, August 19, 2013

Real life back-to-school hacks. Let's share our favorites.

My little ones start school this week and as always, the anticipation of all things new is usually worse than the reality. 

Why is the unknown so scary?

Also, because I describe unknowns as "scary" instead of "exciting," does that mean I might have control issues? 

Don't answer that. 

Whether the challenges and unknowns of a new school year bring you excitement or dismay, it might be fun and helpful to pool our collective wisdom. 

Perhaps you're a mom who works outside the home or a stay-at-hom mom with kids of all ages in school. Maybe you homeschool. 

I've actually done all of the above at one time or another and I can tell you, we all need some simple solutions to manage our days with less clutter, chaos, and cluelessness. 

This isn't really a life hacks kind of blog. I don't teach about organization or time management or meal-planning. But it is a real life blog. A place where we can all pull up a seat for some honest talk about a little bit of everything. 

So can I be honest? I am great about starting new procedures and systems but bad about maintaining them. 

I've been cooking dinner for 18 years but on any given week, I can look at my calendar to plan my meals and feel like I have never cooked in my life. What on earth have I been doing for dinner all of these years? I don't even know. 

Mornings? Don't get me started. We have all walked out the door on one morning or another feeling hurried, unloved, and stressed. And all because someone is missing a shoe or their oatmeal tastes weird. 

I'm not interested in finding great organizational solutions so that I can feel good about my home management skills. I'm interested in finding real-life solutions because I love the husband and three kiddos who are in my care. 

Doable systems and a bit of planning actually help our relationships with one another because they take the guesswork out of the hurried and vulnerable moments of our days. 

Different things work for different people but if we all just find one recipe, app, or idea that helps our days and our relationships, that's worth it, right? 

So in the name of not yelling at our children at 7 am or rushing through a drive-thru after soccer practice, let's share what we've got. 

Here's what I have in mind:

  • Simple, healthy-ish solutions for dinner. What's your favorite, go-to, I've-made-it-a-thousand-times meal?
  • Ways to eat together as a family in the midst of evening practices?
  • Easy, healthy-ish, grab-and-go breakfast ideas. Yes, ideally the kids eat around the table before school but on those I-can't-find-my-sneaker mornings, what are some grab-and-go solutions?
  • Anything that makes mornings easier? Anything.
  • Lunchbox ideas?
  • Products that have revolutionized home and school management for you or your kids?
  • Ways to come together as a family regularly even though the ages, stages, and demands of each kid may be different?

Get the idea? These are real-life solutions I'm talking about. 

If you color code everything and have your meals cooked and labeled in your deep-freezer from now through December, may not want to participate. You will overwhelm us normal types with your preparedness and Martha Stewart ways. 

I'll share a few of my own later in the week but for now, I just wanted to get the ball rolling and invite you all to jump in. You can share your favorite ideas, links, recipes, etc. in the comments section. If there's a good response, I can do a round-up next week sometime. 

So please, help a sister out and let's share the organizational love. What are your best back-to-school hacks?


  1. I don't have much advice, but here is my favorite make ahead breakfast: baked oatmeal. It can be made the night before and heated for 30 seconds in the microwave in the morning. Throw it in a disposable cup and eat it on the way to school.

    1 stick butter, soft
    1 c. sugar (you could cut down on this if you want)
    1/2 c. applesauce
    1/2 c. plain yogurt (you could also use vanilla or any other flavor, honestly)
    2 t. baking powder
    1 t. salt
    2 eggs

    blend together above ingredients until mixed

    add: 4 c. regular oatmeal (I always have old-fashioned oats, but the quick cooking works too)
    1.5 c. milk

    put into baking dish (can be 9X13, or 8X8) and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

    This recipe can be adapted to add any fruit you want. It's delicious topped with sliced pears or apples. Frozen blueberries are yummy mixed in. Really, anything you want to do.

  2. Hmmm, we get our brand of wild around here pretty regularly. So, my favorite easy thing right now is eggs. At breakfast, I cook one in a cereal bowl (mixed with a bit of milk) in the microwave for about a minute. My littlest likes it cut into bites, and I layer it on toast. ("Scramble" it a little 2/3 of the way thru, and it's sort of scrambled egg.) If I have time, I'll add cheese and/or ham. I can eat it while driving if I must. And DINNER!! Easy way out is scrambled eggs, biscuits and fresh fruit. I'll mix up the dry ingredients early OR just bake frozen biscuits. So, yeah. Eggs. I will confess here and now that I don't even buy the good-for-you ones right now. Aldi charges $.70/dozen.

  3. I've made nachos/tacos/burrito bowls a thousand times (my kids will attest to that). It's super easy to cook ground turkey, add a can of beans, taco seasoning and a can of tomatoes, and scoop it on chips or rice with toppings like cheese, lettuce, avocado. I often buy 5 lbs of ground turkey at sams, cook it all, and freeze. That's at least 3 dinners for us.

    We've really struggled to find a way to protect dinnertime despite the activities of three school-age kids plus the needs of a toddler. Sometimes the kids and I eat dinner super early, like 4:30/5:00 before practices, then we all sit down as a family for a bowl of cereal as a snack later in the evening. Sometimes the drive-thru at Chick fil A is truly our best option, so we have a little picnic while the high-schooler practices soccer. And sometimes the weekend is when we have meals together, especially a big, yummy breakfast on Saturday morning at our favorite place.

    Mornings weren't too bad last year because the kids schedules didn't overlap, but this year they'll all be getting ready for school at the same time and I'll drive them together. Honestly, I have no idea how we'll do it. I designated our 1/2 half to the high-schooler so she can have some privacy to get ready, and I'm going to enforce picking out outfits and starting lunches the night before. No matter what, it's going to be crazy. I hope there are some great suggestions here, because I need them!

  4. My cordless vac and steam mop are my partners in crime to keep my house from getting ruled by ants and roaches. :)
    Here are my go to recipes:
    We do a lot of cereal for breakfast which is fast. We do have those bowls that have the straw built in so I don't have to bother with a separate drink. :) The kids love it and they were a buck at Walmart.

  5. Egg muffin cups! Our new favorite!
    One piece of bacon around the outside of the muffin tin (no pre-cooking necessary). Beat one egg, some milk and cheese per muffin tin. Pour into bacon lined muffin tins. I think it is 350 for 30 mins (I pinned the recipe so I can find out more def. info). They freeze and reheat great!
    Breakfast casserole is easy too.
    12 eggs, 6 oz cheese, 1 lb sausage, 12 tbsp water, 1/3 cup milk. Cook sausage and put in bottom of baking dish. Cover with cheese. Beat eggs, milk, water and add to baking dish. 350 for 30 min. Keep in frig all week - reheats great! (My kids get kinda grumpy without some protein - but I get kinda grumpy when I am expected to cook it every morning. haha)
    I just started spreading out my grocery shopping and I'm almost 2 weeks into my 3-4 week cycle. I have menus planned for 3 weeks and bought a few extras for easy meals (spaghetti, pork loin, etc). At the beginning of the week, I defrost everything for the week. It's been going well so far, taken the guessing away from the menu/meal planning, and it has cut down on our family waste.


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