I remember the year when my first born, Sienna, was going into Junior Kindergarten. The back-to-school stage of life was new to me. In the days leading up to her first day of school I was a mix (and a mess) of emotions…
…Excited (this was a new chapter for all of us)
…Sad (she was growing up too fast)
…Worried (I didn’t know if my former ‘picky eater’ would starve)
…Overwhelmed (the thought of packing lunches for the school year was just too much)
This year, my eldest is now in Grade 3 (holy moly), my middle is in Grade 1 and my youngest of the bunch is heading into Junior Kindergarten. And with a pandemic in the mix, those emotions are still present. On the first day of school, you can expect to find me as a sobbing mess.
So there were a few reasons things went WAY smoother than I expected for our first back-to-school experience back in 2018. I plan to use the same strategies this year and wanted to reshare them with you.These back-to-school strategies saved our sanity.
TIP #1: Wear sunglasses
Dropping my girls off at school (and knowing my youngest will be alone in a new place) is terrifying. The tears, oh the tears! So rain or shine, I will wear sunglasses walking the girls to school. I remember handing Sienna over to complete strangers felt so unnatural! And Naomi made it worse when she cried saying “Mommy, why are we leaving Sienna all alone? I want her to come home with us“.
Cue more tears!!
So my first tip for newbies like me is to WEAR SUNGLASSES on that first week of school. It’s not for the faint of heart!
Every parent seemed to be talking about lunch boxes on Facebook groups – they were stuck with what to put in their child’s lunch, how to keep it warm or cold, whether they would eat it, and more.
I hesitated telling you this out of fear that you’ll hate me. But I genuinely enjoy packing their school lunch boxes. The kitchen is my happy place, so being able to spend more time in it is always welcomed. I also loved the challenge of coming up with ideas. That said, in previous years I’ve only had 2 lunches to pack. Now with my littlest one out of daycare where they are fed, and into JK, I’m hoping my love for coming up with ideas for 3 lunch boxes is sustained.
But I can see why parents dread packing lunches.
Trying to be creative and find foods your kids will eat for 190 days of the year is draining! Especially the picky eaters.
So I have a few lunch packing sanity savers for you next…
TIP #2: Pack lunch post dinner
Trying to prep lunch and snacks during the morning rush is a recipe for disaster. So try this – When you are making dinner, double up the recipe. This way you have enough to go around for the following day. Then as you are putting away dinner, get out their lunch box, and transfer the leftovers there. Then I add in any extras like veggies, crackers, hummus, fresh fruit at that point. Or wait until the morning if I don’t want crackers to get soft.
So yes, I highly recommend doing the lunch prep (for you and the kids) while you’re putting dinner away. The dishes are already out so why not right?
Then that frees up at least 5 minutes in the morning, so you can make yourself a yummy energy-boosting smoothie!
TIP #3: Keep a list of their “green” foods
Is it just me, or is your brain cluttered with everything you have to remember.
- Doctor’s appointments.
- Swimming classes.
- Birthday parties.
- Class trips.
Let’s take one thing off your mind when it comes lunches.
Personally, I like to keep a running list of my girl’s go-to foods so I don’t have to rack my brain every night. I know what those foods are, but with all the other “noise” in my head and distractions, I usually only resort to a shorter list.
Unless I have my trusty list. That’s my world opens up and her lunch gets more interesting!
To avoid serving your child the same foods all week, take a few minutes to jot down ALL their “green” foods (these are the items they will eat at least 50% of the time). Every time they eat something new, add it to the list!
Be as detailed as you can. A cooked carrot is different from a raw one – both from a nutritional and sensory perspective (appearance/texture/taste).
So no need to overthink lunches everyday.
You can simply glance and grab.
I can boldly say that by having a list, you will stay out of the lunch and snack rut and offer more variety. This is key for nipping picky eating in the bud. And if your child has a limited list of foods, you’ll definitely want to check out the Curious Cookie Food Exploration Mat. It will help your child build excitement for foods they were never willing to try – without the nudging and negotiating.
TIP #4: Get a good lunch box
Here are a few things to look for:
- Leak-proof (pasta sauce sneaking onto their apple slices won’t go over well!)
- Sections that are big enough to hold larger items and small enough for dips
- Lightweight enough for your child to carry
- Strong enough to sustain a few drops
- Easy to open (lunches are short, so I didn’t want Sienna to waste her time fiddling with her lunch box)
- Easy to wash because you’ll be doing it daily! (dishwasher safe is key)
- Environmentally friendly – please please opt for containers over disposable plastic baggies and plastic wrap for the sake of our planet. If it’s not a lunch box, choose mini reusable containers.
We opted for the Bentgo Kids for all the reasons listed above, and it has been awesome. Once we’re done with it though, I’ll likely try one of these awesome lunch boxes as we try to move away from plastic.
What’s your favourite lunch box? Share below.
TIP #5: Get some lunch box inspiration
Just as we get bored eating the same ol’ things, our kids do to! Offering variety is important if we’re trying to expand our child’s repertoire of foods.
I took photos of the odd lunch box last year and thought I’d pass them along to help you get the ball rolling. You can see what I put in each section and how I ensure they were all balanced.
TIP #6: Balance those boxes!
Picking up a hangry kid after school isn’t enjoyable. There’s one way to remedy this. Those tantrums are either because they are tired or because they are hungry.
One way to keep them happy vs. hangry is by including balanced meal and snack options.
Every meal and snack should include these 4 things to keep blood sugars stable…so that they don’t experience spikes and falls in their glucose levels during the day. The afternoon snack is a great opportunity to include some healthy fats, fiber and protein to keep their battery charged until dinner time.
TIP #7: Go simple for breakfast
I find the mornings dictate my mood for the rest of the day.
The more frazzled I am in the morning, the more scattered and stressed I am at work. One way I take the edge off is by keeping things simple (and balanced) for breakfast.
Earmark 3 token recipes to rotate through each week. You can make extras and keep in the fridge (or freezer) for another day.
These are some of my go-to breakfast recipes. All are picky eater and family friendly!
TIP #7: Master mealtimes
Tip #6 is all about WHAT we offer for breakfast.
This tip is focused on the HOW.
If you’ve followed me for a little bit, you know I focus on both – as a Family Nutritionist and a Picky Eating Expert.
Because we all know how painful and irritating it is when our kids forgo breakfast. We don’t need to add the power struggle to the morning routine. It sucks sending them to school (or to bed hungry) with an empty tummy. Neither feels good as a parent.
The toughest part for us is knowing that we are doing and saying the right things to help our kids happily sit at the table, try new foods and ultimately develop a healthy relationship with food.
TIP #8: Stock up on ‘sanity snacks’
I’m love my homemade snacks, but life happens and I may not be able to make freshly baked spinach muffins every week. So I always have two ‘sanity snacks’ (emergency snacks) on hand that I can grab on those days when I can’t get my s#$% together.
These are packaged snacks that are the next best thing to homemade options. (I just wish there was less packaging!!)
Here are some of go-to packaged snacks we love:
- Seaweed snacks
- Roasted chickpeas
- Beet crackers / Mary’s Crackers
- And a much longer list here!
Hope this help you out as we enter back-to-school season. If you have any sanity savers for the rest of us, share below!