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8 Tips for Parents to Conquer Back to School

09/10/2015 12:25 EDT | Updated 09/10/2016 05:12 EDT
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Children leaving for school

Look no further than your local grocery store and all the signs (literally) point to "Back To School". The teardrop in a parent's eye, knowing the warm weather is about to end, is suddenly replaced with another emotion...Panic!!

"I need school supplies... lists... lunch materials...I need to purge kid's clothing...out with shorts and in with pants or leggings!"

While this time of year can be overwhelming, North America's favourite family dinner expert and International best selling author, Sandi Richard, has expert tips on how she managed back to school with her seven (yup, that's correct) kids! Her advice to parents is simple. You are in the driver's seat and if you commandeer a few little tricks -- you've got this!

1. Get organized!

If you want to be more organized allow your kids to do the same by giving them a task or two they can own. This not only frees up a parent's time for other things, but also, and more importantly, opens up the opportunity for positive reinforcement within the family. "High five," "Great job," -- words of affirmation mean kids thrive! When kids thrive, the house is calmer, when the house is calmer even the hardest tasks seem much easier to handle. Do you see where I'm going with all this?

2. Turn school supply chore day into a day you all look forward to!

I would throw on a great movie, make popcorn and all of us would sit on the floor, remove packaging, sharpen pencils -- you name it -- and then separate the items into their marked storage container. I always bought extra and kept them in the school supply box! Which leads me to the next tip...

3. Purchase extra school supplies!

If your child's list says two pencils buy 10, if it says 1 pack of lined paper, buy five. Here's why. Stores are able to purchase large quantities of supplies and therefore pass the savings on to you. What you will pay for 5 packs of paper now may be the price of one or two packs later! When your child runs out you have created your own "school supply shop" at home. Ahhhh everything feels so organized! Ziploc bags and containers have always been top of my list. For me, they were as essential as the supplies themselves as they keep me and my kids organized! You'll see why below!

4. Do it once -- Use it twice!

Surviving the back-to-school season, when it comes to making dinner, can be as easy as training your brain to think a little differently. When a recipe requires me to finely chop one onion, I always chop two. By training my brain that it only takes an extra minute (because all my equipment is already out) this not only saves me cutting the onion next time, but the clean up too! This works beautifully for peppers, mushrooms and celery as well. When I make spaghetti and meat sauce, I always make extra of both the noodles and the sauce. I layer each in a large Ziploc container and into the freezer it goes. When I'm in a rush, I simply pop it out like a big ice cube into a baking pan, top with cheese and I have no-fuss baked spaghetti! Can't get easier than that!

5. Spicing it up!

Some of our most loved family meals require a whole bunch of spice. As a professional meal planner it often blows my mind that too many spices may actually alter the decision of the main cook to not make that particular meal. Try doing what I do. My butter chicken requires a lot of different spices, but it's a family favorite. Add 1 Tbsp into the pot...1 Tbsp into a snack bag....1 tsp into the pot...1 tsp into the bag and so on with all the dried spices. If you use Ziploc Easy Open Tab bags, not only will the colour coded tab help keep your "Butter Chicken" spice combination organized in the cupboard but it is also a quick grab for your kids to start dinner one night! All they have to do is brown chicken, add the spice pack and carry on! It's like organizational pixie dust!

6. Bye, Bye ho-hum lunch -- Hello lunch list!

Parents admit that lunch-making is both mentally and physically exhausting trying to come up with new ideas. Try labeling a piece of paper LUNCH LIST and place it in a central location in your home. Make sure there is a pen close by. Ask your family to give you single item suggestions for what they love in their lunch. The list might say hummus, carrots, cheese, ginger cookies, and so on. When a parent focuses on individually packaging single components which their family has chosen in to snack or sandwich bags, your family will change up the combinations they grab each day and that keeps lunches interesting!

7. Untouchable lunch bins are a MUST-HAVE survival tactic for back to school!

Place a large bin in your food cupboard or pantry, a smaller bin in your freezer as well as one in your fridge. As you package individual items, toss them into the appropriate bin. Cookies and crackers in the pantry, cheese, yogurt and hummus in the fridge, etc. Place enough of these items in the lunch bins to ensure you have lunch supplies to last the week. These bins offer two amazing solutions. The first and most obvious is that you won't be running to the store mid-week trying to come up with new ideas to replenish the lunch supplies! But the second and equally important solution the bins offer is the elimination of lunch making each night. Everything is grab and go! It's awesome! This system will literally convert your lunch making from chore to time and sanity saver!

8. Let the clock keep you organized!

Finally I suggest you set the clock 10 minutes ahead as I did (shhhhh)!! This little leg up on time simply takes the edge off the overwhelming list of to-dos your first week back. Seeing that parents have more than themselves to worry about, it's always a good idea to anticipate a few little bumps in even the best-executed plan. That extra 10 minutes seemed to be just the right amount of time to help me ease into my new fall routine!

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