I am of the firm belief that the first day of school should get as much celebration as New Year’s Eve. The anticipation of new beginnings is high, the opportunity for a fresh start is on the horizon, and it’s the perfect time to (re)introduce some habits or changes that make life better or easier. We asked the 8,000+ members of our Community and Conversations for their tried and true tricks for making the school year as smooth as it can be. From meal prepping (check out our reel with Pioneer making the tastiest mini chicken pot pies) to bath time hustle – one of these might be a good fit for your family and free up some precious minutes and brain space for things that are more fun than looking for lost shoes or standing over a hot stove.
:: GIVEAWAY DETAILS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE!::
Set a Routine (and Stick to It)
It can be hard to be consistent but routine is good for everyone. It sets expectations, helps everyone know what is coming, and makes for smooth transitions – even on the days when the routine has to go out the window. A common theme was taking advantage of night time prep to make mornings easier:
When the kids are bathing before bed, I am setting out lunch boxes, any dry/packaged snacks that can be pulled from pantry the night before (raisin boxes, etc), cleaning and filling water bottles, hanging backpacks unzipped in their designated spots, setting shoes next to backpacks….anything that can possibly be assembled, prepped or laid out the night before I do it while they are in the bath and I still have energy. Once they are asleep, I’m toast and in the mornings I move at 1/10th the speed I would during bath time. It takes me 10 minutes in the evening and I’m so grateful in the morning. – Bridget M.
Without fail, [what helps me the most is] packing the lunches and setting up the coffee pot for auto-brew the night before! – Stephanie T.
Have one spot where backpacks and shoes always go and make sure they are in their spots – backpack already packed with what you need for school the next day – before bed. Annie W.
Sunday evenings are also a great time to schedule “prep time” for the week and putting them on the calendar as no-compete family obligations helps make them a priority. Check and update calendars for assignments, appointments and days where the schedule may be different.
I have teens [and we have] family meetings on Sunday nights so everyone can check in and know what’s going on for the week and how we can help each other. – Jennifer S.
All outfits for the week are pre-laid out in cubbies in the laundry room Sunday nights and we have a bin of pre-made sandwiches that I can pull from when packing lunches. – Christie C.
Meal Planning and Prep
Let me tell you, I’m not a meal prepper by nature (listen, I don’t know what I want to eat next Wednesday, ok?) and even I try to keep the ingredients for some of our favorites on hand all the time. However, those who find the discipline to actually meal plan and/or prep swear by its life changing magic. The biggest benefit to meal planning and prepping is the time savings you can bank (and also, it cuts down on the ‘so hungry I could eat my arm’ drive through trips).
One of my personal tricks is to buy already prepped ingredients and ‘shortcuts’. Many times the prepped ingredients are the same cost as the not pre-prepped options. For example, a bag of frozen chopped broccoli is about the same cost as the bag of frozen broccoli florets AND I don’t have to cut it up. Same goes for shredded carrots, etc, etc. HEB’s shredded rotisserie chicken is comparable to boneless chicken breasts in the meat section. I also have a newfound love for Pioneer seasoning and sauce mixes and the minutes I save in the kitchen are gold when they turn into minutes I can actually spend sitting at the table with my kiddo.
One of my current favorite recipes is Chicken Pot Pie from Pioneer. The seasoning and sauce mix packet turns rotisserie chicken, chopped broccoli and baby carrots into the yummiest preppable dinners in our rotation. The beauty of the Pioneer Chicken Pot Pie recipe is that you can swap out the veggies for ones your family likes. My twist? I use a premade pie crust and make the pot pies in individual ramekins. Pioneer has been around since 1851 bringing baking mixes, gravy mixes and seasoning blends to kitchens across the country. They have a HUGE selection of recipes that can help make meal planning and prepping work for your family.
FUN FACT: Pioneer was founded by C.H. Guenther. Sounds familiar? As in The Guenther House and Guenther Street in King William by the Pioneer Flour Mill? All one in the same!
Take Advantage of Car Time
Car rides or commutes are often overlooked as a place to save time but by establishing some easy car time routines, every minute can be useful. A friend of mine keeps a box of ‘table topics’ in the car and the kids take turns drawing one to start conversations.
I always have my boys bring their books in the car for our 30-45 min commute, so they can get daily reading done in the car. I also have book lights in the car for our early winter mornings when it’s dark. – Jacey B.
Sometimes, car time comes with lots and lots of waiting. In that case, it’s nice to have activities to do while passing the time. I tap my inner retiree wannabe and take along my current needlepoint project to work on.
I have a bag in my car with fun things to do (coloring, books, small toys, learning type activities) that I take with me everywhere. We have three kids and they all have different after school activities. I need to have stuff for the kids to do when it’s not their day for practice or therapy or whatever we’re at. – Niki B.
Whatever you do for your family to save time, sanity, and help the ship stay afloat – we salute you. You’re doing a great job and we’re here for it! Let us know if you try one of these tips or tell us what works for your family on this post.