Preparing for Back to School in the Strangest School Year
About two weeks into my family’s journey with everyone being at home, I hit a wall with cooking. I had been making 3+ meals a day for our family of four, plus doing a lot of the clean up after them, and I was burnt out.
Ironically, before the pandemic my husband had been in charge of weekday breakfasts and much of the meal cleanup, but once everyone was home and our schedule more flexible, somehow our regular routine fell apart and I became the default cook for all the meals.
That evening, my husband and I went on a walk and I vented. I was feeling like the default housekeeper, personal chef, teacher, and parent, all while trying to run a business. It was too much.
So we came up with a plan: he would restart breakfast duty and would be responsible for cleaning up the kitchen after lunch and dinner. In addition, the boys would be responsible for getting their own snacks and would be more involved in meal prep and clean up.
The result? A happier, less stressed me, which made everything else go more smoothly.
How to Keep Your Family Fed and Sane
Now that summer is coming to an end and schools are starting up again, it’s clear that this back to school season will be like no other. For some, there will be a return to the classroom full time, for others a partial return, for others online instruction will be the name of the game, and for still others homeschooling pods will be the solution. The uncertainties we are all facing are huge and unsettling.
No matter where your family is landing in these stressful times, one thing remains true: kids need nutritious meals to enable them to focus on their school work.
But let’s be honest, with all that is happening these days, finding the bandwidth and excitement to plan for this back to school season, while arguably necessary, is hard to come by.
We are burnt out and tired. We have spent a spring and summer being creative and flexible, so trying to muster up the energy to get the fall started on the right foot can seem almost insurmountable.
But this is where The Scramble can help! While I may not be able to help you to guide your child through their writing or math assignments, I can help you to set up for success when it comes to lunches and other meals so that it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming burden.
So I came up with a survival guide that is designed to provide you with a variety resources so that you can select those that are most relevant to your family’s needs. Whether your goal is to teach your kids self-sufficiency when it comes to putting together their meals at home, to get them to pack their own school lunches, to get more help from your family so that the burden isn’t all on you, to create a consistent school and meal schedule, to stock the fridge and pantry with healthy options so you aren’t cooking all the time, or just to get some fresh and new ideas, I’ve got you covered.
Coming Up with a Plan
The first step in preparing for Back to School this year is to come up with a plan (acknowledging, of course, that in these strange times any plan may get turned on its head). In my family, when we are coming up with a plan like this, my husband and I first check in to make sure that we are on the same page and then we call a family meeting to get everyone on board. Especially during these strange times, I think it is important to acknowledge that there is a need for help, that making it through this time is going to be a team effort, so everyone needs to pitch in.
For families whose kids are going back to school full-time this plan will involve answering the following questions:
For families whose kids will be doing a hybrid model or online school, there are a number of factors that should be considered:
- A daily schedule
- Who is responsible for what meals
- Creating a list of meal/food options
Creating a Schedule for Work, School, and Meals
Both towards the beginning of online school in March and then again at the start of the summer, my family sat down to create a schedule that we could use keep our days running smoothly. This was helpful for a number of reasons:
- it gave my boys some structure to their days
- it helped my husband and me to each be able to carve out some uninterrupted work time
- it helped to structure meals so that the constant clamoring for snacks was kept to a minimum and I didn’t feel like I was living in the kitchen
Here are the questions that we took into account when creating our daily schedule:
- When do people wake up?
- When does school start and end?
- When does work start and end?
- What are top daily priorities (i.e., finishing school work each day (kids), getting work done (parents), having daily outside time, getting the kids to entertain themselves, protecting downtime (parents), etc.)
- Which parent is “on call” for kid stuff when?
- Are there other non-negotiables we need to keep in mind?
Throughout the process, there were a number of things we learned:
- The situation is ever changing, so using a white board or an electronic document to create the schedule makes for easier adjustments (of which there were many)
- In order to reduce resentment between my husband and myself, we found it was important to set aside specific hours when each of us had uninterrupted work time (and when the other was “on call” for anything the kids needed support with)
- Assigning someone else to be in charge of at least one of the meals in the day made me much less cranky
- For my husband, blocking off the 2-3pm hour to focus specifically on helping the boys to wrap up their school days made it easier for him to balance work and being “on call” with the kids
- For me, maintaining my pre-covid schedule by waking up before anyone else so that I could get exercise, meditate, and organize and start my day without distractions was really helpful
With all of this in mind, I have included a sample daily schedule in the guide for you to use and tweak as you wish.
Teaching Self-Sufficiency in the Kitchen
I have heard from moms who share that now that everyone is home, they expect hot lunches instead of sandwiches, which leaves the moms feeling like they are running an “all day café.”
I’ve fielded questions from parents who are facing packing school lunches after years of depending on the school-offered lunches.
I have sympathized with moms whose kids are getting themselves snacks, but seem incapable of adding a piece of fruit or a vegetable to their selection.
I have commiserated with parents who are feeling completely burnt out when it comes to cooking.
If any of this sounds even remotely familiar, then it’s time to help your kids to become more self-sufficient in the kitchen.
Whether your kids are going to school in person, in a hybrid model, or online, there will inevitably be more to manage than usual, which is why teaching them some self-sufficiency in the kitchen can be nothing but helpful.
In order to help you with this feat, I have pulled together a chart of cooking skills that kids can accomplish according to their age, ideas for ways kids can help at each meal, a sample task chart, and a collection of recipes that are great starter recipes for kids. What your kids can and cannot accomplish will be dependent upon their age and skill level, but there is always something they can do to be helpful.
As I said, I hope that this resource will be able to meet the needs of your family no matter which version of schooling you are doing and what other stressors you are trying to manage. We’ve got this!