The 2018-2019 school year is freshly underway, and although I’m not a parent, I know the chaos that a new school year brings. Growing up in rural Minnesota in a town, moreover village, with a population of 1,300 people, a lot falls on the eldest sibling — which is me — when it comes to helping out with the younger siblings. Having two working career parents who often traveled for work didn’t help lessen the workload, either. From the age of 12 or 13, I was responsible for not only getting myself up and ready for school in the morning, but I was also responsible for getting my younger brother and sister up and ready, too. It wasn’t always easy either, as I liked to be to school by 8am so that I had time to socialize with my friends before class, but my brother and sister prefered sleep much more, so I rarely hit my 8am target. I was an alarm clock, wardrobe stylist, hair stylist, personal chef, and chaperone on the walk to school — which granted was no more than a block away from our home — so believe me when I tell you that even though I’m not a parent, I know the chaos that a fresh school year brings.
On duty before school, as well as after school, I was responsible for finding my brother and sister after school and getting them to their numerous evening programs and sport practices, usually with the addition of my younger cousins, too; only to be amplified once I got my drivers license. This may sound like a lot of work, especially for a young kid who was also juggling school work, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss those days, as I really do miss them. Although I haven’t had these responsibilities in a number of years, this new school year is hitting me harder than most, as my youngest sibling just started her senior year, and being the sappy, sentimental, and overly emotional person that I am, I can’t help but feel sad when thinking back on the younger days. But alas, change is inevitable, and the excitement and awe of witnessing my sister blossom into a beautiful young woman far outweighs the sadness brought about by change.
While on duty as an older brother made live-in nanny, I learned the invaluable lesson of being organized and overly prepared. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and being the overachiever and natural nurturer that I’ve always been, I found much joy in batch cooking and meal prep, which alleviated a lot of unnecessary stress when trying to feed my siblings before and after school, or when trying to pack them a lunch on days when they didn’t like the lunch option. If you’re struggling with a lack of time when trying to get your kids up, ready, and fed before school in the morning, meal and snack prep could really help you keep your mornings and days on track and running smoothly. Start with basics like vegetable packets — maybe carrots, celery, and blanched broccoli — and your favorite veggie dip, fresh fruit packets — including berries, melon, and grapes — and trail mix packets. If possible, please try to use reusable bags or BPA free tupperware containers. For breakfast, which was rarely eaten at home but rather while running out the door — I would prepare large batches of baked breakfast sandwiches, which usually included eggs, cheese, and breakfast meats, sandwiched in between two english muffin halves — that is until I discovered how to create syrup infused pancake muffins — that I would wrap in parchment paper, label, then place in a sealable container and freeze. Because I’m a sugar junkie, I would also prepare large batches of pancakes, french toast, and waffles that I would freeze and then place in the toaster oven for quick reheating making for a simple yet delicious breakfast in a pinch. Having a few snack and breakfast options on hand really does make a world of difference.
My mom always kept our refrigerator and pantry stocked to the brim, so on days when my brother or sister requested a packed lunch, throwing together a simple and filling lunch was quite easy. If I were to pack them a lunch today, however, I think I would forgo the deli-meat sandwich with a side of chips and instead send them with a hummus and veggie wrap with the addition of roasted chicken and a side of fresh fruit, or something slightly more healthy and nutrient dense than a sandwich. You could also batch cook a few different types of burritos, wrap them in parchment and then again in foil, and freeze — that is if a microwave is provided at the school for reheating purposes. A simple veggie lasagna with whole wheat pasta noodles would be lovely as well, and requires very little time to prepare ahead of time and it also freezes nicely.
The favorite of my creations, hands down, had to be my homemade chocolate chip cookies. I would make triple batches of these cookies once per month — they were a favorite of everyone in my family and the most coveted snack, more like treat, to bring with you to school. The secret, which I’m sure I picked up while watching the Food Network, was a mixture of white chocolate chips, semi sweet chocolate chips, and milk chocolate chips, as well as a heaping scoop of peanut butter, and last, but most definitely not least, a packet of white chocolate pudding mix — I know, quite odd, but let me tell you, these cookies are magical! The white chocolate pudding was the star of the show, not only adding another level of chocolate flavor, but it also created the best chewy texture. I will write and share the recipe for these cookies on the Recipe Box page of our website in the coming days.
Conclusion. The school-year does not have to be chaotic, and can actually be quite fun and enjoyable if well prepared. Try planning a weekly or monthly menu with your family, and after you have a menu set, give batch cooking and meal prepping a go to give yourself more time during the week. Simple, make ahead meal and snack options will save you so much time in the long run. Cheers to reducing chaos this school year!