By Gail O'Connor
If you have kids, you’re probably deep into making your back-to-school resolutions. Every year, I run through my mental must-dos to make our year run more smoothly than the last. We will be stocked with lunchbox items! We will not forget sneakers on gym day! There will be no more rummaging around in the morning looking for containers!
Truth: I love the start of the school year and its promise for a fresh start to keep our days organized and running on time — bringing this vision from fantasy to reality, however, always takes a little pregaming. Like many families, whether our days start off calmly or crazy lies in how organized we are for the coming week, and it all starts at the heart of our home and command central: the kitchen. So far, I’ve found two small but significant things that have worked well for us staying organized: a visible paper family wall calendar even our kids can check, and a dedicated hook for car keys (please trust me on this: life changer!).
But that’s just the beginning, of course. Here, a few other quick, easy ways to keep your school days running smoothly.
Make Water Bottle Refills a Breeze
No one needs the hassle of realizing you’ve run out of plastic water bottles or juice boxes before you’ve even had your morning coffee. For an easier and healthier option, simplify drinks and refrigerator clutter to one reusable water bottle per kid. Adding a filter, like the PUR Faucet Filtration System, to your kitchen faucet will keep water super fresh and tasting great. It’s certified to reduce more than 70 contaminants from your tap water. You’ll send everyone off hydrated and happy for the day.
Stock a Kid Pantry
Clear out one cabinet at kid height, and make it a dedicated space for stowing school snacks. (A low kitchen drawer works, too.) Grab a variety of different-size bins for storing and skip the lids to spot items on busy mornings easily. Re-stash lunchbox-friendly items as needed at the beginning of each week: applesauces, single-serve pouches of pretzels or dried fruits, and forks and spoons. Stow a few plates and bento boxes with lids tucked to the side for lunch prep, and you may get a kid who’s motivated to pick and choose what goes in their lunch and pack their own.
Dedicate One Fridge Shelf to Lunch Prep
It’s way easier to organize items you know you’ll need for several days in one prep session than to repeat the same task over and over, Groundhog Day-style. Like the kid pantry does for dry goods, reserve a low shelf in the refrigerator for perishable items: cheese sticks, yogurts, pre-rinsed cut-up veggies portioned into reusable containers, and individual servings of other cold items. It’ll give your little ones a sense of autonomy, and it’ll save you the hassle of reaching up high every time they want a nibble.
Make the Kitchen a True Happy Place
You spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so treat yourself to the little things that make it a pleasant, personalized space. Cut a few final summer blooms from outdoors and arrange in a small vase on your ‘sill; set up a diffuser using scented oils and reeds available at most supermarkets or online, for a dose of inner calm as you wash out lunch boxes. As you sit at your table sorting through back-to-school paperwork and sign ups, keep a glass of filtered water and a nourishing snack on hand, nudging you to take care of you, too, during this busy time.
Designate a Lunchbox Dropoff Zone
This year, no more whizzing around in the morning trying to find wherever your kiddo left their lunchbox to wipe out and repack. Lunchboxes come out of the backpack, go straight to the kitchen, kids empty its contents, and drop it in your agreed-upon spot. Get a head start on busy mornings by packing the nonperishable items for tomorrow, tonight.
Post the Week at a Glance
One key thing that helps kids be more cooperative in the a.m. is helping them envision the day ahead. Write their special activities on a whiteboard or chalkboard so they — and you — know what’s happening each weekday, and so you never forget their gym sneakers again. If their reading skills are still emerging, use picture clues (a paintbrush for art day, music notes for music-class day). Back-to-school chaos, what’s that?
Put Fruit in Plain Sight
When your kids come home from school, ravished and tearing through the kitchen looking for something to eat, steer them to healthy choices: Position a bowl of pre-washed fruit out on the table or counter in a bowl or basket. Keep it visible by moving its location every few days, and on weekend shopping or farmer’s market visits have them choose which fruits they want for the week.