Back to school tips for a healthy family (and your sanity!)

This is a crazy time of year. Lazy days of summer are over and routines are back in full force. I relish the summer because of slow mornings and relaxed evenings without homework. Movie nights any night we want, lunch at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and leisurely mid-week breakfasts are over.

I once read that August is kinda like the Sunday of the year. It represents a new start and recommitment to improving what hasn’t worked in the previous months. Some of you may have children transitioning into middle or high school this year and if you’re like me, you might have a child just entering the school world. Change is here! But that doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re drowning in after school sports schedules, reading logs, and math homework that you live on pizza and fast food for the next 9 months.

Tips for maintaining sanity and a healthy family during the school year:

  1. Pre-make freezer meals. These can be precooked or not. I’ve done both. If you decide to precook I recommend making enough for at least two meals – one for that evening and one to freeze. It’s much easier to make two at once while you already have the stuff out. Raw meats can be put in large freezer bags with chopped veggies and sauces then frozen for later cooking (baked, pressure or slow cooked.)
  2. Plan ahead. Duh. You’ll have a routine. You’re gonna know when football practice is and when the games are. There’s gonna be late nights that cooking isn’t going to happen. Will those nights be the night you save Monday’s leftovers for? Or the night you decide your family will eat out? It’s okay to eat out 1-2 times a week. It’s not okay to just decide you’re gonna be a fast food family every night during the week.
  3. Plan quick meals. Thirty minute meals sound great. But let’s face it, sometimes that’s too long when it’s late and you’ve got starving kids whining at you. Some of my favorite fifteen minute meals to make include: cheese omelets with fruit and whole wheat toast, deli sandwiches and salad, salad (using pre-made salad bags) with pre-cooked chicken, deli meat, or canned tuna, etc. Nothing wrong with a protein shake or protein bar and yogurt/fruit either. Not all kids will enjoy that last option so I may boil them a hot dog and add raw veggies with ranch if that’s what I go for. Just be flexible! Meals are probably not always going to be your traditional family style meat and two sides.
  4. Establish a bed time and routine. I’ve been guilty in the past about not doing this. You know what happens? There isn’t one and every night turns into a circus, ending with sweat and tears. (I’m not talking about my kids!)  If you don’t want this to happen, decide now when bed time will be and then reverse engineer. That’s will determine what time dinner is going to be. It’s not always going to work out perfectly, but establishing this will make life much easier for you and help you make decisions about what responsibilities and activities you participate later on in the school year.
  5. Take a good multivitamin. Yes, I’m advising your whole family do this. It’s important to fill in the nutritional gaps with a high quality vitamin. This can really help with immunity, focus, and sleep quality. Germs and common childhood illnesses are frequent throughout the school year! Lessen your chances with this simple step. I’d love to tell you if you eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains that you’ll be set. But I’m not that confident in today’s food supply or our ability to consistently eat a perfect diet in today’s busy lifestyle. If you would like recommendations for brands, feel free to contact me. Not all are created equal.
  6. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. And make them convenient to eat. This means they are cut up, washed, and stored in clear containers in the front of the refrigerator. Consider storing apples, oranges, and bananas in a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. Research shows that this really increases the chances they will be consumed by your family first and more often throughout the week. These will make for much healthier after school snacks over the bag of chips in the pantry! We eat what’s convenient.
  7. If you plan to pre-pack lunches, try to make them for 2-3 days ahead of time. Again, when you’ve got the stuff out already, it saves time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches last up to three days without going soggy. I’ve tested it myself. And be okay with allowing your kids to eat at school some of the time. I learned a while ago that it’s not healthy for me to be up all hours losing sleep in the kitchen trying to pack everyone the perfect lunch.
  8. Grocery shop once a week. Pick a day and time you’re gonna do it consistently. If possible, not a weekend day in the afternoon. This is the busiest and most stressful time and it will take you the longest. Make a list before you go and get it done. No food in the kitchen = no meals made at home. Some grocery stores are now offering curb side pick up. Do your shopping online, they get it together for you, and you just pick it up at the door. Genius! I have a previous post  if you need help with budgeting.
  9. Eat breakfast. As moms, we are pretty good about making sure our children eat a healthy breakfast before rushing off to school. And then we get to work or go on about our day and never get beyond the cup of coffee for ourselves. Don’t do that. Everyone needs breakfast to maintain a healthy weight, perform better, focus throughout the day, and to prevent unhealthy snacking. While you’re making your children breakfast, take the extra two minutes to make yourself one too. If that’s really a no go, consider a meal replacement. I offer insights and suggestions here. Popular kid’s breakfast options include peanut butter on waffles, peanut butter and jelly (I like uncrustables for a fast fix), oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, cereal and milk with strawberries or bananas, cheese omelet with fruit, cinnamon raisin toast and a banana, yogurt and cheerios, hard boiled eggs and toast.
  10. Be flexible. The biggest reason people fail at their health goals is because they get stuck in the mentality that their plans needs to be perfect. As soon as something unexpected happens (a child failed their test, you get asked to volunteer for the halloween party, you get a flat tire on the way to school, etc), they throw in the towel. I call this “Plan A,” perfectionism, which really only happens 5% of the time. Plan B is your reality, so flexibility is key because these things are going to come up, 90% of the time. That’s just life. What’s the other 5%? Plan C….reserved for those days when you’re probably gonna stay home, order a pizza, and call it a day. Luckily they only happen occasionally!

    Most important thing is, you make a plan, allow for flexibility, fall off course sometimes, and consistently get back on track. 

Good luck this year, I wish you a year of success and fun filled memories!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

6 thoughts on “Back to school tips for a healthy family (and your sanity!)

  1. You’ve pretty much described the latter half of our summer. We slept in (well sometimes…), lunch at 3p…movie nights anytime — little to no routine. lol! Great tips for gearing up for the Fall.

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