I realize might be getting this post to many of you late— most of you already have kids back to school. Mine are starting this week, and although I’m preoccupied with making sure they’re ready (my oldest is starting high school this year… not sure how that happened), I’m equally concerned that I’ll be ready to handle all the incoming paper, calendar invites, lunch-making, and general organizational needs that a school year requires.
This year, I’ve also signed on to be a room parent. I’d love to say that it’s because I’m a benevolent, concerned mom who wants to be as involved as possible in my daughter’s school year, but honestly I was cornered by other room parents and sat on until I relented. Life will undoubtedly expand to make room for an extra set of responsibilities and volunteering, I guess, but it will help to have a few tools in my pocket to get (more) things done.
As I gear up for this week, I thought I’d share some of the systems and apps I’m implementing so I’m ready for the September rush.
Handling the paper
Thankfully, our schools do the bulk of their communication with parents digitally. I love this because my Inbox is much better at keeping documents than I am. But for the handouts, schedules, forms and other sundry paper goods that come into the house, I need a way to digitize them quickly, before they get lost or misplaced. A desktop scanner like I mentioned here is a great thing to have handy in the kitchen, or wherever your kids tend to drop papers after school, so you can get them onto your computer and get rid of the clutter.
Making lunches & dinners
When I stand in front of a near-empty refrigerator and my eyes begin to glaze over, I know I’m burnt out on making school lunches. Usually this doesn’t start happening with frequency until March or April, but I’m going to do what I can this year to try to make it to the end of the year without hurling carrot sticks at anyone who complains about the selections they’re offered.
First up is making sure we have choices: My Hiku has become invaluable for quickly adding things that we burn through to a shopping list— I just scan a bar code or talk to it to add things like “bananas”.
There’s an Amazon Dash on it’s way to me for testing as we speak, which is a similar gadget that will add things right to my Amazon Fresh cart, which delivers groceries to my front door. These are still not for sale (by invitation only) but they’ve been testing them for a while now so hopefully they’ll be available soon. Can’t wait to try that and cut out a step or two.
Other food delivery services I’m looking forward to testing out this year are ones that will make healthy snacks more plentiful in my pantry. Graze and NatureBox make it easy to stock up on healthy snacks with no preservatives, GMOs, or other ick. One less thing to think about (and grocery shop for).
Lalalunchbox is an invaluable app that you little kids will love— it helps them help you figure out what to feed them. Add each of your children into the app, and they get to choose a monster avatar. Customize the food choices, keep track of ideas, and let your kids drag and drop their choices so you can make what they want to eat. And the whole thing feels like a game. Genius.
Let’s not forget dinner: Meal Kit start-ups have exploded onto the scene, delivering everything you need to get food on the table. The recipes, the pre-portioned ingredients… it all comes to your front door, and all you have to do is throw it all together. Marley Spoon, Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh all look intriguing— I haven’t tried them yet, and am not sure how I feel about all the packaging, but I’ll keep an open mind.
Gathered Table dials back the “we do it all for you” a little— you’ll have to do all your shopping and prepping, but they’ll serve up menu ideas, recipes and give you meal plans and grocery lists for the week. They have plans for all kinds of diets, whether you’re paleo, vegan, or will eat anything at all.
Lastly, I’ve recently become obsessed with Nicholas Day’s Dinner vs. Child column on Food52, Jenny Rosenstrach’s blog, Dinner: A Love Story, as well as her two books. They all spell out the challenges of cooking for your family without condescending or telling me I’m a terrible mother because sometimes dinner is eggs and toast. Eggs and toast, that’s all ya get. Thank you both for making this tricky meal seem doable and inspired.
Keeping the calendar
During the school year, I live in fear that I’ll miss an important meeting, or my kids will show up on field trip day without a bag lunch and walking shoes. Did I read that email right? Did I input every professional development day and school function into my calendar correctly? Not to be too dramatic, but it’s a low-level anxiety I have a tough time shaking.
I also use an app called Sunrise, which imports all my Google Calendar information into a much more pleasing interface (I’m in my calendar all day long, so I think it should look nice).
I also highly recommend Cozi, the gold standard for family calendaring, although if you’re already using a service like Google Calendar or Apple’s iCal there’s not too many reasons to switch: Most of Cozi’s features have been part of those calendar apps for a long time.
As I mentioned, I’ll be one of the room moms this year, so I’ll be in charge of things like rallying volunteers, and coordinating potlucks.
Jooners is my app of choice for the latter: it’s free and very simple to use for both organizer and volunteer alike. Just type in everything you need (set up helpers… clean-up helpers… decorations… plates and knives…), then send a link to the parent body and watch the sign-ups pour in— no more email chains that make you want to yank your head off.
Any other faves for back to school survival? Let me know in the comments.