eight tips for managing mealtimes: back to school edition
by Rebecca Hadfield
After a summer of outdoor activities, late bedtimes, and eating meals on the fly, back-to-school can be a struggle for families trying to return to a “normal” schedule. Suddenly we’re thrust back into a world of managing healthy, packable lunches and snacks (with the added pressure of “will they eat it?”) on top of rushed breakfasts and dinners that often coincide with after-school sports and lessons.
To help make the transition a little easier, we’ve compiled eight of our best, parent-tested tips for managing mealtimes—arguably the most daunting household task at this busy time of year. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
Tip #1: Create a Weekly Menu Plan Set some time aside when you’re relaxed and the house is quiet to put together a menu for the week, including breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Flip through cookbooks, search the internet for easy, healthy meals and snacks, or crowdsource ideas from family and friends.
Whatever you do, though, try not to schedule your planning session for right after you’ve eaten. Trust us, nothing will sound appealing if you’re still feeling full from a meal and you’ll find yourself wondering why you’ve run out of food mid-week.
Tip # 2: Shop for Success Nothing throws a wrench into meal prep like missing an ingredient or two, so once you have your menu plan sketched out, make a thorough shopping list and check it twice. Be sure to check your fridge, freezer, and pantry for items on-hand, and make note of the expiry dates on perishables and condiments.
After you’ve returned with your groceries, take a little extra time to make sure your groceries are well-organized and ready to go when you need them. Set aside areas or “zones” in the fridge for prepped or ready to assemble breakfasts and lunches, keeping them separate from dinner ingredients, if possible, to avoid confusion. (Remind us to tell you about the time a friend sent her daughter to school with a tub of margarine instead of a tub of homemade soup.)
Tip #3:Breakfast of Champions Remember, most people are perfectly happy eating the same breakfast for days in a row, so don’t feel like you need to get too creative or complicated. If you can, take a little time out of your Sunday to bake a week’s worth of grab and go breakfast cookies, whip up a dozen mini muffin tin frittatas, or assemble yogurt parfaits in small mason jars (get help from the kids for this).
To make sure breakfast is truly grab-and-go, place your homemade, individually wrapped or packaged breakfast items in the easily accessible “breakfast zone” or designate a pocket in your fridge door for the purpose. Include things like washed and ready-to-eat fresh fruit, yogurt cups or tubes, baggies of dry cereal, and individual juices or milk to round out the meal.
Tip #4: Let’s Do Lunch Looking for packed lunch ideas that will dazzle even the pickiest eater? Look no further than Pinterest! From “25 Things to Put in a Thermos” to “365 Healthy Lunch Boxes,” there’s no shortage of articles and inspo to make your job a LOT easier. (Remember you only have to make it to June!)
Again, set aside time to prep and assemble individual lunch boxes or bentos and store in the “lunch zone” of your refrigerator. If you have a deli or pantry drawer in your fridge, like in the Maytag French door fridge above, you can turn it into the ultimate lunch/snack bar by filling it with pre-portioned meats and cheeses, veggies and dip, hard boiled eggs, crackers, granola bars or snack bites, squeezable fruit sauce or yogurt, etc., and letting the kids create their own snack pack before they head out the door.
Tip #5: What’s for Dinner? If you need a little dinner inspiration, Pinterest can help there, too. Search for recipes by meal type, ingredient, or technique and add words like “easy,” “quick,” or “one-pan” to narrow the results down to the real time-savers. Sheet-pan dinners, for example, come together in just minutes and bake all at once for easy prep, serving, AND clean-up.
To get your dinner on the table faster, make use of your range’s rapid pre-heat feature to cut down on the time you spend waiting for the oven to heat up. The Maytag True Convection range (above) uses both the broil and bake elements along with the convection fan to get the oven up to baking temperature in eight minutes or less.
If your oven doesn’t have a rapid pre-heat, use delay start to turn the oven on 15 minutes before you walk in the door. Or, use the remote start feature on your wi-fi enabled oven to get things heating up from virtually anywhere.
Tip #6: Skip the Takeout Although it’s tempting to skip meal prep altogether and order in, does it really save you that much time? In less time than it takes to open the delivery app and decide where to order from, you can have some of your take-out favourites crisping to perfection in your range’s built-in air fryer.
Unlike countertop fryers that cook just enough for one or two, the LG range with built in air fryer above can handle a full tray of chicken wings, breaded fish, or French fries, and the results are every bit as crispy, but with no added fat. Plus, frozen convenience foods can be cooked in the air fryer in less time than is stated on the package and with better results than conventional oven cooking!
Tip #7: Pasta, but Faster When you’re in a rush, water seems to take twice as long to boil and that “quick” pasta recipe starts to feel like a production. First, before you do anything, start the water so you can prep the rest of the ingredients. Although that won’t bring the water to the boil any faster, you’ll be too distracted to watch the pot.
The other “hot” secret to shaving time off your meal prep is to use an induction range or induction cooktop. Not only does the element itself come up to temperature almost instantly, this incredibly efficient way of cooking brings water to boil in less time than traditional electric coil cooktops, or even gas. One caveat—you must use induction compatible cookware such as stainless or cast iron for the technology to work.
Tip #8: Get Help with Your Home Work At the end of a long day, the last thing you want to do is clean the oven but, hey, spills happen. To help you keep on top of spills, spatters and small messes, many ranges (like the Frigidaire Gallery range above) now come with a self-clean feature that uses just plain water to provide a quick, chemical-free clean in just 30 minutes. The best part? It’s odor-free, so you can run the cycle after dinner without disrupting your evening routine.
To make cleaning up a little less painful, this KitchenAid dishwasher has three racks that allow for more versatile loading, including an adjustable middle rack that can be moved to fit tall items like pitchers and blender jars and a third rack with a deep angled design that fits tall glasses, mugs and cooking tools. Plus, its whisper-quiet operation means the kids will barely notice it while they’re finishing up their homework at the kitchen table.
We’d love to see how you’re using your appliances to manage your busy household. Be sure to tag #DufresneStyle in your Instagram reels and TikToks and show us your back-to-school mealtime magic. And, for more information on the products shown in this article, chat now or visit your local Dufresne store.