Fall means crisp weather, pumpkin-spiced everything, and school and work officially back in session. Since many parents and children spent much of the past 18 months learning and working from home, excitement and stress are at all-time highs.
To tame the chaotic transition from home to school, experts say a little reorganization is key to easing back into the world. Sure, our skills may be rusty, yet with these expert tips and strategies on how to streamline breakfast, lunch, and safety prep, you and your family will be pros in no time.
1. Create a command center
Whether you have a dedicated mudroom or live in a small space, the foundation to organizational success lies in creating a school command center, says Jennifer Johnson, owner of the Closets by Design of the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast franchise.
“The vast majority of the more than 56 million kids in K-12 in the U.S. carry a backpack,” Johnson says. “Consider installing hooks for everyone who needs to hang a backpack.”
Above the hooks, add a row of cubbies or cabinets—or a simple shelf with baskets—for the perfect place to put any school supplies, sports equipment, or musical instruments your kids need.
Adding a dry-erase board will ensure that you can track upcoming tests, games, and deadlines.
2. Create a safety station
Every school and region has different rules regarding masks and hand sanitizer, but most suggest (or require) one or both.
One way to make sure your children are following the regulations is to install a safety center at the door that you use every day, advises Laura Ritterman, a mother and owner of food blog the Recipe Fairy.
Have a basket with clean masks, disinfectant wipes, and portable hand sanitizer so family members can easily grab them before heading out.
“Making sure these little details are in place makes things just a bit easier for all,” Ritterman says.
3. Pick the right gear to hold supplies
Some families might be dusting off a lunchbox that hasn’t been used in 18 months—and they just might find some long-forgotten apple slices (or worse) in there.
“It may be time to upgrade some of your kids’ school accessories,” says Eva Petruzziello, a Toronto-based teacher and owner of the sustainable living website SimplenDelight.
She recommends finding a lunchbox with a built-in zipped pocket to store a few extra masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
This way kids can easily access supplies to clean their hands before and after they eat, and switch to a new mask if one gets sticky.
4. Plan breakfast
There are a number of ways to tackle breakfast and ensure that everyone will get a healthy, tasty meal—without a side of stress.
If you have young kids, it helps to make breakfast ahead of time.
“I love to prep breakfasts on the weekend,” says Michelle Keldgord, co-founder of Baking How in Southern California. “That way I can make sure my kids are getting plenty of nutrition, but it’s not as chaotic in the morning. I’ll make oatmeal, quesadillas, waffles, and muffins ahead of time, and reheat as needed.”
For older kids, Ritterman says a cereal bar station makes things both easy and fun for everyone.
“I put together a little station with plastic containers with nozzles filled with our favorite cereal,” she says. “I also leave cut fruit in the fridge that’s easy to reach.”
If you really want to streamline, you can place bowls, spoons, and napkins next to the bar, too.
For older kids, Petruzziello suggests agreeing on simple-to-prepare items—such as cereal, toast, fresh fruit, or yogurt—which they can grab on their own schedule.
“Encouraging kids to be independent will help both of you,” she notes.
5. Simplify packing lunches
To keep the morning vibe mellow, lunch should also be as complete as possible before your alarm goes off.
“If you have younger kids, put all snacks and drinks into their lunchbox the night before,” says Petruzziello. Sandwiches and mains can be quickly added during the breakfast rush, she says.
Older kids can be involved in the prep the night before.
“Have a cupboard for healthy snacks only at kids’ eye level,” Petruzziello advises. “This way it’s easy for everyone to help pack a three-snack, one-meal lunch.”
It also helps to have a drawer or shelf in the refrigerator dedicated to portable containers for fresh fruit and veggies that you can easily grab.