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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, we aren’t jumping the Christmas gun. We mean back-to-school season has begun, once again. And while we may be excited to get our children all settled and off to school, there is also a certain amount of dread that comes with getting back into the “back-to-school” meal planning chaos!

A recent social media poll asking what parents were most dreading this coming school year had surprising results. It turns out that the number one thing that parents were most dreading for back-to-school wasn’t supplies shopping and it wasn’t waking up early, it was actually about meal plans and school lunches!

And we get it! Between a hectic work schedule, the desire to make nutritious and balanced meals (as opposed to quick fixes!), and dealing with finicky or picky eaters, meal planning is quite a chore!

So, in order to help alleviate some of this extra stress on parents across the country, here are the top 5 meal planning tips for your busy back-to-school season!

1) Break out the crock pot!

This ingenious device has definitely saved many a weeknight! And weekend! And weekday! The ability to simply dump your ingredients into your slow cooker in the morning, head off to work, and then come home to an already made healthy supper is worth its weight in gold! Check out these mouth-watering Food Network recipes created especially for the crockpot. From comforting soups to fruity desserts, you can find a myriad of meals to cook while you put your feet up for a few minutes!

And, with this brilliant device saving a ton of time in the evening, why not also put it to work to save time in the morning too! Trying to get the kids up, get them dressed, find all their homework left lying around, sign some permission slips and get yourself ready at the same time is extremely hectic and rushed! Now add making a wholesome, balanced breakfast in the plans and it is next to impossible to get everyone out the door on time.

Say goodbye to morning mayhem by simply prepping these delectable breakfast crockpot recipes from Real Simple right before bed. You and the kiddos will wake up to healthy breakfasts with little to no morning effort required!

2) Double your batches and freeze!

Is there anything easier than simply defrosting tonight’s supper? And while we are all quite familiar with the method of “double the spaghetti sauce recipe and freeze the leftovers”, the technique doesn’t stop at spaghetti sauce!

Some of these little-known freezable meal hacks are simply inspired!

  • Sandwiches: Did you know that you can pre-make your child's sandwiches and simply freeze them? Then all that is required when preparing lunches in the morning is to grab a sandwich from the freezer and go! Check out these tips on the dos and don’ts of sandwich freezing, by Mind over Munch.
  • Rice: How many times have you accidentally made too much rice? Did you know that you can simply pack it up and freeze it for a later meal? When you are ready to defrost and eat the frozen rice, simply add it to a microwave-safe bowl or put in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water and voila! Fresh rice!
  • Pancake batter: Here we go again with some amazing breakfast hacks! The next time you are making pancakes, make a double batch and simply freeze the batter to be defrosted for a later breakfast bite. It’s a great way to speed up the pancake-making process in the morning!

3) Get the kids involved!

Getting the kids to help out with meal prep and school lunches is a brilliant way to ease up on the effort required for the back to school season. Not only does it help the parents out by dividing the work, but it can be a fun way for children to learn about nutrition, food, and health. You just might be surprised how fun cooking and meal prep can be when sharing the experience with your child.

Encouraging your child to make their own lunches also ensures that they will enjoy those foods, and therefore eat their lunch. Any parent who has ever had a lunch box returned with a barely eaten lunch in it knows how discouraging that can be. Having your child pack their lunch, from the foods that are available (and therefore healthy), gives them a sense of choice and autonomy, and allows them to pick items that they will actually eat.  

4) Plan for snacks

Depending on the school, some children eat lunch as early as 11am. The length of time between such an early lunch and a possibly late supper often requires a hearty mid-way snack. Some nutritionists suggest viewing this afternoon snack as more of a “second lunch”. Perhaps not quite as big, it should still involve healthy snack options and lean toward the daily food requirements.

Of course, this means, yet again, more food planning. But, just like with the idea of doubling your meal batches in order to freeze the excess, the same idea can work for snack preparations! Instead of cutting up one carrot for an individual snack portion, consider peeling and cutting a week's worth and leaving them in the fridge for a quick snack when the little ones get hungry.

5) Look at the bigger picture

Family life can move quickly. Juggling work and school and activities can sometimes get overwhelming. The key to a balanced life is to look at the bigger picture and not the smaller, daily events. Sometimes, to facilitate an overly stressful day, we may opt to grab a quick-fix meal instead of the more time-consuming healthy option. As long as the rest of the week was filled with a wholesome, balanced diet, a few less-than-healthy meals now and then are nothing to stress out about.

Back-to-school time can be overwhelming for parents across the country. Don’t let money woes add additional stress to your post-summer routine! If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet, with the school supplies, fall activity costs, and school clothing expenses, has no-questions-asked, instant loans to help Canadians from coast to coast.