How to Survive Back to School, Dinnertime, Life {FREE Menu Plans + School Lunch Checklist}

How to Survive Back to School

Well, it’s that time of year again.

Millions of children off to school (or homeschooling!), and I don’t know what it is about fall activities and school starting, but if you are like me, it feels like an insurmountable task just to get dinner on the table + school lunches packed.

And really just survive life in general (without hiding in the pantry in pure coping skill mode palming chocolate chips into your face like there’s no tomorrow).

Over the years, I’ve done several How to Survive Back to School posts, and this year I want to compile all the great tips into one post (this one!) + give you some EXTRA help.

Because let’s be serious, I could use a little help myself.

First up, let’s talk school lunches!

Assuming that the kiddos are taking a home lunch, this is one area that gets old FAST. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve delegated the school lunch packing to the kids.

This is not necessarily a revolutionary concept, I get that, but I’ve been a bit of a control freak over the years about packing their lunches for them (they jump in on those days I’ve forgotten or I need their help, and Brian has done a lot, too – although he would readily say it’s his least favorite job in the history of ever).

How to Survive Back to School

In the spirit of helping my children be functional, independent adults one day, I figured I could try to let go a little, and let them learn a few life skills in the process.

None of them have any interest in eating hot school lunch/salad bar, so home packed lunch it is!

In order to make this work for all of us (and avoid a 13-year old who packs a brown bag full of Doritos only), I typed up a School Lunch Checklist and taped it to the inside of the cupboard above where they pack their lunches each night or morning.

It’s definitely not rocket science or anything terribly fancy, but this handy little checklist of options helps my kids know what acceptable lunch choices are (without being totally boring) and also gives them some optional items to pack if they want more in their lunch.

How to Survive Back to School

They are loving this system so far. And it’s working for me, too.

They key on  my end is to have the pantry and fridge stocked with {most} of the items on this list.

And because I don’t want to type up a new list every time something goes “out of stock” at home or every time I bring something new home from the store, I quickly laminated the list with my super inexpensive home laminator that has honestly saved my life at least a dozen times.

This way I can write on it with a white board marker when, say, I pick up fruit leathers from Costco – and then just wipe off when needed.

The things I included on the typed list are pretty standard foods we have around most of the time.

I know my list of school lunch foods may not be 100% what you would include, but you are still welcome to download a FREE copy of this checklist if you think it would float your school lunch packing boat.

Download School Lunch Checklist HERE!

A few quick additional notes about packing lunches for school:

-We are still loving and using the Goodbyn Bynto boxes for the elementary kids (had them for years and they are still going strong!); my middle schooler(s) have opted for either the larger Hero containers or a brown bag. I let them choose. I’d rather them take the Goodbyn containers, but they don’t always want to…so, pick your battles and all that.

They each have an insulated sleeve for their Goodbyn box, AND yes, they are responsible for washing it out every day after school.

-Here are two school lunch posts I’ve done in the past with even more info + the comment threads are SUPER helpful wells of information, too:

School Lunch Solutions {Part One}

School Lunch Solutions {Part Two}

How to Survive Back to School

Now, let’s talk dinnertime!

I know, I know. Least favorite topic on the planet for some of you.

But the truth is, the masses still have to eat. And if you don’t have masses to feed, YOU still have to eat.

So we might as well embrace the fact that dinnertime is going to roll around whether we like it or not.

In the past, I’ve harped on menu planning (ok, I still do).

Here are a few GREAT menu planning resources:

1) If you’re in the market for free menu plans with attached grocery lists, subscribe to my newsletter HERE. I send out exclusive weekly menu plans to email subscribers, and it’s a great way to get a boost on dinnertime planning (pssst: I included one of the menu plans down below if you want to see what they are like!).

2) This post wherein I give you FOUR free menu plans with breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals planned out (all easy!). Plus there is an attached grocery list and step-by-step planning/prep ideas.

3) A quick Let’s Talk post about when there’s no time or desire to make dinner (lists all of our favorite super fast meal ideas for those nights – you know what nights I’m talking about, right?).

4) Here’s a link to a helpful 30-day, all 30-minute meal menu plan. You may want to boot some of the recipes and build in leftover nights or eat out nights, but it’s a great starting place for quick and easy meals.

5) I also have this menu planning section (that sometimes gets lost amid all the other deliciousness we like to talk about!). It’s getting an overhaul pretty soon (with lots of new menu plans coming!), but there’s still a huge archive of free, downloadable menu plans to use as you see fit!

For today, I wanted to share one of the menu plans I’ve included in the past with my weekly newsletter. Easy meals! Grocery list! Breakfast, lunch, and treat ideas! Pure awesomeness.

Click the image below to download the menu plan!

Ok, a quick note about other random life stuff!

With the launch into rigorous schedules, I’ve decided this year to do a couple things, personally, I’ve never done before.

I’m not good about leaving my comfort zone, just so you know.

So this first element has been huge. Huge, huge. And a little traumatizing.

I’ve been pretty dedicated at doing 30-minute exercise videos over the last decade (Shaun T, I’m looking at you). But I’m also really good at rationalizing why I shouldn’t work out that day (you don’t even want to know some of the excuses I use).

I exercise to support my eating habit. And I’ve realized as my metabolism is nearing 40, things are getting, shall we say, a bit sluggish.

How to Survive Back to School

I’ve always rolled my eyes at people who have to go to the gym to work out (please forgive me), but realizing that I want to make some serious changes on this ol’ mom bod before my birthday in February (basically, my birthday is canceled unless I can do a pullup), I convinced Brian to start getting up at 4:30 a.m. with me and going to a local crossfit gym my sister has been raving about for months.

The world is divided in terms of what constitutes the best exercise, but six weeks in, and I have to say, even though some mornings I want to punch the way-too-happy-for-5-am-trainer-in-the-face, I can’t believe how much stronger I feel.

It’s a very, very low key, low pressure gym in terms of not feeling like I have to kill myself to deadlift 4,000 pounds (oh hi, I’m over here with my little trainer bar thankyouverymuch). For local peeps, it’s Sergeant’s Fitness in Caldwell

The biggest change has been in how productive I am throughout the rest of the day (except for about 3:23 p.m. when I hit the official I’m-going-to-die-I’m-so-tired wall telling me I woke up earlier than is possibly human).

I’ve been trying hard to manage my time in a way so that I can do most of my blogging work hours while Cam is at morning kindergarten. I still have to do an hour or so after the kids go to bed, but overall, waking up early has thrown me into a more productive cycle.

The second element has to do with balancing family and important one-on-one time with the kids during this crazy, busy time of year.

With five kids and varied schedules, I often feel a lot of mom guilt for the time I didn’t spend with my kids during the day or guilt for enforcing schedules and routines instead of nurturing more.

How to Survive Back to School

To help, we’ve instituted a little family program we call: Extras (super fancy name alert). My mom did this with me and my siblings growing up. It is something we all talk about as grown adults even now, and I wanted to do something similar with my kids.

I started doing it with the kids several years ago, but lately we’ve gotten out of the habit..

The premise is simple.

Each child has a night of the week where they get to stay up 15-20 minutes later than their siblings (if an older sibling is finishing homework, etc, we go off to a quiet space so they can have alone time). They choose to spend this time with either mom or dad, and they can choose to do anything that’s outside or inside the home.

Play a board game. Watch hilarious YouTube videos on the iPad. Read a book together. Help dad build something in the garage. Go jogging. Practice back flips on the tramp. Play Mario Kart on the wii. You name it, they’ve probably chosen it as their Extra.

How to Survive Back to School

And they get to do it with just mom or dad.

It may not seem like it is worth the time…or that it would make a difference, but the small sacrifice Brian and I have had to make (as parents who like the quiet of regular bedtimes) has been justified over and over again.

As the kids have gotten older, this is the time when they open up about certain challenges they are having.

Or talk about what they hear at school (middle school is the pits; thanks for not bringing this up around your little sister during dinner, BTW).

Or even just broken down every possible detail about the last BYU football game (with their dad, of course).

Not every night is an earth-shattering experience of parent-child relationship bonding, but it IS time the kids look forward to, and so do we.

We try to shoot for doing Extras twice a month (so dedicating two weeks out of the month to it). It’s a quiet island of time to spend with the kids when life’s craziness swirls around us from the minute we wake up until bedtime.

Well, I think I’ll end here! I always have more to say (shocker, I know!) but instead, I’ll turn it over to you!

Feel free to share any survival skills for the new school year below!

Love ya.