Back-to-School Action Plan: The Kitchen


With backpacks to find, lunches to pack and permission slips to sign, school mornings can feel like a big shift in gears from lazier summer schedules. And by the time everyone is home and ready for dinner, cooking may be the last thing you have the energy for. If you’re looking for ways to ease up on the weekday kitchen chaos, here are ideas and tips for making lighter work of morning breakfasts, packed lunches and weeknight dinners.

1. Carve out prep time on the weekend. An hour or two of weekend meal prep can go a long way toward making busy weeknight dinners feel more doable. Start by making a list of tried-and-true meals you know you can pull together quickly and that your family enjoys. Save this list (and add to it) as time goes on, and you’ll soon have your own cheat sheet of easy go-to dinners you can rely on when your calendar gets packed.

  • If you have a little time: Plan easy favorites for dinner, go shopping and wash some produce when you get home.
  • If you have more time: Chop vegetables, cut up fruit, cook grains and make one or more meals to freeze and reheat later in the week.

Timesaving tip: Organize your shopping list by the sections (cold case, produce, bakery) in your favorite grocery store. It’s more efficient and you’re less likely to forget something.

2. Gather lunch-making supplies in one convenient spot. There’s something incredibly disheartening about facing a tumbling tower of mismatched Tupperware before you’ve had your full morning allotment of caffeine. Make things easier (and maybe even entice young ones to help out) by gathering all the necessary lunch-making supplies in one spot. Here are some essentials you may want to include:
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Unbreakable food storage containers or bento-style boxes
  • Small, spill-proof containers for sauces and dips
  • Insulated thermos for hot foods
  • Reusable plastic or metal flatware
  • Reusable snack bags
  • Paper or reusable napkins
  • Masking tape and a permanent marker for writing names on everything

3. Make the kids’ dishes accessible. Encourage young helpers to set their own place at the table (or even grab their own breakfast) by positioning a set of tableware in a lower cabinet or drawer. This one simple change can empower kids to help themselves and takes one more task off your own plate.

Timesaving tip: Want to improve access without having to rearrange the entire kitchen? Just grab one plate, bowl and cup for each child in the house and stack them somewhere they can reach. Fill a mug with flatware, stack up a few napkins, and you’re set.

4. Plan ahead for weekday morning ease. You are probably already well aware of your family’s particular pain points in the morning — consider what these roadblocks look like and face them head on.
  • If your family is always running late: Put a big clock in the kitchen and set it ahead by 10 minutes. Can’t people just look at their phones, you might ask? Sure, but with a giant clock on the wall, they’re more likely to use it to keep track.
  • If your family tends to skip breakfast: Find one or two appealing options that can be prepared the night before and keep them stocked in the fridge. A blender filled with smoothie ingredients and yogurt parfaits in jars are favorites in my house.

5. Revamp the family command center. Think about what your family needs easy access to the most in the morning. Fielding last-second requests to print out school projects? Consider stationing a wireless printer in a lower cabinet. Always losing track of the hairbrush? Stash an extra in the drawer. What this is not the place for are random items and extras: so find another spot for the stray batteries, balls of rubber bands, appliance warranties and 10,000 extra pens (or is that just in my house?).

6. Clear a spot for homework and after-school projects. If your kids are likely to congregate in the kitchen while working on homework or art projects after school, embrace it and make space for it. Keep the kitchen table cleared and store a caddy of school supplies nearby so they have everything they need.

7. Stock a healthy snack station. Kids can be ravenous when they get home from a long day at school, so be sure to put the snacks you want them to reach for at an appealing child-height in the pantry or fridge. Some current favorites in our house include seaweed snacks, apple chips, cheese sticks, yogurt cups and fresh fruit.

Timesaving tip: Fill baggies with individual servings of snack time favorites on the weekend, when you’re feeling less frantic. Then on weekday afternoons, kids can just grab a bag on their own.

8. Keep a running grocery list where everyone can see it. Getting midway through a dinner recipe only to find you’re missing a key ingredient — or worse, waking up to find there’s no coffee in the house — is one of life’s greatest little annoyances. Avoid the problem (and, ahem, stop ponying up to the swear jar) by keeping track of items you need on a centrally located grocery list. A digital list can work well too, just be sure everyone in the household is synced up so you don’t miss a thing.