The lazy days of summer are slowly (or not) giving way to the mad rush of getting everyone out the door on time with a nourishing breakfast in their belly and a healthy lunch in their backpacks. To add to the pressure, there is that end-of-day challenge of having dinner on the table when your family return home and convene for your evening meal.
The back-to-school season is hard enough as it is with the hectic schedules, loads of homework, and anxiety for everyone. Of the endless challenges posed by the school year, some tips and strategizing to get you ready in the kitchen can make a world of difference.
Although I know it is easier said than done, I definitely recommend thinking ahead, laying some ground rules and considering adjustments to summer daily habits. Taking time to cultivate your basic needs, and those of your children and family members (good food, ample sleep, movement, and stress management, just to name a few), helps get each of you off to a smooth start each school day with customs and routines to rely on that provide a bit more ease as you all transition and move through the year.
Current societal swings bring a lot of pressure. Many parents who are choosing to follow Paleo principles are concerned that their child will be different, or outcast, among their peers if the food choices you are making for them to provide ample energy and focus are not always what may be considered the ‘norm’. As a result, you may very well be overlooking the fact that you have possibly the strongest hand in informing the health, longevity and disease prevention for your children.
Feel empowered that you get to make the choice at least three times a day to say yes to vibrant health for you and your family:
- Make time for a breakfast that really is for champions
- Pack those loving lunches
- Get a delicious dinner on the table that everyone will eat
This truly is the tricky part, especially the ‘everyone will eat’ addition. Setting the foundation for success is key.
Keep your fridge and pantry well-stocked with ready-to-go-meals so you can always have an answer when faced with that glaring question ‘What’s for dinner?’
Back-To-School Kitchen Hacks
“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients” – Julia Child.
Break It Down
- Focus on cooking a full dinner 2-3 nights a week. Using your Paleo foundation this will include a protein, vegetables (raw, cooked, starchy and/or leafy) and some added healthy fats.
- Have a regular ‘breakfast for dinner’ night (eggs, bacon, possibly some Paleo friendly pancakes) one night.
- On other nights, do leftovers, a family night out or a date night!
Source local ingredients. Your food will sing without a lot of fuss.
- Join a CSA (Community Support Agriculture) program. Your vegetables will be selected, boxed and ready for you to pick up each week and will taste better than the supermarket.
- Buy local produce, eggs and meat at the Farmer’s Market or farm.
- Buy meat locally and in bulk.
Enlist someone else to do the weekly grocery store run now that your list is a lot shorter. Many grocery stores now offer online shopping – take advantage and have your groceries ready for you to pick up!
Keep It Simple
- Keep recipes simple. Today’s recipes may be complicated. Stick to the simple ones!
- Cook, steam or braise your vegetables and meats in bone broth (get yours HERE) . This adds extra flavor and richness as well as provide a little variety.
- Fat makes food delicious and filling. Add as much Paleo friendly fat of choice as your vegetables can hold after steaming or roasting.
- Make a Paleo friendly ice cream for an easy and much-loved dessert.
Your Fridge Is Your Salad Bar
Buy pre-washed and packed salad greens and chop your favourite toppings (or buy pre-chopped) so you can always have a nutritious salad ready to throw together. Some topping ideas include raw or roasted vegetables, olives, hard cooked eggs, canned fish, avocado, roasted chicken, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
Roast Your Roots
Make a large batch of roasted root vegetables every week. Try the usual sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips or venture out and try some celery root, parsnip, rutabaga and winter squash. You can eat these alone, as a side dish, on a salad or pureed into soups.
Dressings And Sauces
- Make 1 or 2 simple salad dressings each week and keep in closed mason jars in the fridge to shake up and use on any delicious salads. Keep plenty of fresh lemons and olive oil on hand for an even easier on-the-spot option.
- Have 2 or 3 sauces in your repertoire that are easy to prepare and are crowd pleasers. Make a batch or 2 each week to top cooked proteins, vegetables or dips for snacks. Try making herb pesto, sesame tahini, Asian dipping sauces, mayonnaise or a simple tomato sauce.
Slow Food Is Good
Use your slow-cooker or crock-pot to have a meal ready for you when you get home from work. One or two favourite soup and stew recipes can be rotated each week for a no-hassle dinner.
- Make double batches of your favourite soups and stews and immediately freeze half for another time. Use small containers so they are easy to defrost and perfect for individual or smaller meals if your family has a busy schedule.
- Roast a chicken every week, either in the oven, or overnight in your slow-cooker. The meat can be used for salads, sandwiches and wraps all week and the carcass can be used to make soup and stock on the weekend.
If getting breakfast together and cooked in the morning is overwhelming, pack smoothie ingredients into individual containers, ready to blend and go in a mason jar if necessary. Kids love making their own smoothies and this puts them in charge of their meal.
Cook Your Eggs
Hard cook a dozen (or more) eggs each week to leave in the fridge for grab-and-go snacks, and easy addition to breakfast or a topping for salads. Cooked eggs are easy to store and will last a week if not gobbled up before.
You could also cook up some bacon to enjoy with eggs or crumbled onto salads or vegetables.
- Take a cooking class. It will be the best money you ever spent. The two most important classes to take are knife skills and cooking techniques (roasting, sautéing, steaming, braising, etc.). Avoid classes that focus on one type of cuisine. No time to go to a class? Check out Chef Pete’s book Paleo By Season and learn from the best!
- Get a sous chef. Have family members prepare vegetables or set the table.
- Clean as you go.
- Have a kitchen playdate with a friend and their kids.
- Order in – Pete’s Paleo meals are chef prepared, locally sourced, delicious, kid-approved and delivered right to you – no apron required
In the spirit of back to school, I am giving you some homework for the week:
- Note which tips and tricks you think will work best for you and your family
- Try out one or two of these tips this week on a day when you have time. Sundays are often a favorite prep day but find what works best for you.
- If your children are old enough, invite them to participate. They just might enjoy what is on their plate for dinner a little more if they take part in the deciding and preparing of it.
If you are already organized with your kitchen basics and meal preparation tips and skills of your own, please share them with us. Seriously, we always want more!
Last but not least…
Nothing is perfect. Be flexible. Real food may not always be as consistent as the convenience products you buy from the grocery store. You may burn a few things. You may cook a steak too well done. You could forget to heat up dinner. You will make mushy vegetables. You will get too busy. Keep calm and carry on to plan B whatever that may be.
The beginning of the school year is filled with its own stresses, schedules, readjustments and constraints. Making sure keeping you and your family nourished and fueled need not be an added burden.