If you want to know how to master back-to-school, just ask a busy working parent. Two IMAGE team members share their tried and tested tips and hard-won advice to help you get ready for the big return this week.
Meg Walker, managing editor
MUM OF Two children, aged nine and 12.
THIS YEAR’S CHALLENGE My son just started secondary school, so it’s our first time coping with bus schedules, Leap Cards and uniforms, not to mention class schedules, iPads, mobile phones, mega costs and a big-time increase in homework; but on the plus side, we’re saving on childcare.
MOST ANNOYING BACK-TO-SCHOOL BUY The compulsory school journal that cost €52… yes, really; as my friend exclaimed, “What is it, Kate Spade?”
PRO PARENT TIP I pack my kids’ lunches inside a BPA-free plastic box and that box goes inside a cooler bag, with an ice block in between keep everything chilled until lunchtime.
CHILD’S FAVOURITE PACKED LUNCH Tuna and sweetcorn with mayonnaise and curly pasta (tip: make your life easier by making enough for two days and pack in small plastic boxes ready to slip inside the lunch bag each morning; don’t forget to pack a fork) and Moroccan hummus with carrot sticks (and that’s for the fussy eater).
MUST-HAVE FRIDGE ESSENTIALS FOR WHEN YOU’VE WORKED LATE OR CAN’T MAKE IT TO THE SHOPS I always keep cheese dippers and yoghurt tubes in the fridge – handy for the end of the week when the bread goes off or mornings after a night working late.
MARIE KONDO-APPROVED TRICKS I haven’t quite worked out how to master this yet; Marie Kondo would be very disappointed in me, I think. I’m just proud I manage to keep on top of the laundry.
BEST ADVICE TO OTHER PARENTS If you haven’t yet gotten involved in your school, do. I work full-time and commute two hours per day… when my first-born started school, I didn’t think I had the time. I am so glad I got involved – I was in the PTA for five years and truly, it not only gave me great satisfaction, pride, and new friends, but it helped me to know well in advance all the ins and outs and plans in the school (for instance, in meetings, I’d learn when the school photos were being taken and could mark my diary rather than rely on the note coming home in the bags or email advising me the week of the photo day). It also gave me and other working parents a voice (when I joined, there were just two working parents on the committee – think about that).
Lizzie Gore-Grimes, group editor-in-chief
MUM OF Three children, aged 11, nine and six.
THIS YEAR’S CHALLENGE Actually, this year gets a tiny bit easier, as our youngest, Alanna, starts first class and her school day finishes at 2.30pm, the same time as the boys. So five fewer hours in the week that I need to organise childcare. Bonus.
MOST ANNOYING BACK-TO-SCHOOL BUY School shoes. We always have drama with the shoes. Finding the ones that fit, aren’t too nerdy looking, and will last out the year.
PRO PARENT TIP Any one-pot dinner you’re making, such as bolognese, beef chilli, stroganoff, chorizo and lentil stew, or chicken adobo – make double. It requires virtually no extra effort while you’re at it. Store the second batch in the freezer and build up a stash of ready-made dinners that you can pull out of the freezer when you’re too late or tired to cook.
CHILD’S FAVOURITE PACKED LUNCH My lot like a picnic-style lunch with lots of small bits and just a half sandwich. So it’s a mix of carrot sticks and hummus, baby sausage rolls, crackers, salami sticks, chunks of cheese, baby tomatoes, fruit, small yoghurt, breadsticks, etc. Or a warm thermos filled with a pasta, noodle or rice dish.
MUST-HAVE FRIDGE ESSENTIALS FOR WHEN YOU’VE WORKED LATE OR CAN’T MAKE IT TO THE SHOPS Our go-to emergency food? Eggs. Thankfully, we all love eggs. You can whip up a tasty frittata with what you have in the fridge or a simple cheese omelette and toast. Dinner in ten minutes. Winner.
MARIE KONDO-APPROVED TRICKS Hmmm? Not sure about this one. Put the kids to bed dressed for school and save ten minutes of “Are you dressed yet? Are you dressed yet?” badgering in the morning? Would MK approve? I doubt it.
BEST ADVICE TO OTHER PARENTS Try not to compare yourself with others. There will always be other children who seem to be involved in a million more after-school activities than yours, and other parents much more “on it” than you. Just focus on you and your family and what works for you guys. We made our own pact not to sign up for any activity on a Sunday so we can have at least one day where no one’s rushing anywhere.
What’s in your lunchbox?
Running out of ideas? The Irish Food Writers’ Guild share some tips…
One very simple step towards helping your children to improve their eating habits is to try and eat together as a family as much as you can. Children will be much more inclined to try new foods and finish their meal if they are sitting at a table with the rest of the family all doing the same. Making your Sunday evening meal a roast dinner and choosing a larger cut of meat than you need to feed the family is a clever way to ensure you have home-cooked, good quality cooked meat ready for the next few days’ lunchboxes. You will get great value out of a home-baked ham; while roast beef cut into really thin slivers makes a delicious sandwich filler. And who doesn’t love a roast chicken sandwich?
If you can, try and rotate the breads you use for sandwiches – wholemeal rolls, wraps, bagels, pitta etc – anything to keep things interesting.
Kids sick of sandwiches? Include oatcakes, or seeded crackers in their box instead with slices of cheese or cooked meat stored separately to put together themselves. “Building” their own lunch can liven things up a bit.
A tub of natural yoghurt and a little portion of crunchy granola to add just before eating also adds a bit of healthy protein and slow release oats to the lunchbox.
A tapas or picnic-style lunch incorporating a variety of sweet/salty flavours can shake things up a bit. Chunks of hard cheese eaten with baby cherry tomatoes – delicious. Similarly, generous chunks of cucumber go great with feta. Parma ham with grapes. Get the kids to come up with their own preferred sweet/salty combos.
Invest in a thermos container and when you are preparing family meals during the week, prepare extra while you’re at it to fill the next day’s lunchbox. Any kind of stew, casserole, fried rice or noodle dish can make a great filling lunch the next day.
Don’t forget about eggs – a healthy, versatile form of protein. A hard-boiled egg can be a great lunchbox addition, while a batch of homemade egg mayonnaise makes a great sandwich or wrap filler. A slice of homemade frittata is tasty, filling and easy to eat on the go. You’ll also find lots of great recipes online for savoury ham and egg cups (baked in a muffin tin).
During cold, winter months homemade soup brought into school in a thermos flask is a great way to keep kids going.
Simple building blocks for a better lunch
FRUIT: fresh and dried
VEGETABLES: raw or cooked
PROTEIN: tuna, ham, chicken, hard boiled eggs, crispy bacon, bean dips eg hummus
GRAINS: focus on wholemeal – bread, rolls, bagels, pita, crackers, wraps, scones, rice, pasta, rice cakes, oatcakes, wholegrains eg barley, buckwheat, quinoa
DAIRY: yoghurt, cheese, milk
AVOID: crisps, fizzy drinks, processed meats and foods, muesli or breakfast bars, juices
Instagram and Pinterest can be a great source of ideas for packed lunches for office and school.
POWER UP YOUR LUNCH BOWL
Pasta, pesto and pine nut salad
Parma wrapped breadsticks
Cherry tomato and baby mozzarella salad
Penne, chicken and sweetcorn salad
Rice, tomato and pesto salad
Cooked baby potatoes with crème fraîche (or mayo) and chopped ham
Smoked salmon and orzo salad
Mixed fruit salad
Main photograph by Cel Lisboa
Lunch photograph by Joanne Murphy