I think I’ve finally let myself believe that school starts in just a week.
A week ago, I had hardly given it a thought, but now that teacher assignments and bus schedules are filling the mailbox, I can’t keep my head in the sand much longer. Time to buckle down and make some school year goals and good habits.
If you’ve been ticking down the “prep for school lists” and doing your supply shopping, I’d like to humbly suggest some real food and natural living line items to make sure you cover as the kiddos head back.
Good Habits: The Three Things
January is a popular time for resolutions and clean starts, but I think the beginning of a new school year is an even more appropriate time. I always appreciate the new routine and attempt to embrace it with routines of our own at home.
For example, as soon as my kids walk in the door, they have to do The Three Things:
- Wash their hands.
- Unpack their backpack.
- Take care of the lunch box (including putting the ice pack in the freezer).
This is immediately, before doing homework, before having a snack. “Have you done your 3 things?” is the question they are always met with when they ask their question: “Can I go play?” Here’s more on afterschool chores. It’s a routine worth starting, no matter what your personal “3 Things” are.
Snacks are Great, but the Kitchen Closes at 4:15
This summer we’ve experimented a bit with no afternoon snack, and it’s gone quite well. My kids make it just fine from a 1:00ish end of lunch to a 6:00 dinner.
School lunch is a bit earlier and often a bit less filling because of the time allotted for eating, so I do think my kids will appreciate an afternoon snack. But I don’t want to spoil their dinner, so we’re starting a new rule this year: The kitchen closes at 4:15.
They get off the bus at 3:50, so that means that after The Three Things, they need to have a snack right away or not at all. Snack choices are always offered by mom, by the way. No free for alls around here (probably because there really isn’t any snacky food to just grab other than making a trail mix, which isn’t all that exciting – but it is often their top choice when offered).
Sunscreen at Recess? Not Here.
I know a lot of people put sunscreen on their kids before they leave in the morning, but I’m emphatic about that being a bad idea, especially if you’re using conventional sunscreen. I want my kids to have 20 minutes of sun if they can get it midday, and at this time of year, I’m not worried about them burning (but we live at a latitude that’s pretty gentle as far as the sun’s rays go).
A No-Waste Lunch
School lunch rooms generate a lot of trash, both in wasted food and packaging.
Our lunches generally create zero waste. What can you do to keep up the good eco-friendly habits you build at home while your kids are at school?
Practice Lunch Box Training
Don’t forget, before you send a lunch box, thermos, or container with your kids for lunch, practice with them to make sure they can open it.
This is a great time to talk about what the lunchroom will be like, how long (or not) they’ll have to eat, and that they need to focus on their food and eat the healthy parts first.
Be Clean, But Not Too Clean
It’s frustrating when you strive for a natural environment in your home and then your kids spend 6-7 hours at school breathing in industrial strength cleaners and using strong antibacterial soaps all day. Triclosan is the dangerous ingredient in antibacterial soaps (banned by the FDA in 2016), but it’s an uphill battle with schools.
I teach my kids – and I need to remember to remind them before they head off to school this year – that they only need a tiny dab of soap to get the job done. The huge glob that comes out of most residential and commercial pumps is about three times too much for the biggest man hands ever.
But what about hand sanitizers? Aren’t those antibacterial too? Although kids really need to use soap and water to get dirt and grime off their hands, I don’t think (most) antibacterial sanitizers are as bad as the soap, and here’s why.
In our home, we use Benefect sanitizer, which is Thymol (thyme essential oil) based, but as long as there aren’t weird ingredients like parabens, I don’t get too worked up about hand sanitizers (just overusing them). I did send in homemade baby wipes for my son’s first grade class to use instead of Lysol and bleach-based wipes, and the teacher said the kids loved the fact that they could use them on their hands and face as well as their desks. (Score!) When they were forgotten for a few weeks, however, they had a mold problem (hazard of no preservatives).
Community Snack: Be an Advocate for Real Food
In my daughter’s preschool class last year, as in many young children’s classes around the country, snack was a community affair. Parents signed up to bring “a healthy snack” for each day, and all the children ate together. I was fortunate enough that my daughter’s teachers were already on the real food warpath against frosted cupcakes counting as “healthy,” and they had just decided to assign snacks to certain days and ask parents to sign up for the exact food the teachers wanted to see. (Brilliant! Bravo! Standing ovation!)
They used Volunteer Spot, an online system, to facilitate sign-ups, and although I didn’t agree that graham crackers, Goldfish, and Gogurts were healthy, nearly every day had an actual whole food: either a fruit, vegetable or cheese. On the rare days that the only snack was crunchy or artificially colored (two good signs to teach very young children to help them determine when junk food is being served), my daughter had raisins or a cheese stick along with her.
I was lucky. If it had not been so, I hope I would have been brave enough to advocate for real food and suggest such a system. I know at the very least, I would have tried to make it easy and discreet for my daughter to eat her own snack and given her agency at home to make sure she felt involved and not deprived.
If you are in a school situation where your kids are being served junk food, I hope you are courageous enough to speak up for real food, too! For motivation, inspiration, and ideas from the whole KS community, here’s a great conversation we had when I was first navigating the waters of community snacks and school lunch.
Room Parent: De-Sugarize the Holidays
Last year I bit the bullet and signed up to be a room parent, with an ulterior motive: I wanted to de-sugarize the holiday parties. (insert maniacal laugh here)
My plan was largely successful, enough so that another mom thanked me just last week at church for volunteering my time to take that position and for “choosing fun, healthy treats instead of all that sugar.” I was humbled, and very pleased.
And fun we had! The no-sugar Halloween party was a raving success, Christmas was a bit more sugary, but I still got some vegetables onto the menu, and the healthy Valentine’s Day treats went over smashingly well.
UPDATE: My latest proposal is for school-wide changes to the birthday treat system…
Send Real Food Along
Most importantly, the foodie part of the day that you’re (almost) 100% in charge of, The Lunch. Do what you can to send healthy food in cold lunches and for snacks:
- Lunch Packing: Healthy Food to Go (with dozens of ideas for real food school lunches)
- Gluten-free school lunch packing ideas
- Healthy Snacks to Go, my first eBook – many readers tell me they use this every week, or even that it doesn’t leave their counters!
- MOMables offers weekly lunch meal plans that are almost always real food (and really adaptable if not). Get a free week when you sign up for the newsletter, which is one of my personal favorites to read).
- The Healthy Lunch Box has 45 recipes and over 100 other resources for lunch packing ideas, plus efficiency tips, waste-free tips, and secrets to packing a sandwich-free lunch, if you’re cutting down on (or cutting out) bread for whatever reason.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
With so much to think about keeping your kids learning, nourished, and probably buzzing around to a bunch of after-school activities too, it’s easy to lose sight of the joy of family life. I highly encourage you to have a routine of connecting with each other, whether it’s a commitment to family dinners, a tradition you have at the table that keeps everyone talking, or night prayers all together.
I also encourage you (and myself!) to occasionally surprise your kids with something out of the ordinary and fun. Since food is my thing, I did it with silly meals this summer (pancakes, muffins) and try to think of other ways to have fun with food.
What are your key real food and natural living routines for the school year? How do you advocate for real food in your kids’ schools?