Steps for a Saner School Year

The new school-year is just a few days away and many parents are already stressed out. They’re physically and mentally exhausted, and it’s just the beginning. They’re dreading all the lunches that need to be shopped for and packed, all the back-to-to school meetings and conferences to attend, the early morning battles of getting the kids off to school on time, and the late nights studying for tests and working on those special projects.

The kids are stressed too. They still have lots of questions and very few answers yet. Will their teachers be hard, easy, inspirational, or boring? Will they be able to do the all the work that’s required and get good grades? Will they make the basketball team, jazz band, and at the top of their worry list, any new friends?

Once upon a time both parents and children looked forward to the start of school. That was when summer vacation meant long days of unscheduled unstructured time trying to find things to do. Usually it meant riding bikes, playing ball with the kids in the neighborhood or going “back to school” for a few hours each day to do craft projects and meet up with other kids at city sponsored day camps held in school playgrounds.

That was before two-parent working families became the norm and school districts had to scale back on all types of services. Suddenly there were no kids left to ride bikes with or community camps to attend. It was also before big business stepped in to fill the gap with all types of specialized camps which guaranteed they would not only keep children safe and occupied during the summer months, but give them a step-up when they returned to school in the fall.

So now, instead of starting the new school-year rested, relaxed, and rearing to go; most parents and kids are already worn out from a summer that that was jammed with places to be, things to do, and hoping the thousands of dollars spent on enrichment programs and sports camps really do translate into better grades and a place on the team.

This is certainly not the best way to begin the new school year – but is there anything parents can do?

There sure is, but it takes the commitment to make some major lifestyle changes and the courage to actually go through with them.

This is the perfect time to start a new family tradition by beginning the school year with a special family celebration honoring the countless hours you put into raising your children and the work and effort they put into school and extracurricular activities.

And perhaps the best gift you can give at this celebration is making a family commitment to spend more time focusing on the lessons families can teach better than anyone else – building character, instilling family values, learning how to love and appreciate who they and others are; talents and flaws included.

Steps for a Saner School Year

Get organized so rather than frantically running round and always playing catch-up you’ll have time to stop and replenish yourself

Find a big calendar and hang it in the kitchen (the closer to the refrigerator the better) and down all important dates and deadlines.

  • Establish an evening routine to make sure all homework is done and projects on schedule, all forms and permission slips are completed, lunches are packed – and just when that next bake sale will be. It’s no fun running out to the 24 hour supermarket getting the ingredients you’ll need to spend the next two hours baking cupcakes. (That’s actually another parenting lesson altogether and rates a blog of its own).

Steps for a Richer Life

Smaller Lists – Richer Lives Cut back. Fewer activities mean more pleasure and benefits from the ones you choose.

  • Set realistic goals based on each child’s unique needs, talents, and abilities based on what’s best for them and not to fulfill your dreams.
  • Keep perspective Your kids aren’t doomed to a lifetime of failure if they get a detention, fail a test, or cut from the team. Sure those things make them sad and cause you embarrassment but knowing they can survive setbacks and come back even stronger is a life lesson that is priceless.
  • Plan family times that enhance your lives and fit naturally into your daily routines. Stay away from “mandatory” attendance and a set schedule of special events. Every member of your family is already over-burdened with those kinds of demands.
  • Take a few minutes each day to touch base privately with your children. It can be as simple as a knock on a door letting them know you love them and asking how their day went or cuddling together while reading a story. Most important – you’re sending the message that you’re always there for them no matter what.

And that’s the way to a saner more successful school year and life!

In this crazy world all children deserve people who will love and support them unconditionally, where they are safe, unjudged, and accepted not matter what.


What’s Cooking?

Family Cooking

Seems like cooking shows featuring kids are the hottest things on TV. From Master Chef Junior to Kids’ Baking Championship. I admit, I’m addicted to them myself.

The upside is that they’re highlighting how much fun it can be getting kids in the kitchen and involved in cooking.

The downside, other than making most grownups look incompetent, are the subtle messages sent about the most exciting foods to prepare and the tastiest foods to eat. According to the judges on these shows, the more sugar, fat, and salt the better!!!

I’ve lost count of the number of times judges tell these kids, “It’s good, but needs more salt.” That makes me cringe. Americans need less – not more salt in our foods. That also goes for sugar and fats.

The just released federal dietary guidelines call on all Americans to cut sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. Most of us consume far more — about 3,440 milligrams daily on average — much of it in the form of foods like pizzas, soups, breads and cured meats.

As for sugar, Americans are the largest consumers in the world. The average American has about as much sugar as the average Indian, Chinese, Russian, Turk, and Brazilian combined.

On average, Americans eat 22 teaspoons a day. To meet the new 10 percent target, they’d need to cut their sugar intake by nearly half — to no more than 12 teaspoons a day on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

For me, when it comes to kids and cooking, it isn’t about teaching them to create the most extraordinary show-stopping dishes, but teaching them to prepare everyday ordinary meals that are delicious and good for the family too.

Mardi Michels who runs cooking classes for kids has some terrific advice:

  • Make the time


The single most common reason people give for not cooking with their kids is that there’s no time. But just because you don’t have the time to cook with your kids every night, isn’t a reason to never cook with them at all. Set aside a couple of hours on a weekend to prepare a meal with your kids. Start slow – but start.

Find the right recipes


Too often, people think they need a special cookbook for cooking with kids. Not true. Look for ones that teach basic cooking skills and include recipes for “affordable family meals from scratch at home. Look for a regular cookbook with well written, easy-to-follow recipes, pictures, and enough tasks to keep little minds and hands busy. If you’re working with more capable kids or feel confident, look for recipes that challenge them and develop more advanced skills and techniques.

·         Don’t get hung up on having the right equipment

No need to buy special equipment for your kids. Stick with the standards you probably already have: an assortment of pots, pans and trays, a colander, cookies sheets, a box grater, measuring cups and spoons, a vegetable peeler, wooden spoons, and spatulas.

  • Don’t worry if your children are picky eaters


Encourage your kids to be food “explorers” on a search for new foods to sample. Everyone may be surprised just how much of an adventure cooking and eating different things can be. Look for recipes, ingredients, and spices from other cultures and countries. Ask that everyone, mom and dad included, try at least one bite. Sure there will be misses, but there’s bound to be some real winners too.

  • Be patient


The more you cook with kids, the more skilled and faster they’ll become. As hard as it may be, resist the urge to take over and do it for them. If you do, they’ll never learn – which really is the point. Just factor in extra time and soon you’ll find the more you cook with your kids, the less   time you’ll need.

Healthy cooking doesn’t start in the kitchen.

It’s important to involve your kids from beginning to end!

 Ask them to help research recipes, check the pantry and frid, write up the shopping list, and join you on the trips to the market.

The most valuable cooking lessons we can teach our children are all about making healthy food choices that will last a lifetime.

That way when the next set of government dietary guidelines comes out, they’re way ahead of the game.

And who knows? Maybe one day soon there may even be a healthy kids cooking show on the Food Network or Cooking Channel. Until then, improvise. Create your won family version of Chopped or Master Chef Junior. Just remember, cut down on fats, sugar, and please – less salt!