Whether it’s ordering from their favorite local Thai restaurant or stockpiling pencils from Staples, these parents have back-to-school down to a science. We asked six parents in divergent career fields about their best hacks when it came to starting the new school year on a fresh foot. What did they stock up on? What were their favorite quick weekday meals? What were their essential “must-buys” when it came to getting ready for the year to come? Our parent pros gave us all the ins and outs to prepping for the busiest time of year. Here are their tips and tricks.
A fresh start means a refresh of essentials.
For Olivia Dreizen Howell, 38, the CEO of Fresh Starts Registry with two children — ages 7 and 9 — can be hectic at the beginning of the year. “As a single mom and startup founder, I’m always looking for ways to save money,” the Huntington, New York-based mom says.
Dreizen Howell’s streamlined back-to-school routine begins in mid-August, and she starts with new lunch boxes. “Typically, my kids pick lunch boxes based on their current hobby or passion,” she says. “We also like to get new sheets for the beds, as the start of the school year is a fresh start for everyone.”
From there, she’s on the lookout for items that will help transition into the busy school year. One unexpected item that helps her family on frenetic school mornings, she says, is plenty of socks. “We truly cannot have enough socks,” she says. “My parenting hack is to have all one color sock and get a ton of them, so they always match.”
In Northport, New York, Chrissy Ruggeri, 38, a writer and small business owner, invests in new backpacks, shoes, and reusable water bottles with her children, 5 and 7. “It feels like an exciting ritual that allows the kids to personalize some things,” she says. Ruggeri waits until a week or two before school begins, goes through her children’s drawers, and donates used clothing that no longer fits.
Get organized with pencils and calendars.
Julie Vick, 46, a college writing instructor at the University of Colorado, Denver, invests in mechanical pencils at the start of each school year for her two children, who are 9 and 11. “I like having a good supply,” she says. Vick relies on a wall calendar to help organize activities and events for her kids. “I think it helps my kids to see things visually that are coming up for us,” she says. “I typically try to fill in the big dates for the upcoming season before school starts back to mentally prepare us all.”
Seventh-grade English teacher Sara Chella, 40, has been experiencing the back-to-school crush long before becoming a mother, and agrees that pencils are a must-have when it comes to the new season. Chella, who lives in Tewksbury, Massachusetts with her children, 3 and 6, stocks up on pencils and snacks at the end of every summer. Kids, she says, are constantly losing pencils. She reminds parents to pack at least one extra of anything they think their kids may need.
Stock up on snacks and other necessities.
In order to stave off hunger pangs during those all-important first weeks, Sara Chella invests in snacks — and a lot of them. “I usually get the individual packs of Cheez-Its, Pirate’s Booty, fruit snacks, pretzels, string cheese, applesauce, and Craisins,” she says. “The kids also like to snack on fruit and cucumber, so I pack that as well.”
In addition to stocking up on plenty of food, she stocks up on a few other home essentials: cleaning supplies and tissues. “We will all inevitably get sick immediately,” she says. Having a replenished stock of supplies on-hand makes the new year bugs go away that much faster.
To keep her kids’ after school hunger at bay, Olivia Dreizen Howell stocks up on Little Bites muffins, mini Oreo, and Chips Ahoy! snack packs. Vick buys snacks like Fruit-by-the-Foot, Frito-Lay individual chip bags, and beef jerky. “I also make sure we are pretty stocked for basic house supplies, like paper towels, toilet paper, and basic pantry supplies,” she adds. Meanwhile, Ruggeri gets organized by placing snacks — granola bars, fruit, string cheese, Goldfish — in clear bins for the pantry so that kids can pick their own each day.
Tramelle D. Jones, 44, a strategic success and workplace wellness coach at TDJ Consulting in San Antonio, Texas, stockpiles crayons for her 9-year-old at the start of each school year. “We use them in so many ways, like melted wax art on canvas, party favors, and crayon candles,” Jones says. Jones begins preparing for school a month before the year begins by hosting an annual back-to-school party with friends. This year, Jones says, they’re planning a karaoke party. “I feel this reignites her [my daughter’s] connections with friends, and allows me to reconnect with their parents,” Jones says.
Make dinner a breeze.
When Lauren DeGolia, 43, a senior compliance manager for Microsoft and the founder and CEO for Uncork your Magic — a consultation-based company rooted in cosmic intuition — is not ordering Thai food, she’s making chicken carnitas in her Instapot on busy back-to-school weeknights. “It can be made ahead and easily reheated,” DeGolia, who lives in Seattle, Washington and has one child, age 12, says.
For quick weeknight dinners, says Chrissy Ruggeri, make-your-own pizzas, using pre-made Stonefire naans as a base, are a family go-to. “When there’s very limited time, I make a simple charcuterie board with hard-boiled eggs, sliced raw veggies, cheese, and crackers,” she says. “Another easy staple is pasta with spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese in olive oil.”
Jones buys what’s needed for her favorite weeknight meal — chicken fajitas with cilantro-lime rice, black beans, and homemade salsa and guacamole — making sure there’s plenty extra. “It's become a weekly menu item, and my daughter loves to help, and we intentionally make enough to have leftovers for her lunch the next day,” she says.
No matter your favorite snack, weekday meal, or organizing hack, take a tip from these parent experts and refresh, reset, and stock up for a streamlined back-to-school season in 2023.
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Staples