Back to school 2020 style – advice for busy families

With the start of a new term approaching and kids getting back to school after months of home-schooling and summer holidays, life is set to take a different direction this week.

With new guidelines and restrictions, school days will look a lot different to when the gates closed in March. As we all learn to adapt to this new phase and our timetables get packed with staggered drop-offs at school gates and back to the routine of homework, one of the challenges will be what to feed your family to keep them strong, fit and healthy.

Busy families need quick, easy and nourishing ideas, so here are a few for you to try.

Have a plan 

Getting organised is the key. Use a menu planner to work out what your family are going to eat each day, so that you can build this on to your shopping list. Include ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Menu planning will save you so much time and effort, but is good for the budget too.

Get off to a good start

Taking time to sit down to eat breakfast will set everyone up well for the day. Research shows that children who eat a nourishing breakfast have better concentration throughout the school day. Forget sugar-laden cereals and think eggs on toast, overnight oats or porridge packed with seeds and berries for a slow, sustained release option. For teenagers who are not keen on breakfast, homemade smoothies can be a good idea – just be careful with the sugar content of juices, use milk or yoghurt as your base instead. Add seeds or nuts, fresh or frozen fruit and blitz on your blender.

If your kids are taking packed lunches to school, it pays to have a few things in the fridge that can be easily adapted to make a lunch for little ones and grown ups. Tuna mayonnaise for kids’ sandwiches can form the basis of a good salad for mum and dad. Houmous and vegetable sticks with falafels makes a tasty alternative to the same boring sandwiches every day and the whole family will love this handy lunch. Soups are a great way of packing a nutritional punch to your mid-day meal and Buddha bowls and super salads are perfect for teens and adults alike.

Cook in bulk

Make extra portions of one-pot-wonders like curry, Bolognese sauce and chilli to stick into the freezer for a handy tea on busy week nights. Bulking these meals out with extra vegetables and adding some pulses – red or puy lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans or borlotti beans – is a great (and cheap!) way to add extra nutrients to your meal.

If you are working from home, spend a little time at your lunch break to do some meal prep for later. This is a good way to clear your head in the middle of the day and will help make your evenings less hectic.

Dig out your slow cooker

Whether you are back to the office or working from home, a slow cooker can help make life easier and save time.

Use your freezer 

Not just to store the portions you’ve made in your batch cooking, but pack it with a selection of vegetables, some frozen herbs, cauliflower rice and fish or prawns to save your time and effort when you need fast food that’s healthy.

Don’t forget to keep hydrated

Schools are good at encouraging children to drink water, but sometimes the kids are better at this than adults, so take a leaf from their book and set a water bottle on your desk to keep your fluid levels topped up throughout the day.

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 22 August 2020.