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Since school starts next week for my boys, I thought I’d share five back to school tips that I have found particularly helpful.

Tip #1: Get into the swing of things now

If you’re like me, you’ve let your kids sleep in until 8 am and get dressed around 10 am all summer long. Which is fine right up until the first day of school when the kids need to be up and dressed by 6:45 and out the door by 7:30. So this year I have instituted a “Going Back to School” schedule. The whole family is starting their day just as if school had already started. That means earlier bed times and wake ups, beds made, dressed, fed and ready to face the day by 7:30 am. At least I can get the grumbling out of the way now instead of on the first day of school.

Lunch BoxTip #2 Plan out those lunch menus

I’ve blogged about menu planning before but I think it’s important enough to repeat here. Sit down with your kids and plan out a couple weeks worth of lunch menus which all of you can live with. And, if your child packs his or her own lunch, they have a guide to what to bring for lunch on any particular day. It really nips the whole “But I didn’t know what to make so I took candy instead” argument in the bud.

Tip #3: Go to Back to School Night

Even if you are exhausted from a long day at work, the kids are cranky, and it’s pouring rain/sunny and 150 degrees. Everyone is nervous about that first day of school and it isn’t just limited to your kids.

The teacher is getting a whole new set of children in the classroom, 5 year olds are heading to a new phase of their life, and you need to get a feel for the classroom and teacher. So, it’s a good thing to meet & greet before that first day of school.

Tip #4: Create a Central Calendar

Everyone in the family has a list of activities that come in to the house through a number of ways, i.e. through papers coming home from school, emails from colleagues, party invitations sent in the mail. The best way to coordinate schedules is to use a central calendar. There are literally hundres of calendars available through stores and the Internet for you to use. Pick one and post it where everyone can see it (even the 3 foot tall kindergartner!).

Tip #5: Spend Time With Your Kids

It will be all too soon that they are gone all day and involved in their own lives once school starts. While you, and I, may look forward to that, the excitement wears off pretty quickly. So, take the time now to let your kids know that you love them and that you are there for them (no matter what happens). Enjoy it becuase childhood doesn’t last forever.

Do you have any back to school tips? Please share them with me!

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I love menus. Restaurants make them look so easy to put together. The pictures of the food make the dishes look mouth watering and, when I read the description, the ingredients seem somewhat simple (okay, we’re talking Denny’s not the Russian Tea Room).

And then I think to myself: I bet I could do that. I know I’d save money if I had a plan of attack, so to speak, when payday comes around. All I need to do is sit down and write it out!

And then I get home and two seconds into the meal planning process I give it up as hopeless.

Meal planning can be tough! Who’d a thunk it, right?

So, for today, I’m going to talk to you (and hope that you listen) about the ins and outs of menu planning and how it can benefit you, the working parent.

For starters, knowing what you are going to eat for the next two weeks (more or less) really helps keep down the whining and pestering around 4 pm.

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”*

Those are words you may never have to hear again. All you have to do is point to the refrigerator where the menu is posted, which your child may or may not be able to read. If they can’t, direct them to their other parent or older sibling for translation services.

Then there is the money saving aspect. If you know what you are going to eat, when you take your weekly jaunt to the grocery store all you have to do is purchase those ingredients for your menu. This saves on money because you aren’t buying generalities (gosh,  I think I’ll need 5 dozen eggs as opposed to I know I need 2 dozen eggs).  Just as long as you aren’t buying esoteric items, you should keep your purchases down to a manageable level. If you use coupons and sale items for your menu, you’re ahead of the game! As a side note, I’ve learned that you have to add in your snacks, too, or they catch up with you at the check out line.

With a menu plan, you keep the trips to the grocery store down to a minimum. So, if I know what my ingredients are, I can purchase them at one time and not have to make a run to the store every few days for items that I “forgot.” The only exception to this is milk and fresh veggies. We go through both pretty quickly so I always keep a bit of cash on the side to make sure I can purchase these each week (we only shop every two weeks).

So, what are the down sides to menu planning? Well, you have to actually create a menu. And, as I mentioned previously, it’s not an easy task. At least it wasn’t for me. You see, I get tired of baked chicken and salad. Or spaghetti and salad. Or pork chops and salad.

Do you sense a theme here?

When I think of menus, I think of a restaurant menu that has a plethora of interesting choices that are not found in the typical kitchen. This is my downfall. However, when I pick myself up off the floor and return to reality, I realized that I don’t have to spend hours pouring over my recipe box or allrecipes.com to create the perfect menu. There are plenty of alternatives available from the library (gasp!) or on the Internet.

Let us speak first of my friend, the library. How I love her! She is generous with her possessions and stern yet gentle with her reprimands (25 cent late fees, anyone?). Go to your nearest library and look up the following books:

Not into reading cookbooks and copying out your own menus or grocery lists? Me neither. There are other options that will send to your email a list of weekly dinners and accompanying grocery list. Just be aware that these options cost money, typically, and are only for dinners. You’ll still have to plan out breakfast and lunches (the Yum-o! cookbook has many recipes for breakfast and lunch).

  • Menus4Moms Basic Weekly Menu (free for basic menu)
    • added bonus of Grocery Deals, a free way of finding the sales in the grocery stores nearest to you
  • e-Mealz ($1.50 a week, payable 3 months in advance which works out to about $15)
    • recommended by Dave Ramsey
  • Meals Matter (free resource to create your own menu plans from pre-existing recipes or add in your own; simple and easy to use!)

The other option is to use a menu building software that will print out a grocery list for you. There are several available ranging from free to quite expensive. This is a good option if you want ultimate control over what you eat, particularly if you are on a specific diet.

As a final note, these menus are for dinners only. You’ll have to come up with your own ideas for breakfasts and lunches. Ray’s Yum-o! has lots of kid friendly breakfast and lunch ideas that adults will enjoy too. My kids particularly like the breakfast cereal parfaits!

  • Back-To-School Breakfast Recipes
    • if you add the recipes into your meal planner (like Meals Matter), you can get the ingredients into your over-all grocery list; otherwise, just add them onto the list you already have for your dinners
    • scroll to the bottom of the recipe page to get the links
  • Creative Breakfast Ideas (pdf)
    • while I am not endorsing their website, I do find the two page recipe booklet to have some good recipes
  • School Lunch Recipe Tips
    • Okay, I do realize it is summertime. However, if you are working from home, chances are you are making lunch for the munchkins anyway.
    • Or you can go right to the Lunch Recipes, if you prefer.

Do you plan your menus? Is this information overwhelming or helpful? Let me know!

* I have yet to hear them ask their father this question and he’s in the next room!

Why in the world would I write a WAHM Tip on isolation? We are, by definition, moms working from home and, therefore, have one or more children running around underfoot at most times. We’re not really isolated. Are we?

Well, that’s the point. We are at home. With the kids.

All. The. Time.

I know you’ve felt isolated because I have too. Just getting out to the doctor’s office is like mana from heaven. But it shouldn’t be. Humans (typically) are social creatures and we give some of that up to work from home. Not that snuggles and sticky kisses aren’t worth every moment away from the main office but, still, we crave contact with adults.

And, no, husbands don’t count as isolation busters. Usually. At least, mine isn’t an isolation buster since he’s home as well, going to school online. He feels like the house closes in on him too. I know because he’s told me so several times.

Anyway, my point is that we need to make time in our busy schedules for some “me time.” It isn’t selfish and it isn’t bad for business. Quite the contrary, in fact. How much more productive would you be if you had a break from the routine and got out to do something else for a half hour? How much calmer would you feel? I know I do.

Even getting out once a week is a great way to relieve some of the isolation felt when working from home. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • grab a cup of coffee with a friend
  • go walking in the park with your kids
  • attend a women’s (or men’s) bible study group (sometimes they have child care)
  • go to the gym and work out
  • take a trip to the local library and peruse the bookshelves

Now, if you absolutely cannot get out of the house without the kids or there is no time in your schedule, you can:

  • hang out at your favorite social networking site (Twittermoms.com, Facebook, etc.)
  • Twitter for about ten minutes (small break and it gets you involved with something not work related)
  • Skype with friends or family
  • work on that personal project you’ve been meaning to finish (unfinished quilts, paintings, writing a book, etc. Oh wait, those are mine.)

That last one isn’t really meant to break you out of isolation but it will certainly get you into the calm zone. I hope, anyway.

So, what are your WAHM Tips for breaking out of isolation*? I want to know!

*After editing this post I realized that it sounds like I’m advocating for prison breaks. I’m not. Just trying to get WAHMs out of the house before the walls close in on them.

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