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iT's back to school AND Back to the grindstone

I dread the back-to-school season; the uniforms; the sandwiches; the homework supervision; the activities; the schedule. Summer holidays are at an end; stress sets-in. But then, they head off to school on day one, buoyant in a way and work seems less stressful, knowing that they are all being kept good and busy.

Within the first week a schedule established and order seems to re-emerge, after the chaos that is the summer holidays.

I think we all respond to a schedule. There is less room for complaint, for lazy habits, for late-nights and resultant crankiness.

The key to stress reduction is preparation. Adequate preparation makes the transition from summer sloppiness to term-time tidiness easy; pleasant almost.

I start about now, to make lists that range from shopping lists, to meal plans, to activity schedules, to household chores. I find as household manager, I am best placed to organise the schedule.

Yes, the proletariat complains now and again, but considering I am the one shopping, cooking and often 
driving them from A to B, I find compliance comes eventually!

Kids get assigned household chores to a schedule, as these things get forgotten about during the holidays and adult activities are prioritised certain evenings too, so equality and fairness is set-up from the offset.

As to food; balance, as always, is at the core of my goals.

There is no point in my hoping to get 
organised on the day they go back to school, I, like many will be at work that day and the chaos boat will have sailed.

The return to school and work happens calmly and happily, I find, when I am 'uber' prepared, from week one.

What does this entail?
The shopping list

I revert to on-line shopping, after a summer of buying daily what we need and aiming to eat seasonally. On-line shopping, I find, terrorises me the first time I return to it, annually, as it takes more than the two hours allotted to navigate my way around.

After the initial pain, however, comes plenty of pleasure. The pleasure is in revisiting my favourites over coming weeks and months and simply tweaking in a matter of minutes.

Make vegetables, fruit and wholemeal carbohydrates the biggest portion of your shopping basket.

Have options to put, for instance, bagels, scones and pitta breads in the freezer. Buy fresh as well as frozen vegetables; fresh as well as frozen fruit (berries); fresh and frozen fish.

Stock up on tinned tomatoes (essential for endless sauce recipes), tinned fish (for sandwiches and fish cakes), tinned beans (instant post-school snack), chickpeas (for curry), kidney beans (vital to chilli).

Buy brown rice, for the evening when you have half an hour to cook it, as well as basmati, for when you have ten and wholemeal noodles, for when you only have three.

Buy potatoes, garlic and onion and always keep in stock. Have dried herbs and spices ready to make a sauce in thirty seconds (tinned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and oregano).

The meal plan

Nuts as I sound when I say this, I do manage to get a meal plan together for the new school season. It makes life so easy that this nut is sticking with it!

Every year my children's tastes evolve, thankfully. As they get older, gone are the mushy, baby-bowl type dinners and in their place have emerged very mild curries, that this year are spicier than last; lamb stew where it had been mince 
before; lasagne and salad where once it 
was lasagne only.

Fish cakes, fish pie and plain fish are now tolerated and even looked forward to, with rarely a fish-finger ever seen.

Pasta and tomato sauce is now a veritable cornucopia of chunky vegetables cooked within a flavoursome sauce.

The cost of all this deliciousness is time. I may not be a gourmet cook, but I do insist on as much variety and flavour being condensed into any meal, that, at this time of year I want to be ready to take out of fridge or freezer at a moments notice.

Lack of preparation is the main culprit when it comes to feeding our kids waffles, chicken goujons and pre-cooked frozen chips. We can do better than this, nine times out of ten.

We should certainly try. When you cook a stew, a curry or a lasagne, double-up, then refrigerate or freeze. 

The dreaded lunch-box

I have to admit that I do come out in a little cold sweat when I see the lunch-boxes re-emerge from their brief hibernation. I hate, hate, hate making sandwiches every night.

There are ways to lessen the agony, though. Firstly, our children do not need an endless stream of nutritional surprises every time they unveil their lunch.

They can, actually, have the same lunch every day and remain very balanced, 

How? By remembering that the lunch-box should contain one third of your and your 
children's food for the day, is the answer.

Think of the food pyramid, where 
carbohydrates are dominant; fruit as well as vegetables need to feature; meat, fish, eggs, cheese or alternative and a dairy product also need to be included.

What does this look like? Not a feast of endless variety, but a different piece of fruit on a few days; a different filling a couple of days; a different yoghurt and what might be a few tomatoes one day could be a few slices of cucumber the next.

We do not need to have a stir-fry one day followed by soup and wrap the next; keep it simple stupid (the KISS principle) is how I operate here.

Variety is of vital importance to health, but between a couple of different dinners in your repertoire and one or two different breakfasts you will easily achieve all that is necessary for balance, over the course of the week, both nutritionally and mentally.

The reason my sandwiches are made by night, incidentally, is for sanity! It is the same food, but pre-prepared.