Welcome back to school. The routines may not be fully back in gear but there are enough days into the school year to figure out summer is gone and time to get real with managing home, work and school. Extra activities keep families busy all year, but especially as the school year begins and new experiences are undertaken. Today’s story contains helpful hits from experts at Family Features who know these days families are often single parent or multi-job, multi-child juggling acts. It is easy to fall back into the same old routines, but then again, maybe it’s time for a change. According to the United States Department of Labor, as of 2015 69.9 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 were in the labor force. While more and more mothers are returning to work after the birth of their children, that does not mean their responsibilities at home are falling by the wayside. Time-strapped working moms tasked with preparing family meals can embrace some time-saving strategies to make mealtime a little less hectic.

SAVE TIME DURING PREP — Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, preparing meals for a family can be time-consuming. When making dinner, keep a plastic shopping bag or bowl on the counter where you can discard scraps such as the skin from onions, fat from chicken and other items that will ultimately end up in the garbage. Discarding all the items into one bag rather than walking back and forth from the garbage to your work area can save time during meal prep.

SLOW THINGS DOWN — Another way to save time at mealtime is to use a slow cooker so meals are cooking during the day while you are at work. Chop vegetables on weekend afternoons or nights and separate ingredients into Ziploc bags or containers so all of the prep work is done ahead of time. Each morning you can simply unload the bags or containers into the slow cooker, turn it on before leaving for work and then the meal will be ready to eat by the time you and your family arrive home at night.

SHOP ONLINE — Many people associate online shopping with clothing and gadgets, but working moms can now buy groceries for their families online as well. Many grocery stores now offer online shopping and pickup services that allow shoppers to fill up their grocery carts before stepping foot in the store. Simply place your order online and arrange a pickup time and everything will be ready for you when you arrive at the store. This can save you the effort and time spent navigating today’s increasingly large and busy grocery stores.

INVOLVE THE WHOLE TEAM — Working parents who are tasked with family meal planning might want to find healthy meals for their families, but that does not mean they can’t involve the whole family when it comes time to cook. Encourage children to help when preparing meals, assigning age-appropriate tasks. And let dad do some of the work, encouraging him to fire up the grill when the weather permits.

Power-Packed Lunchbox Ideas

Packing and prepping wholesome lunches doesn’t have to be a chore. Kick health into high gear this school year with new ideas to make creative, nutrient-rich meals — and let the children take an active part in the kitchen at meal time and for school. 

SATISFY VARIOUS DIETARY RESTRICTIONS — The Power Your Lunchbox program’s kid-friendly options and allergy-sensitive selections are helping families make healthier lunches during the school year. More than 80 registered dietitian-approved, family-tested meal ideas with produce as a focal point are available for family meal planning. 

CONSIDER SKIPPING THE TYPICAL SANDWICH — It only takes a few minutes to embark on a creative approach to lunch. Get the children involved by having them use small cookie cutters to make fresh fruits and vegetables into fun shapes. Try complementing the produce with wraps or soups to add extra excitement to typical lunchbox fare.

IS YOUR CHILD A PICKY EATER? — Regardless, whether they are picky or on the more adventurous side, bento box lunches such as Chinese Mandarin Pasta Salad Bento Box and Turkey Taco Salad Bento Box can prove to be satisfying, power-packed meals.  Plus, mom and dad may prefer taking their lunch instead of grabbing something fast at the office. These recipes are featured today. For more lunchbox inspiration, visit poweryourlunchbox.com.

Solution to After-School Snacking

The early morning chaos and activity-packed evenings of the back-to-school season can make finding time to connect challenging. Throughout the day, there can be small windows of time that your family can make the most of  — even if only for a few moments that matter. It can be hard to find time to slow down with the children making after-school snack time a secret weapon. Everyone can pause for a few minutes before running out the door to soccer or starting homework. Take any extra opportunity to provide the nutrients children need by focusing on nutrient-rich snacks, and always include milk. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, most Americans, including children, fall short on the recommended three daily servings of real milk and milk products for children ages nine and up. Adding real dairy milk to afternoon snack time is an easy way to give children nutrients they need to grow up strong, which is one less thing for parents to worry about.

MAKE THE MOST OF SNACK TIME — Simple, fun recipe ideas like Harvest Fruit and Oat Energy Bites, which are a quick way to fuel up. Pairing these with an 8-ounce glass of real milk provides protein and essential nutrients children need to power through after-school homework or activities.

ADDING MILK TO SNACK TIME —Snacking recipes are not only easy to make, but also easy to plan. For more tasty on-the-go recipe ideas to try this back-to-school season, and to shop for ingredients, visit milklife.com.

Simple Ways to Help Children Develop

Children with healthy self-esteem may be confident to try new things, feel good about themselves and feel better prepared for life’s challenges than youngsters with low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can lead to feelings of insecurity and doubt and encourage children to focus on the times they’ve failed rather than succeeded. The resource Kids Health notes that low self-esteem may lead to children being self-critical.

While parents may think they can foster self-esteem in children by consistently praising them and telling them they are wonderful, experts disagree. According to Jim Taylor, author of the book, “Your Kids Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You,” rather than layering on the praise, parents can help children become more competent in their worlds, which will help children develop self-esteem in turn. This may mean taking a step back and letting children take risks and work through their own problems. Consistently telling children they’re great at everything never raises the bar, potentially discouraging them from trying to achieve greater goals. When they venture into “the real world,” artificially praised children may be in for a surprise.

Parents also can boost self-esteem by giving children choices, which may help them feel empowered. Parents can facilitate age-appropriate choices, such as letting children pick their own between breakfast foods or their own clothes, that can gradually prepare children for more difficult choices.

Parents may be tempted to do everything for their children, especially if it is faster or if parents want to ensure a task is done correctly. But letting children do things themselves helps them to learn new skills. Even if children don’t perform tasks perfectly, allowing them to do things themselves teaches them about approaching challenges, making mistakes and learning by practice, especially in the kitchen.

One-on-one with children is another great way for parents to build their children’s self-esteem. One-on-one time gives parents an opportunity to initiate discussions while giving children chances to express themselves. One-on-one sessions provide opportunities to discuss problems or issues that may require some advice. Knowing they have a voice and that their views matter can be one of the easiest ways to help children develop confidence and self-esteem.

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