To me, September feels like the real New Year. Anyone with kids goes through a checklist for the fresh start. Rarely is it glamorous — just necessary. Haircuts, a trip to Staples, a double-check that the kids’ sneakers still fit (they’ve been in flip-flops for months) and a refresh of the kit for the dreaded school lunches.

I approach back to school in a practical, party-is-over, time-to-get-my-head-back-into-the-game kind of way. Let’s make a pact and be easy on ourselves and keep the packed lunches, after-school snacks and mid-week dinners quick and easy (also delicious and healthy, of course).

If you don’t rush out and buy the kids too-perfect bento lunch boxes, I won’t either. As busy parents, we don’t need iron chef competitions before 9 a.m.

Here are some family and food survival guide tips to kick off the unofficial New Year in the name of sanity and sticking together as busy parents doing our best to eat good food and keep the kids healthy and happy — simply, easily.


We can’t control the kids’ unpleasant 5-minute gymnasium lunches but we can have a few solid breakfast go-to options, to ensure we are all fuelled up for the day ahead. Smoothies are my key to success (see recipe below). They take 1 minute. Kids think they are having strawberry ice cream for brekky.

Kids’ Lunches

Let children pack their own lunch. If they pack it, they own it and are more likely to eat it. My only rule is that there needs to be a fruit and a protein (ex. roast chicken in a quesadilla, leftover steak in a bagel, a hard-boiled egg, meatballs in a thermos).

Grocery Shopping

Take your kids food shopping. Try to stick to the outside aisles (where the good stuff tends to be located). Again, if they choose the food themselves, they will feel ownership and will be likelier to eat it. Yes, even broccoli.

Healthy Stuff for After-School Snack

Regardless of who is picking up the kids from school, bring cut up apples, celery and carrots and, miraculously, they will gobble them down (after all, chances are they didn’t eat nearly enough of their lunch). Variation on the same theme: stave off pre-dinner starvation by putting out cucumbers and peppers on the table while dinner is being made so they don’t dive into the crackers while waiting. I bet you can get them to eat their veg quota before dinner!

Menu-Plan with Your Kids

I’m addicted to Martha Stewart’s Avery labels and Indigo’s write-on blackboard stickers for kids’ activities, and meals for the week. Take some time on the weekend to plan out a few dinners and get the kids to write it on the board. Get input from the kids and communicate on the board so they know what’s for dinner (reduces the tears). You’ll find them more actively involved in the process and the dinner table will be a happy one with full bellies (even if there is a soccer ball and a doll under the table). They may even say “Thanks, mom — that was delicious!” and clear the table!


Strawberry Banana Milky Smoothies
Makes 4 servings


  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp flax oil


  1. Place strawberries, bananas, yogurt, milk and maple syrup in a blender and purée on high until smooth.
  2. Add flax oil and give one more purée.

Host of Party Dish and Family Cook Off, Trish Magwood is a chef, cookbook author and mother of three.