Stay On Track All (School) Year Long

September 13, 2009 by Amy Clark

It can be a challenge. So how do you keep your kids focused, fed and active during the school year?

From Monday through Friday, homework, lunchboxes and sports rule the Clark household! And all school year long I’m always trying new ways to keep us all motivated.

I keep homework on track. I want to keep my kids focused during study time each night, so we’ve clearly designated a homework area. It’s quiet and well lit with no distractions. If your child doesn’t have a desk, fill a bin with their at-home school supplies and let them use it at the kitchen table.

I offer my kids a reward system to keep them motivated to do homework. Depending on age, rewards include family nights with movies from the library and homemade popcorn, or more playtime with friends. You can reward older kids with cash, an extended curfew or a special trip. I try to have my kids finish homework on Fridays to avoid stressful Sunday nights.

I get a handle on lunches. I’ll jump-start the week by making a week’s worth of PBJs on Sunday nights. I put each sandwich in a plastic bag and stack them in the freezer. Each day, I put a frozen PB&J into lunch boxes. When the lunch bell rings, the sandwich is thawed and the rest of their lunch is cool and fresh.

I also buy Jell-O and yogurt in bulk, then pack kids’ portions in reusable plastic containers. Another favorite tip: freeze half of a reusable plastic bottle with water and top it off with juice. It cuts down on sugar, and like a frozen sandwich, keeps other items in the lunch box cool.

I plan for snacks. Snacks give my kids energy for homework and sports activities. So plan ahead: Rice Krispie treats are easy to make and don’t require any baking. Trail mix is a great way to use up almost-empty packages of cereal, crackers, nuts and pretzels (see our family recipe in the above video). I check online food websites and parenting magazines for creative recipe ideas. Or I’ll review my file folder of favorite ideas to try.

I save on sports. Instead of buying new equipment for every new sport, I check stores like Play It Again Sports for gently used equipment at a discount. Check Craigslist to save money on musical instruments and other extra-curricular necessities. Or network with families of older children who might be willing to give you these items.

Tips to manage your household
Don’t let papers pile up. Create a folder for storing important paperwork your child brings home from school. Each night, take time to review it and add important dates to your family calendar.

  • Get the kids involved. Once a week, go over the calendar together. Keep the calendar where everyone can see it.
  • Plan ahead. Plan your route for errands, sports and other functions each day using Google Maps; stock your car with healthy snacks so you don’t need to hit the drive-through.
  • Designate days. Make Mondays baking days or Tuesdays a day to chop veggies for the week’s meals. In the long run, it will help eliminate weekly tasks so you can do more with the rest of your week.
  • Take time for you. Sneak in time before the kids wake up to get a head start on chores, exercise or preparation for the day ahead. After kids are in bed, soak in the tub, watch your favorite show, read a good book or make some time for your spouse.

Recipes Perfect for School Lunches

Bake and take
Kids love to help out in the kitchen. My favorite lunchbox recipes are simple enough for kids to make!

Cinnamon Muffins

1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. ground allspice
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted


2 T. sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted


Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and allspice. Add egg, milk and butter. Stir into dry ingredients until moistened. Spoon into greased or paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until done. For topping, combine sugar and cinnamon; brush top of warm muffin with butter and dip muffin top into sugar mixture.

Vanilla Scented Granola

Cooking spray
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 T. sugar
4 t. vanilla extract

Position rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 300 degrees.

Lightly spray a large baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix next 5 ingredients in large bowl.

Combine oil, honey and sugar in small saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour hot liquid over oat mixture; stir well. With hands, toss mixture until thoroughly mixed. Spread granola on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes (but check after 20). Transfer sheet to rack; cool completely. Can be made two weeks ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature. Makes approximately 8 cups.

Note: If you prefer granola clumps, do not stir during baking and allow the granola to cool. You can then break the granola apart into pieces.

Banana Crumb Muffins

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3 bananas, mashed
3/4 cups white sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. butter


Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease ten muffin cups or line with muffin papers. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut the butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins. Bake in preheated oven 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Heavenly Banana Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 t. vanilla
½ t. cinnamon
2-1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about four bananas)


Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed banana until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 60-65 minutes. Allow bread to cool ten minutes in pan, then turn onto wire rack.

What’s your school year plan? What recipes or tips do you turn use to keep your kids on track?

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark has been the driving force behind MomAdvice since 2004. In addition to running a successful community for women and running after her two kids, she has appeared on The Early Show, and in Parents magazine, Redbook, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, MSN Money and The New York Times.