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Room parent checklist for back to school

Originally published on Live Simply by Cozi


Room parents (a.k.a., room moms, classroom aides, volunteer coordinators) are the magic ingredient of every elementary school year. Without these critical volunteers helping our teachers, planning celebrations and communicating with parents in the classroom, school would be a much duller and less organized place.

And if that room mom is about to be you (and it looks like it is since you're reading this article!)–congrats for stepping up! Use our handy checklist to get organized and make it a memorable year for all, especially the kids.

Capture all the details

Schedule a teacher meeting at the start of the year to learn about his/her needs, preferences and expectations:

  • Ongoing volunteer support needs: table-time helpers, weekly readers, science lab & materials prep, and recess supervisors
  • Classroom activity dates and support needs: field trips, career day, open-house, assemblies
  • Contact information: How does the teacher prefer to be contacted by you & by the other class parents? What are school policies for gathering and releasing parent contact information?   
  • Teacher’s “favorites”: Find out what (s)he likes as a gift guide for parents and thinking ahead toTeacher Appreciation Week: favorite meal, beverage, restaurant, store, treat, charity, sports team, hobbies, etc.
  • Classroom party dates and plans:
    • How many? Who plans (teacher or parents)? 
    • Food requirements (healthy or sweets)?
    • Food allergy considerations
    • Timing and activities/games/crafts?
Build an annual calendar of all events and volunteer needs

Publish it on multiple channels so all parents see it (the class website, a paper handout, via email, on online volunteer calendars). Tip: Online signup sheets from make it easy for parents to choose when and how to help–with a click from their smartphones or computer. Automated reminders keep parents on track and personal assignments can be downloaded to a parent’s Cozi calendar.

Reach out and start organizing
  • Welcome Letter: Send parents a welcome letter including your contact information, important dates, and instructions about how to sign up to help. (Here is a sample letter to help you get started.) This is also a great opportunity to ask parents if they have special interests or talents they would like to share with the class (e.g. gardening, music, photography, cultural experiences). 
  • Get Support Early: Ask parents to sign up to help at the beginning of the school year for activities throughout the year. Offer options so working parents or those with young children can pitch in from home (e.g. sending snacks or treats, preparing and purchasing supplies).
  • Budget: If there is a teacher holiday gift, birthday gift, or party funds needed, create a budget and alert parents at the beginning of the year. Be clear what is optional (teacher gift money) and what is mandatory (party supply and field trip fees).
  • Delegate: Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do it all yourself. Be specific about what jobs need doing and when, and invite other parents to participate in organizing parties and activities. Do identify your most active volunteers and call on them when you are short – and show your appreciation! They’ll keep coming!
  • Be professional and cautious to NEVER release contact information without permission or share sensitive information you may be privy to as a room parent.
  • Be Proud. You’re a great role model for all the children!

For more helpful tips on being a room mom, please see VolunteerSpot’s Room Mom Survival Guide and Class Party Planner.

Room Parent Checklist - Condensed for Download
  • Define ongoing volunteer needs
  • Record classroom activity dates and support needs
  • Discuss contact preferences for teacher and parents
  • Find out teacher favorites
  • Decide on classroom party dates and plans
  • Publish on multiple channels
  • Send parents a welcome letter
  • Ask parents to sign up early in the school year
  • Create and communicate the budget, if applicable
  • Invite parents to participate throughout the year
  • Be professional and cautious with sensitive information
  • Be PROUD!


Karen Bantuveris is the founder & CEO of VolunteerSpot, a time and sanity-saving online coordination tool that empowers busy parents, teachers and grassroots community leaders by making it easier get involved. Karen lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter and husband. @VolunteerSpot @VSpotMom

3 great tech tools for busy moms at back-to-school

Reprinted with permission from


What’s a busy mom to do? Tech to the rescue! Guest blogger Carissa Rogers is here to share time saving tips just in time for that back-to-school rush!

by Carissa

August supplies meteor showers, hot afternoons and the crazy of back to school time! Shopping for school clothes, school supplies and plenty of worrying about class schedules or the perfect-fit teacher are enough stress for any mom to handle. What a mom doesn’t need is more stress about her OWN schedule.

Food On The Table

Throughout the summer, it’s easy to fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to meal time. A hot dog at the pool or nachos at the ballpark work May through July, but once the school year sets in, you need a plan to sit down and enjoy meal time together. Food on the Table is a mobile app that helps you plan meals around the sales at your local grocery stores with quick, kid-friendly recipes and an organized grocery list.


The last things you need on the first day of school are multiple clipboards of sign up for this, list your email for that. Imagine a free online sign up sheetwhere long reply-all email chains are a thing of the past! With VolunteerSpot, a room mom or teacher quickly sets the schedule of needs and parents sign up to help with a tap on a smartphone or click of a mouse – it will even remind them before the event. Magic!

VolunteerSpot is terrific for organizing classroom readers and parties, your library and carnival volunteers, soccer snack schedules and tournaments, or just about any other parent supported activity. Be sure to tell your child’s room mom to check out! And best of all, because it’s so easy to sign up to help, MORE parents get involved and that makes less stress for all of us!

*You can even jump over to VolunteerSpot’s facebook page for a chance to WIN $500 in School Supplies for your favorite school!


When the kids head back to school, they also head back to sports schedules, music lessons, school projects, you name it. Which means parents head back to the mad scramble involved in making sure everyone gets dropped off and picked up (with the right gear in hand), not to mention volunteer stints, PTA events, birthday parties, teacher appreciation duties and so much more. If you try to remember and take care of all this yourself, your head might explode.

Cozi gives you a place to park your whole family calendar in one place, so everyone can see it – whether from a computer, a smartphone, or a tablet like the iPad. No need to sync; since all your family’s schedule (and lists) are shared in one account, everyone sees the same thing. Add an appointment, input the school calendar, even include all the times and locations of the soccer schedule – including notes like “bring the potluck dessert” or “meet at the front gate”.

Back to school can be a calm and fun experience for everyone. Jump in with these techy tools to get your mom-world organized and take out the stress!


Do you have any back to school tips to share? We’d love to hear how you stay organized!

About the author: Carissa Rogers is a busy mom of 3 and blogs and VolunteerSpot. When she’s not playing photographer, dancing up a storm, leading the PTO, or chasing kids to and fro she’s connecting, consulting, freelancing and lots of other ings …a mom of all trades.

Back to school night tips

Reprinted with permission from


Originally published on Live Simply by Cozi


With school kicking off, Back to School night is one of the most important nights of the year. You get to meet the teacher for the first time, see the classroom, and fuel your child’s enthusiasm for school‒setting the tone for a positive year ahead!

Back to School night is QUICK, typically only 30-45 minutes, so use these tips to get the most out of this important (and fun) evening.

Back to School Night Tips
  • Get a sitter. If your school doesn’t provide child care, arrange for a babysitter. Back to School Night is usually for parents, not kids.
  • Arrive early to get a parking spot and make it to the room on time.
  • Ask questions that are pertinent to the entire class such as homework expectations, parental support needed during the year, or questions related to upcoming class projects or units of study. Questions about your child’s circumstances or special needs should be addressed privately with the teacher. 
  • Think about what kind of volunteer job you would like to have this year. If you’re extra busy, opt to be a classroom reader or help with a weekend activity like the school garden or a fundraiser. Do you have a more flexible schedule? Consider a weekly volunteer spot helping with math stations or art projects. Those who like to plan parties and coordinate people will make a perfect Room Mom. Have a special skill to share like computers, music or science? Tell the teacher that you’re willing to pitch-in for an enriching year!
  • Bring an open mind. The same qualities that make the teacher great with kids don’t necessarily make her great with adults. Your teacher may be nervous with an entire room full of parents. Be patient and understanding as she shares the year’s game plan.
  • Find your child's desk and leave a note. Your child will squeal with delight when they find a friendly note from Mom or Dad the next morning. Think something simple like, “It was fun meeting your teacher. I know you’ll have a great year!”
  • Exit swiftly. Tomorrow is a school day and as much as she loved meeting you, your child’s teacher would appreciate getting home and getting ready for the next day.
Back to School Night strategies for parents with multiple kids in the  same school
  • Divide and conquer. Split up the classroom visits.
  • If an older sibling had the same teacher, consider visiting another time to check in.
  • Watch the clock. Divide time evenly between classrooms.  
  • If you’re going to miss a teacher or can only visit briefly, send the teacher a quick email explaining why and ask for copies of handouts shared with parents.

Time-Saving Tip: Tell your teacher or room mom to skip the clipboards this year.VolunteerSpot’s free online signup sheets make it easy for parents to sign up to help (24/7, with a click from their smartphone or computer)–so more parents participate! Automated reminders keep parents on track and personal assignments can be downloaded to a parent’s Cozi calendar.

Your excitement about the school year will translate to your kids in more ways than you know. Make sure to share your Back to School Night experience with your kids when you get home, relaying fun details you liked about the classroom and the special qualities you saw in the teacher which you know will make for a great school year!

12 easy ways to help your child's teacher

Reprinted with permission from


It’s time to jump back into the chaos of the school year. While the transition can be tough for parents and kids, imagine what a big change it is for teachers.

Now imagine how we as parents can help smooth out the start of the year—and make sure it continues down that path–by helping our child’s teacher and making her feel appreciated from day one.

Start Off the Year With a Bang

1.  Give the teacher a welcome basket with coupons, school supplies, and little goodies like granola bars, flavored tea, stickers, mints, and chocolate.

2.  Volunteer to help with classroom set-up (getting bulletin boards decorated and desks in place).

3. Take pictures of the teacher with each child on the first day of school. The kids will love it, and it makes for a wonderful memory at the end of the year.

4.  Set up a parent schedule to supervise at recess or lunch time to give the teacher a break (VolunteerSpot’s free calendar signup sheets makes it easy for parents to help out when it fits their schedule).

5.  Start a meal circle where parents take turns bringing lunch or a special morning treat to the teacher once a week; if you band together, you’re turn will come up about two times per year.

6.  Share your strengths. If you’re artistic, offer to make cool signs to jazz up the classroom; if you’re musical, lead songs at the class party; scientific or techy, help with experiments or share computer skills with the class.

Keep on Showing Your Support

7.  Save coupons and gift cards for office supplies throughout the year.

8.  Share a skill or a family tradition (heritage, interesting job, hobby, etc.) with the class.

9.  If you can’t help out at school during the day, offer to take prep work home for the teacher. “Office work” is always needed in getting materials and supplies prepared, especially in the lower grades.

10.  Attend your parent-teacher conference with an open mind and questions ready. Together you'll establish a supportive team for your child.

11. Keep an eye out for discounts or free passes for things the teacher can do with her own children, like movie tickets, restaurants, and local performances.

12. One of the best things you can do is simply send your kids to school well-rested, well-fed, and with assignments complete so they are ready to learn.

Remember the more involved as a parent, the easier it is for the teacher to concentrate on her oh-so-important job of educating your children. Get excited, get involved, and get your school year off to a fabulous start!


About the Author 

Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot -- free online signup sheets save time and make it easy to organize parents for just about anything: classroom helpers, snack schedules, carnivals, library volunteers, parent-teacher conferences and more. Karen lives in Austin, TX with her husband and daughter.

Avoiding family fundraiser fatigue

Reprinted with permission from


Fall feels like a never-ending cycle of fundraising catalogs and calls for help with the various activities our kids are involved in -- schools, Scouts, and sports leagues all rely on this time of year for their major fundraisers. To complicate matters, parents are the ones called on to organize the events – school carnivals, book-fairs, wrapping paper and candy sales.

These fundraisers are important – our schools and groups are cash-strapped and need parent support to give our kids the best possible experiences. While most parents genuinely want to help, fundraisers can stress family budgets and quickly become overwhelming. Here are some simple strategies for avoiding family fundraising fatigue, supporting your groups, and having more fun with your family in the process!

5 Tips to Avoid Family Fundraising Fatigue

Pick and Choose

Call a family meeting and make a list of all your upcoming fundraisers and volunteering demands. Set a budget for your family (or per child) then pick and choose the activities you want to support.  For groups like schools that have several fundraisers coming up, think more in terms of your family’s overall giving goals than participating in every single activity. Let your kids know ahead of time that you’re sitting out the cookie dough sale this time, but will be participating in the school carnival and walk-a-thon.

Gifts beyond Money

If supporting your school or group with a check isn’t in the cards this year, consider sharing your time, talents and connections. Can you staff a booth at the school carnival, work an extra shift at the concession stand, design flyers for the talent show, or whip up treats for the bake sale? Involving your kids makes it even more fun and meaningful.

Carnival, sporting events and auction planning teams are always looking for creative donations.  Do any of your friends or family have extra sports and event tickets that can be auctioned or raffled off?  Do you have connections at local restaurants, spas or merchants who may be able to offer in-kind donations? 

Go Big on FUNdraisers

Participate generously in your school and team community-building activities like carnivals, walk-a-thons, and BINGO and movie nights. The more the merrier! Invite your neighbors and friends to join you and consider buying extra tickets for families who may not be able to afford it.  Not only will your whole family have a ton-of-fun, you’ll be helping raise money for a worthy cause!

Be Bold – Organize!

Offer to coordinate the event volunteers and use VolunteerSpot as your secret weapon to save time and sanity in the process. ( VolunteerSpot is a free and easy online coordination tool that makes it a snap to schedule, sign up and remind volunteers. It can be used for almost anything -- school carnivals, walk-a-thons, concession stands, book fairs, holiday boutiques – and no one has to know how easy it was for you to set it up!

Share and Share a Like

As fall passes, fundraising obligations may slow down, but they won’t go away; as long as budgets stay tight there will be more needs in the spring and next year as well. Talk to parents at other schools and other communities about their most successful fundraisers and share ideas with your groups.


Whether you choose to buy three tubes of wrapping paper, attend the school carnival with your family, or organize the book fair, have fun this year and know your efforts are appreciated and make a difference to your school and community!  


About the Author 

Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot -- free online signup sheets save time and make it easy to organize parents to help for just about anything: classroom helpers, snack schedules, carnivals, library volunteers, parent-teacher conferences and more. Karen lives in Austin, TX with her husband and daughter.

10 smart tips for parent classroom volunteers

Reprinted with permission from


When you're asked to volunteer in your child's classroom this year, seize the opportunity! Not only does your child's teacher really need your help, volunteering in the classroom shows your children that you value their education. According to recent research cited by the Parent Teacher Association, parental engagement in a child’s education increases student achievement, improves attendance and reduces the dropout rate.

How do you make the most out of your classroom experience? Seasoned teachers androom moms share these suggestions to make classroom volunteering fun and truly helpful for everyone -- the teacher, the kids, and you!

10 Smart Tips for Parent Classroom Volunteers

1.  Volunteer for something you already find fun or interesting. If you can’t stand messes, stay away from art day; maybe instead you'll enjoy organizing student cubbies or weekly folders. If you like the quiet zen of reading, offer to be a reading buddy, notthe recess helper.

2.  If you can't make it, call, text, or email.  Alert the teacher right away if you can’t make it, and try to find a substitute yourself.

3.  Don’t be late. Show up in the classroom when scheduled, your teacher is counting on you. Be sure to leave plenty of time for parking and to pick up a visitor’s pass.

4.  Leave your cell phone in the car. Volunteer time isn’t social time. There’s nothing worse than a parent’s cell phone dinging every 5 seconds when they are supposed to be reading Cat in the Hat.

5.  Honor the lesson plan. Your child’s teacher spends a lot of time organizing the day’s activities. It’s her gig, her way – ask for direction and then follow through.

6.  Help ALL kids. Remember to be inclusive and support all kids in the classroom, not just your own son or daughter or the kids you know.

7.  BURP: Be Understanding, Responsible & Positive. A bright smile and a heaping dose of praise goes a long way in a classroom full of 7 year olds!  Refer discipline issues to the teacher and reinforce classroom behavior expectations.

8.  Respect student privacy. Special needs, grades and performance are private and must be confidential. You wouldn’t want another parent talking about your child, so please keep your thoughts (and judgments) to yourself.

9.  Follow school guidelines.  Background checks are required in some districts and others have rules prohibiting younger siblings in the classroom. Take the time to ask your teacher what’s required before you volunteer.

10.  Have fun! Enjoy this special time with your children.  Soon enough your kids won’t want you helping in their class at all!


About the Author 

Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot -- free online signup sheets save time and make it easy to organize parents to help for just about anything: classroom helpers, snack schedules, carnivals, library volunteers, parent-teacher conferences and more. Karen lives in Austin, TX with her husband and daughter.

6 easy ways to help your child's school

Reprinted with permission from


The start of school means back-to-school for parents too. Beyond helping your children with homework and assignments, cash-strapped schools need parents to pitch in and help in many ways - from participating in fundraisers, to helping in the classroom, to covering support roles in the library and cafeteria that used to be staffed by employees. Parental involvement builds great schools. According to recent research cited by the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), parental engagement in a child’s education increases student achievement, improves attendance and reduces the dropout rate. When you're asked to help this year, please do - it's easy!

Six stress-free ways to pitch in that make a difference

1. Volunteer to do something that fits into your schedule. For example, parents who work—or those with young kids— might choose to help once a term by chaperoning a field trip or helping with a field day or a holiday performance. Parents with more flexible schedules are needed as classroom assistants and cafeteria and library helpers.

2. Share your skills. Do you have a special hobby or expertise, such as art, music, woodworking, computers or gardening? Many of these “extras” are the first things to go in a budget crisis, and community members can bridge gaps and help inspire kids’ creativity. 

3. Support school fundraisers. Set a budget for participating in school fundraisers and choose the ones that are most meaningful and fun for your family (e.g. product sales, school carnival and book fair, walkathon, etc.) If writing checks isn't in your budget this year, consider contributing your time as a volunteer on the planning committee or on the day of school events. 

4. Save time withVolunteerSpot.comSkip “Reply-All” e-mail chains and Clipboards this year; this free website makes it easy for anyone to coordinate parent volunteers with simple online sign-up sheets. The parent leader or teacher sets the schedule of needs and invites parents to sign up with a link. Parents click to choose when and how to help— even from their smartphones. The site keeps everything up-to-date in real time, and sends automated confirmation and reminder messages to help parents keep their commitments. You can use it to organize classroom readers and parties, recess and library volunteers, snack schedules and fundraising events like school carnivals. (It’s great for teams and Scouts, too.)

5. Got a little extra time? Step up and be the Room Mom or Room Dad. These special parents help coordinate parent volunteers and plan celebrations in their children’s elementary school classrooms.

6. Buy products that benefit your child’s school. Save education-incentive box tops and labels from products to give to your school. Cut coupons from office supply stores to share with teachers so they can reduce their out-of-pocket expenses on school supplies. 

Top 5 tips for making high school easier

Reprinted with permission from


High School.  It can bring back all kinds of memories – both good and bad.  Regardless of when you attended high school, I can assure you the drama is still there but lots of other things have changed.  Kids are now turning their English papers in online and using Moodle or other open-source sites to communicate with their teachers.  Getting into college is exponentially harder than 25 years ago when I first applied to the University of Georgia

So, what can you do to help your student navigate these four years? 

I asked my seniors to share their advice for making the high school years easier.  I combined their responses with my 17 years of teaching experience and created ourtop five tips for making high school easier:

1. Get to know your student’s guidance counselor early on 2. Keep in contact with your student’s teachers (but don’t hover) 3. Help your student start to build a resume 4. Remind your student - their transcript starts in 9th grade5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

1. Get to know your student’s guidance counselor early on. 

Many kids can go through all of high school without needing to meet with their school guidance counselor. Get to know him or her; these folks are your secret weapon!  Meet with the counselor early and make a long range plan.  Guidance counselors know all about college admissions, scholarship information, your state’s graduation requirements, and diploma options.  They also can recommend summer programs that meet your student’s  interests and are a great help if your student needs someone to talk to concerning that drama I referred to earlier.

2. Keep in contact with your student’s teachers (but don’t hover). 

Email is an invaluable tool when it comes to parent-teacher communication! I love being able to send a quick note to either an entire class or to individual parents and most teachers welcome messages from parents. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your child about homework assignments – especially if details aren’t listed online.  Also, be sure you know your student’s schedule and teacher’s names. A friend of mine made a photocopy of her kid’s schedule and kept it in her wallet – great idea!

3. Help your student start to build a resume. 

Many college applications require an essay concerning leadership or a life-changing event.  Help your student look for some kind of volunteer work that they are really interested in and then help them get involved.  Boy Scouts and church youth groups offer great activities but keep looking if that is not something they like.  If they think they want to go into medicine, volunteer at the hospital.  The animal shelter, a food bank, Meals On Wheels are all good choices.  Or look at things already offered at school like Service Clubs.  At our school we have Special Needs students in a program called the Progressive Education Program.  Students can use a class slot to be a peer helper with PEP.  Many students say their connections here and through activities like Special Olympics are life-changing.

4. Remind your student – their transcript starts in 9th grade. 

So, we used to joke about the Permanent Record File that teachers would hold over our head.  “Beware – this goes in your permanent record!”  Never saw that thing… Whatwill follow your student though is their transcript.  This is a record of all their final class grades and official test scores – state exit tests, SAT, ACT.  Colleges make a big deal about looking at the Junior year grades but all class grades go into the final Grade Point Average.  Course selections and grades from freshman year can affect options later in high school. Be sure your student helps make that four year plan (see #1) so they can understand the consequences of their choices.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Though – in general - high school teachers are not as warm and fuzzy as our elementary counterparts, we love to help.  Teachers, those counselors mentioned above, media specialists, and administrators all are there for one reason only – to help kids succeed!  Jump in if your student is struggling in a class. Teachers and counselors can come up with creative solutions to problems; but, never forget you are your child’s best advocate.  Most schools have student tutors that will help in exchange for service hour credit. 

Parenting is not for the faint of heart and the normal high school student will challenge the bravest of us.  Reach out and be involved. Help your kids find a direction and a passion.  Though they often have a strange way of expressing it, your kids will appreciate your help and involvement.  Good luck to you!


Cindy Hallman-Morris is a High School math teacher in Asheville, NC.  She is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), has a Masters in Education (MEd), and is a mother to a High School and Middle School student. When she’s not teaching math, she’s driving her kids to soccer and gymnastics, cooking up a storm, and blogging all about it at  Follow her on Twitter@MildlyManicMom



What’s next on back-to-school supply lists? Mops and floor polish?

Given the number of cleaning products showing up on back-to-school school supply lists, a friend jokes that she expects to see mops, brooms and floor polish next.

Over the years, I’ve seen school supply lists go well beyond pencils, paper and glue to paper towels, Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer.

As the number of items on back-to-school lists have increased, so have complaints about them.

As a reader said in a note to me:

My friends are complaining the lists are very costly and they are being asked to buy multiples of items such a scissors. Are schools asking more of parents, are fewer parents sending supplies or are parents just more strapped for cash? I’ve just never seen so much chatter and my complaining friends live in the most affluent county in the state. I wonder if the lists are affecting families in other areas even more. Do parents become detached when they can’t even fill the first requests of the school?

On my neighborhood listserv, I learned that my local elementary school has adopted what News/Talk WSB personality and AJC columnist Neal Boortz derides as a conspiracy to inculcate children with a tolerance of government control of property rights: The teacher puts all school supplies into a common pool used by all students. (As one parent commented: “In other words, don’t buy your child the Spiderman folder; he’s not going to be able to use it.”)

This wasn’t the case when my four children went through elementary school. (And they attended at a time when the percentage of low-income students in the school was higher than it is today.) Yes, we bought tissues, paper towels, Ziplock bags and hand sanitizer to share, but kids kept their own folders, markers and pencils.

With all the financial challenges facing schools today, I am not going to quibble about back-to-school supply lists. I dutifully go out and buy everything that’s listed, even though I’ve found that some stuff never gets used. (I still have some two pocket/pronged folders and six pocket dividers with tabs sitting around.)

But the ever expanding lists have become a point of contention among some parents.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

A+ lunches

White bread bologna sandwich. Cookie. Apple.White bread peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Cookie. Banana.Sometimes a bag of chips.That, in a nutshell, was the dietary equivalent of the school lunches my mother put together as she rushed four kids to the bus stop every day.Usually, the sandwich was trashed or stashed in my locker to become a future science experiment, and the cookie and fruit were supplemented by vending machine junk. (Swiss rolls, anyone?)Times have not changed much. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that middle-school cafeterias are responsible for 40,000 pounds of waste a year to landfills — and 70 percent of that is discarded food.Donna Jaffe of Marietta, Ga., changed her lunch-making practices years ago, when she discovered her boys didn't want to eat what she had packed.So she got them involved in the process. "I decided not to stress, " she says. "If they want to pack last night's cold spaghetti and tomato sauce, that's OK. A bagel and cream cheese sandwich was fine too."If you are doing all the right [healthy] things for breakfast and dinner, it's not such a big deal."Lisa Cronic of Decatur, Ga., agrees. She likes to make lunches her children don't want to trade at lunchtime."Get them involved in choosing their own lunches, " she says. Cronic enlists the help of her 5-year-old son, Asa, who loves cheese. They try out samples at the Whole Foods counter, then select a few favorites. She also looks for creative ways to pack a lunch for her 9-year-old daughter, Terryl.A favorite is homemade mini-tacos stuffed with chicken and cheese. She heats them in the morning in the microwave, then double-wraps them in foil and packs them in an insulated lunchbox.Apples are cut into wedges and given a squirt of lemon so they don't turn brown. She also bakes mini-muffins and banana bread and throws them in the freezer to pull out later for lunches. They're thawed by the time the lunch bell rings.Most experts agree: Don't introduce your child to exotic foods in the lunchbox; it's almost a guaranteed toss. But you can make the foods your child does like more appealing. There is a reason kids gravitate to those pre-packaged Lunchables — they look cool."A healthy lunch is one that kids will eat, " said Cristina Caro, a registered dietitian and program coordinator for Healthy Lifestyles at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "Packing lunch is a delicate balance between what's good for them and what they're willing to eat."

Dietitian's tips
  • Cut a sandwich into three or four pieces.
  • Try some variety in the fruit. If your child will eat only apples, get Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious and McIntosh for variety.
  • Think color and texture — fruits and vegetables that are bright, like baby carrots, and things that are chewy, like dried fruits.
  • Also consider your child's lunchtime. Some schools have lunch scheduled as early as 10:45 a.m. Your child might not be hungry for a big lunch then, Caro says.
  • Pack healthy finger foods as a quick snack or light lunch. "Even older kids like to eat with their hands, " Caro said.
  • Pat McQuarrie's children are grown, but the Peachtree City mom says it was "a challenge to send lunches, as they did not like the school lunch. I found that younger children liked to 'dip, ' so I created 'inside out' sandwiches."
  • Start with a crispy breadstick, then build out in any way that sounds good to them. For example: thin-sliced cheese wrapped around the breadstick, then lunchmeat (ham, turkey etc.), then lettuce. Wrap this snugly in plastic. Send a small container of their favorite salad dressing, like ranch or honey mustard.
  • She suggests a variation of the inside-out sandwich, with mozzarella, then salami, and the dipping sauce could be marinara.
  • Milk, juice or water?
  • These days, there are multiple milk choices for kids, from "snow cone" vanilla, to chocolate and strawberry. Flavored milks are OK, because they do provide calcium and vitamins A and D, but parents should be aware of their high sugar content, Caro said.
  • Best-case scenario: Children should drink skim or 1 percent milk.
  • Look for 100 percent juice; about 4-6 ounces is OK, Caro says. And plain water is always a good choice.

If your kid is trading — or trashing — his or her lunch, here are some ideas from Web sites to keep them happy for the school year. All sites have recipes on

  • Tip: When you're deciding what to cook for dinner, think about how you might incorporate leftovers into lunch for the following day. Make extra servings for dinner and set them aside for the next day's lunch.
  • Tip: Don't assume that your child's uneaten lunch is a sign that he did not like the food. If you ask a few questions, you may find that your child does not have enough time to eat or that he is spending more time socializing with his friends than actually chewing.
  • From
  • Tip: To maintain food at a cool temperature, pack a frozen juice box or water bottle in an insulated lunch bag. You can also use a freezable gel pack. Try to position the coldest item at the top of the bag since cool air settles.
  • From
  • Tip: "I know some marketing genius is developing soy yogurt tubes even as we speak, but in the meantime I'm trying my hand at homemade: I filled a snack-size zip-lock bag with about 1/2 cup cherry soy yogurt and froze it overnight. This morning I cut a very small slit in one corner of the bag. By lunch, it can be squeezed out."


• The "You can be in my club — sandwich": Divide two bread slices, crusts removed, into horizontal halves. Spread one slice with mustard, top with a slice of ham and a slice of your child's favorite cheese. Cover the second bread slice with chicken or turkey and mayonnaise. Cover the third slice with mayonnaise, tomato and cucumber slices. Stack the layers, top with the fourth bread slice, and cut in half. Insert an umbrella toothpick, if desired, into each stack.

• Cheesy tortillas: Spread half a flour tortilla with refried beans, a slice of cheddar, Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese and mild salsa. Fold the tortilla in half, place between two paper plates and heat in a microwave until the cheese is melted (to heat in the oven, wrap in foil). Cut into triangles or leave whole; wrap in foil. You can also layer one tortilla over another or roll a single tortilla, Mexican fashion.


From www.parentzone.babyzone/com/momtomom/stories:Try packing a scoop of tuna or chicken salad into an ice cream cone. They aren't packed with sugar and kids love them. In a zip-top bag, put cut veggies that your child can use to decorate the head of the cone. Use carrot strips for hair and cherry tomatoes for eyes.

From children may not eat very much at one sitting. Think about packing appetizers instead of a large sandwich and whole banana. You can also include more choices if the quantity of each is smaller. Fill mini muffin paper cups with small amounts of food, wrap with foil and pack in the lunchbox.

From Pineapple Kebabs: thread on toothpicks pineapple chunks (1/2-inch pieces), marble cheese cubes (1/2-inch pieces) and slices of nitrate-free ham cut into 1-inch squares.

Other Web sites to get



Banana Dog1 servingHands on: 10 minutes Total time: 10 minutes

  • 1 hot dog bun (whole wheat, if possible)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter or cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon strawberry or other jam, or honey, if preferred
  • 1 whole unpeeled banana
  • Raisins, shredded coconut, chopped peanuts

Spread one inner surface of split hot dog bun with peanut butter or cream cheese. Spread other side with jam or honey. Wrap in plastic wrap. Pack a whole banana (in the peel) and a small container of toppings, such as raisins, coconut and peanuts, or whatever else you can think of.At lunchtime, your child can peel the banana and place it in the bun, and sprinkle on the toppings and eat.— Recipe from www.kaboose.comPer serving: 366 calories (percent of calories from fat, 26), 10 grams protein, 63 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 281 milligrams sodium.


Ultimate Tortilla Roll-up1 servingHands on: 5 minutes Total time: 5 minutes

  • 1 whole-wheat tortilla
  • 1 or 2 slices soy cheddar cheese (like Veggie Cheddar)
  • 1 Romaine lettuce leaf, shredded
  • 2 slices tomato
  • 1 teaspoon vinaigrette, your choice
  • 1 baked, skinless chicken breast

Lay tortilla flat. Add cheese. In a small bowl, toss lettuce and tomato with vinaigrette and set aside. Slice chicken, and lay on top of cheese. Top with lettuce and tomato, roll, then wrap with plastic wrap to secure.— From Leanne Ely, author of the "Saving Dinner" cookbook seriesPer serving: 480 calories (percent of calories from fat, 28), 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 27 milligrams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 119 milligrams cholesterol, 49 grams protein, 716 milligrams sodium.


Turkey Roll-ups6 servingsHands on: 15 minutes Total time: 15 minutesCut these up into pinwheels for a fun treat. They keep up to three days in the refrigerator.

  • 6 (8-inch) whole-wheat tortillas
  • 3/4 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon dry ranch dip
  • 12 thinly sliced fat-free turkey breast slices, halved
  • 1/2 cup low-sugar red raspberry preserves
  • 1 bunch green leaf lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese

Microwave tortillas on high 10 to 15 seconds; set aside. Combine sour cream and dry ranch dip; spread 2 tablespoons mixture on 1 side of each tortilla. Top each tortilla with 4 turkey slice halves and spread with 1 1/2 tablespoons preserves. Top tortillas evenly with lettuce and cheese. Roll up tortillas; wrap with plastic wrap. Chill up to 8 hours.— From the upcoming cookbook "Cooking Up Some Changes" produced by the Healthy Lifestyles program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, due to be released in December. serving: 290 calories (percent of calories from fat, 21), 15 grams protein, 8 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated), 7 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 510 milligrams sodium.

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