The five most important back-to-school tips I've learned as a single mom

The party's over. School is back in session. We're back to carpool lines, homework folders, after-school activities, arguing about television time and constantly monitoring the clock as bedtime inches closer and closer.

All parents have to deal with the back-to-school routine. But as a single parent, you have to manage it on your own and figure out the techniques that work best for your family. (Side note: Right now, some of my married friends are reading this and rolling their eyes because despite having a spouse, they still have to do it all by themselves as well. Noted.)

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As a single mom and an only child of a widowed mother who has Parkinson's and dementia, I definitely have a lot of balls in the air and the back-to-school ball is just one more thing to juggle. Here's how I do it.

  1. Prep lunches on the weekends. Yes, I know about all of the YouTube videos showing the savvy moms with their bins of fruit, dairy products, sandwiches and chips stored in their extra garage fridge. The videos are lovely. But my son isn't on that level yet and I don't want to have to constantly monitor his lunch bag to ensure he hasn't simply packed a lunch of all chips.

    I pack lunches on the weekend. I have a sectioned bento-style lunch box for each day of the week that is dishwasher safe. On the weekend, I prepare lunch for each day of the following school week. He gets sandwiches, pretzels, fruit, veggies, popcorn, slices of pepperoni, cheese sticks or whatever he is into at the time. I package all of the items so that each box is ready to go and waiting for me in the fridge. But I do wait and wash berries the morning before we head to school because they tend to break down if you wash them too far in advance. I just grab a box in the morning, put it in his insulated lunch bag with an ice pack and we're out the door. And now, fixing lunch is one less thing you have to do at night or in the morning.

  2. Prep breakfast the night before. Yes, I'm obsessed with prepping food. Even breakfast. We discuss the breakfast menu at dinner each night. If I'm fixing veggie omelets, I make sure the vegetables are chopped and waiting for me in the fridge. If I'm giving him an orange, I peel it the night before. He wants cereal? It's already portioned out and waiting for me in a baggie on the counter. It's a small thing, but it really helps to streamline my morning and get him out of the house more quickly.

    A friend once asked why I don't prep breakfast on the weekends like I do for lunch. The answer is simple. My kid is picky about breakfast and it's easier to prep each night than it is to argue the next morning when he suddenly decides that he doesn't want the boiled eggs that I prepared days in advance.

  3. Join a warehouse club. If you can afford it, warehouse club memberships can save you so much money in the long run. I stop by my club once each week to stock up on fruit, lunch items and staples like paper plates, toilet tissue and other household goods.

    My son loves the pre-packaged apple slices from our local club. The container that I get from our club gives me double the number of packages at half the price when compared to the local grocery store.
    Concerned about the cost of joining a warehouse club? Split the membership fee with another single parent who could also take advantage of the club benefits. Most memberships allow you to add an additional person to your account.

  4. Routines are key and iPads destroy routines. Our life runs on a routine and my child is a completely different person when that routine is disrupted. He knows that when we get home, he has to remove his shoes, hang up his jacket, pull out his homework folder and start working on his evening assignments. It's a good system that can systematically be destroyed by an iPad.

    If I let my child play Minecraft in the car or watch a movie, he has zero desire to follow our routine when we get home. Instead, he wants to beg for more screen time. Barter. Cry. Thirty minutes of tears and reasoning results in a routine that has been torn to shreds. Now we're behind schedule and Sergeant Mommy can't allow this. When there's only one parent in the home who has to handle all of the cooking and the laundry and the errands and the wrangling of children, every minute counts. I quickly realized that the iPad was the destroyer of my carefully crafted routine, so it had to go away. It is allowed to make brief appearances on the weekends, however.

  5. Order groceries online. When I finally discovered the glory that is online grocery shopping, I could have kicked myself for not taking advantage of it sooner. But now that I've discovered the promised land, I'm never turning my back on it! Not having to trudge through the grocery store can save you tons of time, and time is gold to a single parent.

    I first started ordering groceries online when we had an impending ice storm. I loved sitting in the warmth of my car while my groceries were loaded into my trunk and watching people scurry into the store as they searched for ice storm essentials: bread and milk. But I eventually realized that having the people at my local store do my grocery shopping allowed me more time to spend with my child or to run an additional errand. And it cuts down on impulse buying! Since I wasn't in the store walking around, there was no temptation to give into my cravings or my child's requests for some new cereal he saw on television. I was able to stick to my shopping list which ultimately saved me money. In addition, you can still use coupons when you order your groceries online.

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