Depending on your neck of the woods, school is either underway or just about to get underway. Whether you have an older child already attending school, you or your partner may be educators, or perhaps you’re just getting back into the swing of dropping your child off to daycare after a lax summer schedule, things are getting a tad...hectic. My family’s favorite - FAVORITE - season happens to be autumn. We got married in October. We relish apple and pumpkin picking, leaf peeping, and enjoying the comfort foods that come with brisk fall days. We even have a certain affinity for particular music and movies when the season hits. And don’t get me started on pumpkin spice and knee-high boots. It’s kind of hilarious because as much as we’re all over the whole autumn thing, we also go through some anxiety when things pick up speed post-summer. My husband works for a college, so his schedule shifts a bit, and I’m a school librarian who’s just starting a new adventure at a whole new school district, and our son is starting preschool, so this year, in particular we’re feeling the crunch of time. There are different reasons for the craziness. Stricter schedules, the intensity and stress of work, and, of course, the flux that occurs every and anytime our son goes through a new transition. And, for some reason, it’s the things that should be simplest that seem to be the biggest time suckers. I call into evidence Exhibit A: meals. Food. Lunches and snacks and healthy breakfasts and, oh yeah, dinner. Argh. It shouldn’t be so hard, should it? So, I’ve dug up some ideas (many of which I’ve tried and loved in the past) to simplify things this fall. Tips to get us down to providing nutritious meals and snacks without the extra stress. Y’know, so we can get back to drinking pumpkin spice lattes and corn field mazes...and lesson planning. *wink, wink* A slow cooker is your friend. Definitely not just for the old ladies at the church bazaar anymore (why is that the visual I get of a Crock Pot?), these real food recipes are just for the slow cooker to save you time and maybe even your sanity. With a little prep the night before (or even done well in advance and grabbed from the freezer), you’ll just set and forget the machine in the morning only to come home to an awesomely scented home and ready-to-go meal. Prep now, eat later. In other words, strike while the iron is hot to get some basic prep work out of the way. Cut veggies for lunches, snacks, and salads, make soup to divvy up into lunches throughout the week, or even pack the non-perishable items for lunches a bit early. Even just chopping veggies turns your kitchen into a Food Network set - all you have to do is cook! Every little bit helps. Cook once, eat twice. Similar to the last tip, this is a “do some extra work when you’ve got the time” concept, but even easier. Say you’re making your turkey veggie chili (this is my family’s favorite recipe). How much longer will it take you to double it? Not much. Just pack away the rest in a gallon plastic bag in the freezer and thaw it to eat on a busy night. There’s nothing wrong with simple recipes. Remember that wholesome meals don't have to be 5-star experiences. When packing lunches, give yourself an equation to meet your child’s needs: protein, dairy, fruit, veg (or whatever you know your child will eat), and maybe a small treat thrown in. So, at our house this could mean a ham and cheese wrap/PBJ sandwich, yogurt/cheese stick, apple/banana/raisins, carrot/pepper sticks, and maybe a muffin or granola bar. Find a system that works for you. Some people swear by meal planning. Others prefer to just wing it and choose from a list of tried-and-true meals. There’s no right or wrong way for your family. Just figure out what works for you and go with it. I recently saw a tip that suggested packing an unused over-door shoe organizer with snacks for the family, and another friend had a great version: just number 2-3 small bins and load them with snacks (say, a variety of fruit in one, several types of granola bars or bags of air-popped popcorn in the next, then say “choose one from each bin”). There are tons of great ideas for your family to try out. Store bought isn't a bad thing. Repeat after me: “we are none of us perfect and something’s gotta give.” There ya go. Permission to cut a few corners. There are healthy options on the store’s shelves, too. So, folks, buying packs of organic applesauce or relying on a weekly rotisserie chicken or tomato sauce filled with real ingredients isn't just fine; it's admirable. Don’t forget breakfast. It’s so, so easy to say, “I just won’t eat breakfast today” when things get busy. While I couldn’t actually skip breakfast myself (I get hangry!), my husband frequently does, so I’m hoping to work on some make-ahead grab-and-go options. For our kids this means stockpiling pancakes and homemade muffins to pack in with their lunches for the sitter; for the adults (my husband’s carb-free), it means making some crustless quiche in muffin tins, some plain yogurt parfaits, or smoothies. There really is time for breakfast if you make it in advance! So, these are some of the tips that I hope to try out this fall to calm the crazy a bit. What are your favorite meal/snack ideas to simplify our lives a bit? Be sure to share in the comments!