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Parents, rejoice! 17 back-to-school hacks that will make your life easier

The new school year is coming. There's nowhere to hide! But you have help: Life hacks from veteran parents who know what they're doing.
/ Source: TODAY

The new school year is coming. There’s no escape, nowhere to hide! But you have this on your side: life hacks from veteran parents who really do know what they’re talking about.

TODAY Parenting Team logo

We asked the TODAY Parenting Team to share tips and tricks for surviving back-to-school season, and they responded with all sorts of hacks, shortcuts and sanity-saving measures for the benefit of parents everywhere. We’ve compiled a bunch of their great ideas here.

Please feel free to join in this ongoing conversation by becoming a member of our team, and stay connected to TODAY Parents updates on our Facebook page. If you’ve got other suggestions for saving time and angst, please share them with us!

Elementary-aged kids standing with backs toward camera
Someday, elementary school will be behind you.Courtesy of Brandy Yearous

1. Begin by saving time and energy at the “meet the teacher” open house. (Brandy Yearous)

“Stick to the facts! ... Look, when teachers (still in full summer brain) meet their class for the first time, they don’t want to know how smart they are — they are going to find that out on their own. They want to know how to keep them safe. That is all. How are they getting home from school? Are there any custody issues? Are they allergic to anything? Anything other than that is wasting your breath.”

2 (through 5!) Breakfast matters — so have a system for making it quickly! (Amanda Mushro)

3. “Easily cook a dozen eggs for breakfast sandwiches by baking eggs in a muffin tin. Using a lightly greased muffin tin, crack one egg into each cup and bake for 15 minutes on 350 degrees. Build your sandwich with English muffins, cheese and ham. Freeze the sandwiches and wrap in foil for later or heat and enjoy.”

4. “Cut down on breakfast mess by mixing pancake mix for the week and putting it into several freezer bags (to) store in the fridge. Be sure to leave room for the batter to expand. When ready to make, cut a bottom corner of the freezer bag and squeeze the mix into a hot pan.”

5. “Have a breakfast smoothie any morning by chopping up and freezing all the ingredients for a smoothie in individual sandwich bags. When you're ready, grab a bag and throw the ingredients into a blender and enjoy!”

Child with food allergies
Courtesy of Tove Maren

6. If your child has food allergies, prepare this kit far ahead of the first day. (Tove Maren)

7. Show school forms who’s boss. (Keeper of the Fruit Loops)

“Fill forms out on the day you get them. Schools love paper forms and you receive a lot of them: permission slips, invitations, reminders. I make it a daily habit to fill the forms out while my kids do their homework. Not only does it keep my schedule on track, but it also cuts down on the clutter on my kitchen counters.”

Lunch boxes and new shoes
Let them go, let them go!Courtesy of MrsMuffinTop

8. On the first day, say a quick goodbye and make a clean getaway. (MrsMuffinTop)

“As tempting as it is to give a few extra hugs, or chat with the other moms in the class, try to keep the goodbyes as quick as possible. Lingering can send mixed messages to your son/daughter, and you want them to feel your confidence, not your hesitation.”

9. Adjust to complicated new schedules with the help of your phone. (Amanda Mushro)

“Change the locked picture on your phone to a written note with your kids’ schedules, pickup times, and drop-off times for a quick reference at the beginning of the year.”

10. Pace yourself with volunteering. (Keeper of the Fruit Loops)

“As a seven-year veteran of the PTA, I can tell you this: volunteering is a marathon, not a sprint. When your child first enters school, it can be natural to want to join many committees to feel connected to your school community. However, while it's admirable to want to donate your time, make sure to pick your activities wisely. Quality is always better than quantity when it comes to volunteering.”

Kids making funny faces on first day of school.
When parents use hacks wisely, the whole family is less stressed.Courtesy of Amanda Mushro

11 (through 15!) Become the lunchbox master. (Amanda Mushro)

12. “Never run out of ice packs for lunch boxes again! Grab kitchen sponges from the dollar store, soak in water, place in sandwich bag, and freeze for effective and cheap ice packs.”

13. “Never worry food in a Thermos isn’t still hot at lunchtime. Fill the Thermos or can with almost boiling water and put the lid on. Let it sit while you pack lunches or serve breakfast. Heat the food hotter than you would normally serve it. Dump out the hot water and add the food. Now you have hot food stored in a warm thermos. Perfect for a hot lunch!”

14. “Use that Thermos for food other than soup. Heat chicken nuggets in the microwave and store in a hot Thermos. They will be warm and yummy when your kids are ready for lunch. Just don’t forget the ketchup.”

15. “Keep apples from turning brown by using a knife or apple corer/slicer to cut around the core. Put the apple back together and wrap a rubber band around the apple. The apple will still be fresh at lunch.”

16. “If your child needs a character costume for a project, always go colonial.” (Keeper of the Fruit Loops)

“My son had a third-grade book report where he had to dress in costume. He chose Mozart and the costume has since doubled as a minuteman, an apothecary and a shop owner. Get your child to pick a colonial character one time and you can use that costume repeatedly. A Laura Ingalls Wilder costume can easily become Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony on the night before you realize the project is due.”

17. Prepare yourself to sit back, relax — and freak out. (Brandy Yearous)

“Moms! If you stay home, plan on running errands or doing something to get out of the house. There is nothing worse than coming home to an empty house so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Psssst! No one is going to judge you if you put on Disney Channel just to have a familiar noise running in the background. If you have younger children, this is their time! Think of it as their ‘only child’ time they never had before.”

Follow writer Laura T. Coffey on Twitter @ltcoff and Google+.

Need inspiration for that colonial costume? Kathie Lee and Hoda are here to help....