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Breakfast in fast lane

Breakfast can be tough. When you're headed out the door to work or trying to get the kids ready for school, it's hard to think of good-for-you breakfasts that can be pulled together quickly.We know we should eat something, so it's easy to opt for store-bought smoothies and juice drinks and drive-through breakfast sandwiches for the first meal of the day.The solution? Like so many things, it's getting organized early. Make your breakfast the night before when you're in the kitchen after dinner. Or tackle the job over the weekend and prepare what you need to get through the Monday-through-Friday routine.First, who says breakfast has to be eggs, cereal or toast? If you'd rather eat a bagel spread with marinara sauce and ricotta cheese, then enjoy. Hummus, shredded carrots and cucumber sticks wrapped in a flour tortilla? A great way to get a head start on your vegetables for the day.Second, stock up on the right containers. Having containers that are the right size, and sturdy enough to withstand repeated use, makes it that much easier to get out the door with breakfast in hand. Look for cups with gel packs that go in the freezer so your milk and yogurt stay cold and drink containers with built-in mixers so your smoothie will stay smooth.Third, remember that there's nothing wrong with simple. A banana or an apple with a slice of whole-grain toast may be all you need to get your day off to a good start. Add a protein source like peanut butter, a slice of cheese or a hard-boiled egg and you're good to go.And as long as you're working on breakfast, how about packing up a little lunch?


Boiled eggs are the quintessential breakfast-to-go. Avoid rubbery eggs by using this method to cook them. In a medium saucepan, arrange eggs and add enough tap water to cover the eggs by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then cover the pan and turn off the heat. Leave the eggs in the water for 10 minutes, then drain and cool. Peel immediately or store in the shell.Scrambled eggs refrigerate beautifully. You can use whole eggs, or just the whites.Scramble some eggs and then add some cooked sausage (pork, turkey or veggie). Mix in shredded cheese and salsa and wrap in whole- wheat tortillas to make breakfast burritos. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for up to four days; heat in microwave before you head out the door.Refrigerate plain scrambled eggs, then in the morning toast an English muffin, top with a slice of cheese and maybe some Canadian bacon, and warm up the eggs for one minute in the microwave. Add them to your muffin and you're on your way in two minutes with a hot sandwich.Another do-ahead idea uses purchased tubes of pizza dough. Unroll the dough and divide into 8 rectangles. Mix scrambled eggs with shredded mozzarella and marinara sauce and add 1/2 cup to each rectangle. Fold in half, seal the edges and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until brown. These will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days. Reheat, and again, you have a hot breakfast in two minutes.


If you have a minute in the morning, peeled orange sections and sliced apples are easy food to eat on the run. To prepare ahead, chop a mixture into small pieces and toss together with just enough fruit juice to moisten the pieces and keep them from browning. Refrigerate in containers that fit your cup holder and then just grab one as you head out the door. No fork or spoon needed. You just shake the pieces out like you're drinking a milkshake.Smoothies are a great vehicle for a little fruit and maybe a little dairy. Set up the blender and have your smoothie container ready. Then take one minute in the morning to blend your choice of fruit, juice and yogurt, if you like. Add ice, pour into your cup and go. If you want to make your smoothie ahead of time, skip the ice and it will keep overnight. Using yogurt or bananas gives smoothies a creamy texture.

Cereal and grains

Granola bars are the ultimate in grab-and-go convenience. Make your own and customize with the nuts and dried fruit you and your family like.Cold cereal is easy to take if you have one of the new containers with a separate compartment for the milk. Try using vanilla yogurt and cut down on the chance of a spill.Granola itself is easy to make and keeps for weeks. Those same containers with separate compartments make it easy to keep the yogurt cold and the granola crunchy until you're ready to eat.Instant oatmeal may not be quite as fiber-filled as old-fashioned, but it cooks in seconds. After spending almost $4 for oatmeal at a coffee shop, I realized I could put 1/2 cup instant oatmeal in a microwave-proof container, add 1 cup water, heat for one minute and have the same result at a fraction of the cost. Dress up your oatmeal with brown sugar, chopped nuts or dried fruit.If you need oatmeal for more than one, try cooking steel-cut oats overnight in a slow cooker. They take about eight hours to reach a creamy texture. Add some sliced apples and a little cinnamon and you've got the breakfast equivalent of apple cobbler.

And finally, bread

It takes just seconds to put bread, English muffins or bagels in the toaster before you head to the shower. Even if you eat it plain, it's better than no breakfast at all, but if you've prepped a few squares of cheese or a boiled egg, you're on your way to a good breakfast. And by the way, cheese freezes fine for a few days, or just cube it and refrigerate wrapped in serving-size packages.


Research says many of us eat breakfast in the car. Here are some ideas for meals you can eat while driving. Not that we'd recommend that, of course.

Individual OmeletsHands on: 10 minutes Total time: 35 minutes Makes: 12 muffinsThis is really great pickup food and infinitely variable. Substitute Canadian bacon or veggie sausage, change the cheese to mozzarella or pepper Jack, or try broccoli or mushrooms, if that's what you like. Use this recipe to make 24 shallow muffins (just put half the amount in each tin) and you'll have thinner omelets that fit neatly inside an English muffin. They'll refrigerate for 5 days. Pop one or two in the microwave until just heated through and head out the door.

  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper, divided
  • 1 cup 1/4-inch diced ham
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 12 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Thoroughly grease a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray.Reserve half the green onions and red pepper. In a small bowl, combine the remaining green onions and red pepper and ham. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin cups. Top each with cheese.In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and pepper. Combine thoroughly, then pour egg into each muffin cup. Use a fork to lift vegetables and ham to be sure egg penetrates to bottom of cup. Fill each cup 3/4 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, just until muffins have risen and are set.Remove to a rack to cool. Package in individual servings and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze. If frozen, thaw before reheating. Reheat in microwave for 1 to 2 minutes or until warm in the center.Per serving: 125 calories (percent of calories from fat, 63), 10 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 226 milligrams cholesterol, 351 milligrams sodium.


Orange SmoothieHands on: 5 minutes Total time: 5 minutes Makes: 1 servingThis smoothie mimics the beloved flavors of beloved Creamsicle ice pops. Smoothies are another quick breakfast option you can customize in many ways. Stick with the basic proportions of 2 cups fruit, 3/4 cup liquid and 1/2 cup yogurt or a half-banana for one serving. If you're using frozen fruit, add that first and allow to thaw for just a few minutes. If you're making a smoothie, when you're ready to serve, add ice cubes to give you that slushy consistence.

  • 2 cups pineapple chunks, fresh or frozen
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
  • In a blender, combine pineapple, juice and yogurt. Process until smooth, adding more juice if thinner consistency is desired. Drink immediately or refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
  • Per serving: 333 calories (percent of calories from fat, 8), 8 grams protein, 73 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 6 milligrams cholesterol, 80 milligrams sodium.


Homemade Granola BarsHands on: 25 minutes Total time: 55 minutes Makes: 16 barsThese bars get better as they age. They'll keep unrefrigerated for up to two weeks. Use one kind of dried fruit or add a variety. We made ours with dates, dried pineapple and dried cranberries.

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
  • 1/2 cup untoasted wheat germ
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 11/2 cups chopped dried fruit
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper. Lightly butter the parchment paper.In a large bowl, toss together oatmeal, almonds, coconut, wheat germ and ground flaxseed. Spread on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer mixture back to bowl and mix in dried fruit.Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine honey, butter, vanilla and salt and heat in microwave until butter is melted and mixture just comes to a boil, about 2 minutes. Pour honey mixture over toasted oatmeal mixture in bowl and stir well.Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Wet your fingers and firmly press the mixture into the pan. Be sure sides are even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.Adapted from "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35)Per bar: 209 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 5 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 4 milligrams cholesterol, 39 milligrams sodium.


Banana-Blueberry MuffinsHands on: 10 minutes Total time: 30 minutes Makes: 12 muffinsBanana and yogurt add sweetness and moisture to this lightened version of the traditional blueberry muffin. If keeping for longer than a day, store muffins in freezer.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 large very ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup blueberries, rinsed and picked over

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.In a large bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. In another bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, yogurt, milk, banana, egg, butter and lemon zest. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just blended. Fold in the blueberries. Be careful not to overmix.Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until muffins are just firm to the touch. Do not overbake. Cool in pan for 5 minutes; turn out on rack to cool completely.Adapted from "Go Bananas" by Susan Quick (Broadway Books, $16)Per muffin: 146 calories (percent of calories from fat, 18), 4 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 24 milligrams cholesterol, 272 milligrams sodium.


Morning Glory MuffinsHands on: 20 minutes Total time: 40 minutes Makes: 12 muffinsThis slightly decadent breakfast muffin is chock-full of fruit and vegetables and will refrigerate beautifully for up to one week.

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 medium apple
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.On a rimmed baking sheet, spread pecans. Bake until lightly toasted, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.Turn oven up to 400 degrees.In a large bowl, stir together all-purpose flour, whole- wheat flour, brown sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and vanilla.In the bowl of a food processor, chop apple and carrots until about the size of rice. Stir apple and carrots into flour mixture; add raisins, coconut and pecans. Pour egg mixture over all and stir together until just combined.Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until just firm. Cool in pan for 5 minutes; turn out on rack to cool completely.Adapted from "BakeWise" by Shirley O. Corriher (Scribner, $40)Per muffin: 301 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 5 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 18 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 53 milligrams cholesterol, 108 milligrams sodium.

Hands-on lunch prep

Hands-on lunch prepBoys put 3 recipes to test for school year.Fruits, vegetables, whole grains figure into balanced meal.Byline / Source: C.W. Cameron / For the AJCEmail:  Correction:  Corr.-Unpub.:  Story: Paper, pens and markers ready? Check!Backpack, new clothes and shoes purchased? Check!Family prepared for new wake-up times? Check!Organized for school lunches and after-school snacks? Not yet!Fear not. We're here to help.Meet our cooking team: Stephen, Matt and James Hummel. Stephen, 14, is a freshman at Lakeside High School. Matt, 12, and James, 8, will be returning to Intown Community School in Atlanta. These guys will be helping Mom and Dad, Kim and Paul Hummel, make their lunches and after-school snacks this year.Lunch for the Hummels follows a formula: snack item, main course, fruit and dessert. The snack is often pretzels or fish-shaped crackers, and the main course is usually a sandwich. Stephen is pretty flexible and sometimes takes a bagel or maybe chicken or spaghetti leftovers. Matt sticks with a ham or turkey and cheese sandwich. James is the only one who will confess to the family fondness for fluffernutter sandwiches — peanut butter and marshmallow creme. Hummus with carrots is a favorite and a healthful family snack.They're all pretty handy around the kitchen. Once a week they bake bread together, and that's often the basis for their sandwiches.We brought in Butch Raphael, regional chef for Whole Foods, to help the guys fine-tune their cooking skills. Raphael came with recipes for granola, hummus and tuna melts.These recipes are well-tested on Raphael's own kids: Ayden, 10, Shayna, 7, and Ezra, 4. The Raphael kids don't fix their own lunches — mom Pam takes care of that — but they do make their own snacks. Butch Raphael admits he's been banned from lunch duty."I put in too many treats! Or I mix up the ketchup and mayonnaise on the same side of the bread. That's not allowed, " he said with a laugh.The Raphael kids really love fruit as an after-school snack. "We freeze berries and pieces of banana. The key to getting kids to eat fruit is to make sure it's the right size, " Raphael said. "A big apple is just too much for a little kid."The Raphaels mix fresh fruit juice and water to make frozen fruit pops and freeze half-filled bottles of water to pack with lunches. In the morning they top the bottle with water, and it's icy cold when everyone is ready to eat.The Hummels' formula for lunch is a good one. Jennifer Seymour from the Nutrition Guideline Development and Recommendations team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, "We know that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can help people feel full without adding unwanted calories. It's a good idea to make fruit and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk products the primary choice for lunch and snacks."How did our cooks like what they made? Hummus is a family staple, so no surprise: They liked it. The granola was layered with yogurt, sliced strawberries and blueberries for a special after-school treat, pretty enough to share with company.The tuna melts were the biggest hit. Turns out that tuna and pickles aren't staples in the Hummel household, even though everyone really likes them. "I guess I just don't go down those aisles, " Kim said. The melts disappeared in a flash.

Age-appropriate tasks

Here are some of chef Butch Raphael's tips for keeping children safe in the kitchen. These are general guidelines, so take your child's aptitude and skills into consideration before turning them loose in the kitchen.Children younger than 5 can:learn how to taste using good sanitation methodsmeasure ingredientsuse a butter knife for spreadinglayer ingredients for a pretty presentationrinse fruits, vegetables, herbsChildren age 5-8 can:cut fruits safely, using a butter knife or cookie cuttersuse scissors for chopping herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro) or cutting tortillasuse a can openerlearn to balance flavorsmix ingredients by handChildren 9-12 can:use a grater to cut onions, garlic or cheeseuse a peeler on cucumbers and citrus fruitlearn how to safely use a sharp knifesauce and toss pastaAt 13, children can:learn to use appliances such as an oven safelydrain hot ingredients using a colanderget into fancier kitchen work such as flipping food in the pan


Chef Butch Raphael provided these recipes, which he's tested many times on his own children. Each is easily adapted for your family's tastes. Don't like almonds? Substitute another nut in the granola or just skip it. Garlic too adventurous for your eaters? The hummus is just fine without it. And the tuna melt can easily accommodate sweet pickles instead of dill, or even chicken instead of tuna. Always remember, though, that kids might be a little more willing to try something if they had a hand in putting it together.

GranolaHands on: 20 minutes Total time: 1 hour Serves: 18 (1/2-cup servings)The tiny bit of cayenne pepper is a surprise that helps to offset the sweetness of the other ingredients. You may substitute honey, brown rice syrup or maple syrup for the agave nectar.

  • 5 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups raw almonds, whole or sliced
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 3/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2-1 cup unsweetened coconut, optional
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup agave nectar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (date pieces, cranberries, cherries, raisins, apricots or mango), optional

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.Mix the oats, almonds, pumpkin and sesame seeds, cayenne, cinnamon, ginger, salt and coconut together in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix applesauce, nectar and oil. Combine the two mixtures. Stir well to mix thoroughly.Spread the mixture evenly onto two 9-by-13 baking dishes or rimmed cookie sheets. Bake for 35 to 50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until evenly golden brown. Remove pans from the oven and stir again to keep the granola from cooling into a solid mass. The granola will crisp as it cools. If using fruit, add it once the granola has cooled.Pack a 1/2 cup granola for a snack, along with a separate container of yogurt and maybe some fresh fruit.Per serving: 265 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 9 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 123 milligrams sodium.


HummusHands on: 10 minutes Total time: 10 minutes Serves: 16 (1/4 cup servings)The Hummel family has been making hummus for years. In addition to the traditional garbanzo bean hummus, they make a version similar to the one below, substituting 2 cans of black beans for the garbanzos and changing the flavor a little by using lime juice instead of lemon and adding 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro.Hummus can be served cold or at room temperature. Send this to school with a separate container of crackers, carrots, celery or cucumbers for dipping. For an after-school snack, hummus is delicious spread on pita wedges.

  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 cloves garlic, optional
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the beans, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Add water a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Add the garlic and cumin, and then salt and pepper to taste.Per serving: 86 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 3 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 88 milligrams sodium.


Tuna Pita MeltHands on: 10 minutes Total time: 20 minutes Serves: 8 (2 pitas per serving)Use the pickles that your kids like best — dill, sweet or pickle relish. If you have a toaster oven, this makes a great after-school snack that the older kids can prepare. One of chef Butch Raphael's tricks is to use a little pickle juice to help moisten the tuna, which reduces the amount of mayonnaise you need.

  • 2 (5-ounce) cans tuna packed in water, drained
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon red onion, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon pickle, diced small
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 16 small pitas
  • 4 ounces shredded cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.In a bowl, mix the tuna, mayonnaise, onion, pickle, salt and pepper well. Lay the pitas on a baking sheet. Top each with a scoop of tuna mixture, then sprinkle with a tablespoon of shredded cheese.Put in the oven and heat just until the cheese melts, about 10 minutes. Serve warm. They can be cooled and packed for a school lunch.Per serving: 320 calories (percent of calories from fat, 21), 19 grams protein, 43 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 26 milligrams cholesterol, 635 milligrams sodium.

Back-to-school sales require strategic shopping

Every autumn, the list gets longer:“Did he need college-ruled notebook paper last year?”“I don’t remember buying her five binders.”“A T-I-80-WHAT?”The school supply list, it seems, grows more than your children do each year. And while your son might clamor for the Transformers pencil box, you’re determined to keep this shopping trip for necessities under control (for the most part, anyway).That’s why, armed with the Inman Middle School 6th grade supply list, I drove to six different metro Atlanta retailers, determined to identify the cheapest places to buy supplies and the strategies most effective for back-to-school shopping. Here’s what I discovered:Strategy: Don’t be persuaded by the door-buster prices on, say, notebook paper, which should be relatively cheap anywhere you go. Instead, one strategy is to identify the items on your list that could cost the most, and then choose a retailer based on the price of that item. For example, one-inch binders ranged from 60 cents at Walmart to $4.59 at Publix, and if your kid needs 3 to 8 of these, they could destroy your budget at the grocer.A second strategy is to identify the items most difficult to find — in my case a non-spiral, quad-rule composition notebook was only available at three of the six stores. Then visit the store that carries the rarer items first, because you’ll have to make that trip regardless.Timing: Office Depot’s circular included rulers, ballpoint pens and college rule paper for 25 cents, but the rulers and pens were gone by the time I got there. Go shopping ASAP for a chance to snag these prices, and hit up retailers in the morning when goods will be freshly stocked and organized.Selection: Walmart was very organized, had an incredible supply, and was obviously prepared for the back-to-school rush. Plus, the display seemed more compact and easier to navigate than those at the large office supply stores I visited. But Target, OfficeMax and Office Depot were the only stores that had everything on my list.Also, for you green families, recycled notebook paper wasn’t hard to spot at both Kroger and Office Depot.Assistance: I consider myself a capable shopper, but I was a bit overwhelmed at how many choices some stores offer. At OfficeMax, I had to ask for help looking for the cheap binders, which weren’t with the other school supplies. And don’t be reticent about asking for the cheapest item. The first quad-rule composition book I found at Office Depot was $7.29, a whopping $4.80 more than the less-expensive version a salesperson located for me.Bulk: Buying in bulk could be cheaper — but don’t assume so. The packs of 72 pencils for $5.99 Office Depot offered still cost more per pencil than the 10- or 12-packs at Walmart or Kroger. So bring a calculator if you want to maximize your savings. Also, combo packs (like 14 Dixon pencils, more erasers than you can imagine plus a pencil sharpener at Publix for $2.99) might net you some change, depending on your needs.Ifs and buts: I cannot promise any prices mentioned will be valid by the time you get to the store, as sales can change daily. Individual stores vary and your list can differ drastically, depending on how old your kids are.And sometimes — just sometimes – you’ll probably treat your kids to a higher-priced item. Because your daughter, OMG, will, like, die if she doesn’t walk into class with that $5 “Glee” binder.

What I shopped for
  • 5 dividers
  • Notebook paper
  • 1-inch binder (3)
  • Black/blue pens
  • Ruler
  • Pencils
  • Graph paper
  • Dry erase marker
  • Composition notebook (2)
  • Highlighters
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Grid composition book, not spiral-bound
  • Colored pencils
  • At least 200 index cards (preferably on spiral or rings)
  • *Excludes independent reading book

Price totals from each store: (May vary by location)

  • Walmart: $19.16*
  • Target: $20.43
  • Kroger: $25.31* **
  • Publix: $34.33*
  • OfficeMax: $36.87
  • Office Depot: $38.64
  • *Missing one or more items on list; total reflects only items available
  • **With Kroger Plus Card
  • Door-busters I found:
  • Kroger: 19-cent pen 12-packs, 39-cent rulers, 50-cent pencil sharpeners
  • Office Depot: 25-cent notebook paper
  • OfficeMax: $1 quad-rule composition books
  • Target: 50-cent pencil 10-packs, 50-cent highlighter 2-packs, 75-cent colored pencils
  • Walmart: 60-cent 1-inch binders, 20-cent composition notebooks

Student athletes up for back-to-school challenges after spending summer training, competing

Bailey Hopkins, an athlete on and off the ball field, approaches his school work with the same determination as he does a fastball with the bases loaded.He keeps his eye on the ball, relies on his training and takes a swing at an A.The 11-year-old spent the summer conditioning his mind and body traveling with the Shiloh Titans baseball team. So when classes began at Five Forks Middle School in Lawrenceville, Ga., unlike some of his peers, Bailey was ready to hit the hallways running.Even as a sixth-grader at a new school.“I want to keep my grades up not just for now, but for later,” said Bailey, who dreams of playing pro baseball. “If baseball doesn’t work out, I want to be able to have something to fall back on. Last year, I got straight A's.”The agility and endurance students learn in sports have direct ties to the classroom. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention released a study in May showing substantial evidence between physical activity and scholastic achievement.“Exercise boosts brain power,” said Dennis Docheff, president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. “There has been some recent research done that shows that kids who are physically active on a regular basis perform better academically. To participate in sports, oftentimes it requires a certain grade-point average. It does motivate some.”The Shiloh Titans must meet behavior and grade requirements to stay active in the year-round league.“Any kid that doesn’t keep A's or B's has to answer to the coach,” said coach Brett Stovern, a founder of the Titans. “Any discipline problems at school also would cause them not to play baseball.”Getting children involved in football, cheerleading, basketball or softball may help parents mold their kids into responsible students. Juggling homework and sports builds confidence and teaches time management.Brilyn Patrick-Boyce, ranked among the top 9-year-old high jumpers and long jumpers in Georgia, won first place in finals at regionals and placed in the top 25 earlier this month at the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games in Norfolk, Va. The endurance she learned in track is helping her tackle social studies, her toughest subject at school.Track taught her that hard work pays off.“This is our first year running track,” said her mother, Keiva Patrick. "They push these kids to work. It opens your eyes.”Athletes with the Lightning Spikes Track Club begin preseason conditioning in early fall. A developmental season then runs from January to March, with weekend meets. A competitive season then runs into July, again with weekend meets. Team members at times practice four and five times a week. During the preseason Brilyn spent one hour a week training in a gym doing jumping jacks, pushing weighted balls and doing other exercises to build her strength.“When my baby started to cry the first day, I was ready to pull her out. But the other parents said to go home, soak her in some Epsom salts and she will be fine,” Patrick said. “By the end of the season, she could do five laps around the Berkmar High track.”Brilyn says she will takethe same attitude toward social studies that she displays on the track.“I like it because it makes me stronger,” she said. “I’m going to try to get an A.”Bailey, the Shiloh Titans catcher, keeps a datebook to manage his homework assignments, projects, tests and baseball practice sessions. He is taking four honors classes.“The traveling team is a huge commitment,” said Nancy Hopkins, “homework mom” for the Titans, who organizes parents to sit with kids and do homework at picnic tables before practice. “We are gone most every day of every weekend. First and foremost comes homework. Bailey knows he can’t play ball if his school work is not up to date even if it means you have to do it while we are traveling in the car or in between ballgames. He takes pride in the fact that he can juggle.”In only their second year as a team, the Titans have won five tournaments, including the 10U Grand Slam World Series Tournament in Panama City Beach, Fla., ending their season 86-11.Shannon Contic, a teacher and Titan mom, sees the impact of the victory on her son Dennis, the youngest in his class. “Since he has been on the team I have seen his confidence grow,” she said. “Confidence from the ball field translates into confidence at school. It has been a great thing for him.”Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School track star O’Neal Wanliss, 17, also is seeing an academic benefit from sports. O'Neal, who is ranked among Georgia's top runners in the 400 meters, says track helped him complete rigorous advanced placement classes. He recently finished fourth at the Junior Olympics in California.“As a natural competitor you are not going to settle for an average grade," O'Neal said. You are going to strive for something better.”

10 Misconceptions of Moms and Back-to-school from Facebook

Making the rounds on Facebook (similar to a chain letter) is an angry, yet funny list that some mother wrote about kids going back to school. The list has been passed around so much that the author’s name is no longer attached. (If the author is out there let me know and I’ll gladly give you credit!)I think it’s an angry, funny and pretty truthful piece. So read it and see what you think.

From Facebook, author unknown:

  • Misconception Number 1: Moms miss their kids when they go back to schoolSeriously. I’ve had enough of you by now. Every morning with the “what are we going to do today, Mom?” is finally over. I’ve had looked at your face twenty-four seven for the last 77 days. It’s time to go learn something. No more asking me about the pool, when is the next snack or if you can stay up late and watch a movie. It’s over….You’re going back to Hogwarts and I get to have a life again. There is a Christmas morning for parents and it’s called “back to school”.
  • Misconception Number 2: Moms like to go school shopping.Are you freaking kidding me? Why do I pay taxes?…so I can rack up a 200 dollar bill at Staples for crap that we have laying around my house in junk drawers. Why does it have to be new pencils? What’s wrong with the chewed up, broken strawberry shortcake pencils sitting in the bottom of the toy box for the last 6 months? And how many subject books can you possibly need? What happened to reading, writing and arithmetic. If they added a couple of things for parents to that list I wouldn’t mind so much….why not pencils, erasers and vodka …..or some Nyquil.
  • Misconception Number 3: Moms like back to school night. Why must we do this every year? I got it already. You’re the teacher…I’m the parent. My kid is either going to be smart or dumb. If he gets a certain number or colored dot on his discipline chart, he can’t get a prize from the prize box. Pretty simple stuff. Listen, I’m pretty old school. If he doesn’t listen to you…you can throw something at him. I don’t care. But I got a lot of work to do at home and I’m paying a babysitter right now. Plus, I’m pretty sure you are going to assign some project on wigwams made by some Indian tribe I’ve never heard of, so I need to get home and start my research. So, I got it. We’re all here for the betterment of the kids. Blah Blah Blah. Can I leave now?
  • Misconception Number 4: Moms like school paperwork.How many trees are you planning on killing to tell me the same stuff I had to pay a babysitter to listen to the other night? You know our name, where we live and our emergency phone numbers. He doesn’t have a nickname….call him “stinkbutt” for all I care. We don’t have any “special circumstances” that you need to know about. He lives in a home with two parents who may or may not like each other at any given time and they will fight. If that qualifies as a reason he can’t get his homework done on time then he won’t be able to function as an adult and have a real job so you may want to “educate” him on that life lesson.
  • Misconception Number 5: Moms like covering books in that annoying sticky paper.What exactly will you be doing with these books that I have to cover them in a plastic laminate? Do you often teach in the rain? Or while the children are drinking soda and eating soup? Do you know how long that takes? Has any parent in the history of education been able to do it without any air bubbles in it? From now on I’m covering it the old way…brown paper bags. That way I can cover the books and pack their lunches at that same time. Who says moms can’t multitask?
  • PS. Please tell my son if he can’t find his lunch to look in his science book.
  • Misconception Number 6: Moms like helping you with your homework. What? I am scared out of my mind. I’m pretty sure that I forgot everything I learned in fifth grade by the time I was in sixth grade. I have no idea what you are talking about most days. I don’t really know my 12 times tables, I read the cliff notes to all your summer reading and I don’t know how to conjugate anything but I do know that song “conjuction junction what’s your function” if that helps at all. And please don’t even say the words “new math” to me. What the heck was wrong the old one?
  • Misconception Number 7: Moms can’t wait to pack your lunch every day until we die.I hate doing laundry. Making dinner every night is the bane of my existence, so making your lunch every day for an entire year, in terms of “mom fun”, lies somewhere between brushing plaque off the dogs teeth and scheduling my annual pap smear. Listen, as a child I hated what my mom packed me for lunch. But, like every kid before me, and every generation to come you will find a kid to trade with…I’m sure someone likes sardines.
  • Misconception Number 8: Moms love after school activities.I don’t know who made up this idea of organized clubs and sports but they should be the ones in charge of carting your ass around. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against all after school programs. I just wish they would offer it during hours that would work best for me so that dinner wasn’t at 8:30 at night followed by 4 hours of homework. Why not do it on the weekends and call it “after-hours activities” so mommy and daddy could actually go out one night and pretend that we have a life of our own. Don’t worry about us though I’m sure that me and “what’s his name” will be married a very long time.
  • Misconception Number 9: Moms don’t mind taking you to school if you miss the busYour bus comes at 7:10 am….which means that you should be standing by the door at 7:05 am. Not eating breakfast , chasing the dog around the house or in the bathroom, asking me to check your homework while I’m taking a shower. Get it together! I don’t like running down the street in my jammies at 7:12 screaming “Please wait” or “If you stop I’ll show you my boobies.”
  • Misconception Number 10: Moms cry on your first day of schoolWe do cry but they are tears of joy. I have done my job. I have successfully kept a human child alive for at least 5 years without doing any major damage. Motherhood is the hardest job in the world!! Sure, doctors save lives and CEO’s run million dollar businesses but…you teach a kid not to poop their pants and then you can say you’ve made the world a better place.”

10 ways to save for back to school and beyond

Finding ways to save on back to school shopping is more important than ever.  The need to save doesn’t end there, though.  The school year calls for many supplies, activities and clothes for those ever-growing kids (who can keep up!?).  As such, I’ve collected some creative ways for you to save now and continue to pinch pennies throughout the entire school year.

  • 1. Set a Budget: While this may seem like a no-brainer, I challenge you to stick to it.  Whether it’s clothes, supplies, etc., decide how much you can afford and (here’s the key) take out that amount in CASH ONLY.  Leave the checkbook, credit card and debit card at home!  When you’re forced to use cash, you’re forced to make wise choices about your spending and look a little harder to find the better deal.
  • 2. The 3 R’s: You reduce, reuse and recycle when it comes to the environment, why not apply this to all aspects of your lifestyle?  Reduce over-consumption of snack foods and cereals by dividing them into pre-measured zip lock bags.  Reuse sports items like cleats and tennis shoes that are still in good condition, despite pressure from kids for the latest styles.  Recycle old clothing at consignment stores, which in turn, give you cash to spend on new (or put back in your pocket!)
  • 3. Online Auctions: Make some money for new equipment your student needs by selling older models on auction sites like Craigslist, and These sites work in reverse, too, as you can find used models of what you may need.  Check  for auctions happening now!
  • 4. Quality, Not Quantity: Staple clothing items such as jeans, shoes and coats are great investments as they can be worn again and again and withstand several wears.  Save cash on more expendable items such as t-shirts and jewelry.  Many outfit combinations can come from layering tees, vests, hoodies and leggings with the same pair of jeans.  Two pairs of great, quality jeans and a plethora of fun, graphic t-shirts and a few hoodies can get any boy through several school months.  Have fun with girls by experimenting with accessories and make it a game of playing stylist and creating as many looks as possible with few pieces.
  • 5. Swap Shop: You have growing kids and guess what?  So do your friends and neighbors.  Play host to a neighborhood swap party and take advantage of hand-me-down items from other, older kids if yours don’t have the “pleasure” of older siblings.  This isn’t just for kids, either.  Have all the moms bring their unwanted clothing and accessories, too – everyone will go home with bagfuls of “new” items and clear their old!
  • 6. Cheap Thrills: Dust off those old board games and make a night of it!  Give yourself a break from cooking dinner and throw in a frozen pizza and a free DVD from the library.  Organize a potluck dinner amongst friends and rotate host homes once a week.  Go biking, rollerblading, whatever…chances are you’ll save money and gain a lot more precious time with family friends and incorporate some much-needed activity.
  • 7. No-Spend Weekend: Take a weekend and spend as normal, but save receipts for everything.  Total up how much you spent.  Next, go an entire weekend without spending anything.  You’ll be surprised at how much you can save in just a weekend!  Make coffee instead of running to Starbucks and force yourself to make use of what you already have on hand in the pantry for dinner.  It’s possible that in just a few weekends it’s likely you can have a pretty good head start on a family vacation!
  • 8. Get Tech Savvy: If you haven’t already, take the plunge and sign up for Facebook and Twitter.  Does your daughter need new ballet shoes?  There’s probably a parent in your circle who has a daughter who’s outgrown hers and would be willing to give them or sell them to you on the cheap.  Looking for a deal on a computer?  Someone else may have just seen a sale that could save you hundreds of dollars!
  • 9. Out of Season Shopping: Planning ahead and shopping for Christmas in July can make a big difference in holiday and gift spending.  Check end aisles in department stores for clearance candles, photo albums, etc. that make great gifts for anyone.  Save money AND holiday stress by wrapping presents ahead of time, as well.  You don’t have to wait on the holiday wrapping paper to come out – think green, red & metallic.
  • 10. Tricks of the Trade: Connect with your community group and figure out who is good at what.  For instance, you may be a fantastic baker and your friend may be really good at sewing.  You can make cupcakes for her child’s birthday party and in exchange, she can tailor those $5 jeans you bought at a thrift store and make them look like a million bucks!  Anything goes…babysitting, cleaning, hairstyling, the list goes on!

Back to school 2.0: Five eBook resources to save you time and money

College students: Your fall semester has likely just begun, but chances are you’re still waiting on a book or two from a discount textbook site. Why not give up on the achingly long waits of Media Mail and buy all your books online instantly?Thanks to America’s lust for the Kindle, Nook and iPad, eBooks are more readily available than ever before. But even a cash-strapped college student without a tablet device or eReader can take advantage of the trend. My impoverished peers, this post is for you.Before you sit down to buy, ask yourself a couple of questions. Which devices will you have at your disposal come class time? Is the class held in a computer lab? If so, a web-based eBook with highlighting and note-taking capabilities will suit your needs. If not, a laptop or netbook might serve the same role in a pinch. And for the perpetually connected smartphone user, the iPhone and Android app stores are packed with eReaders to suit all tastes.What’s the subject matter of the book you’re seeking? If it’s English, you may be able to skate by without purchasing a book at all, thanks to a number of “public works” websites and apps. Check out Tech Tonic’s list of five great time- or money-saving resources to get your books online:

  • 1. Coursesmart: The web is home to countless eBook sellers, but most feature novels and popular non-fiction rather than textbooks. Coursemart, which bills itself as “the world’s largest provider of digital course materials,” boasts more than 90 percent of “core textbooks” used in North America colleges and universities. eBooks are rented for a large discount off the book’s retail price and can be accessed via a Web-based reader or downloaded. Books are even accessable via iPhone and iPad apps.
  • 2. If the eBook is one you expect to reference for years to come, a more traditional eBook seller might be the way to go. Texts from come in a variety of formats, including those compatible with Adobe Digital Editions, MobiPocket, iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. I recommend Adobe Digital Editions for its robust annotation and printing options.
  • 3. Free Books: The sales pitch of this app for iPhone and iPad is simple: “23,469 classic for less than a cup of coffee.” The app goes for $1.99 and includes many of the classics your literature or history professor might assign, including Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas and Thomas Paine. One caveat: This app is a convenient, searchable package, but all these texts can likely be obtained elsewhere for free.
  • 4. NetLibrary: When hunting for a copy of your textbook, don’t neglect your school’s affiliation with NetLibrary, if applicable. The site offers more than 146,000 titles in PDF format, not to mention audiobooks.
  • 5. Project Gutenberg: The ultimate freebie site for lit majors features 33,000 titles in ePub, Kindle, HTML and simple text formats. While the site’s top 100 list includes mostly historical novels, it also offers math texts, foreign language dictionaries, the Bible and the Kama Sutra.

Tablets, e-readers among most popular gadgets students crave

What’s on top of the school supply list this year? It isn’t T-shirts and tennis shoes. It’s the other T, for mobile tech.Kids as young as elementary age are looking for smartphone upgrades, while the college set is sussing out the explosion in tablets, said Craig Johnson, president of the retail consulting and research firm Customer Growth Partners in New Canaan, Conn.“The single most important thing is the acceleration of technology for back to school. Kids don’t get excited about a new lunch box these days, or a new backpack. Cool means technology,” he said.


Back-to-school tech also means tablets. Once hallowed Apple ground, iPad 2 competitors are everywhere. Apple is still the big kid, but Android technology is in pursuit.In addition to the iPad 2, tech analyst Andrea Smith suggests the 10-inch Toshiba Thrive (starting at $430) for back to school. It runs on Android, has two USB ports and an SD card reader. The new TouchPad (starting at $500) by Hewlett-Packard, runs on webOS, has a 9.7-inch screen and touts easy multitasking among open apps.For analyst Natali Morris, iPad 2 (starting at $500) “really is the only tablet on the market that kids are coveting,” though she added that some Android technology is good for note-taking and syncing.Tablets are cool, but are they practical for actual schoolwork? That might have everything to do with the popularity of bluetooth-enabled keyboard add-ons, including the new one Smith and Morris like from Logitech, with a case that easily turns into a tablet stand. Toshiba has a keyboard, too, also sold separately.


Morris’ picks for student laptops: MacBook Air with an 11- or 13-inch screen (starting at $1,000 and $1,300, respectively). They weigh as little as 2.3 pounds and boot up in about five seconds, she said. Those features are good for students moving from class to class.Going head to head with MacBook Air for PC-prone students is the sleek new Samsung Series 9 (starting at $1,650), Morris said. It’s light, boots Windows in 20 seconds and offers 160-degree viewing for group work.


While not as powerful or versatile as tablets and laptops, high functionality — like highlighting and touchscreens — are coming to e-readers. “All of the features are out now or in the process of coming out,” Johnson said.The new Nook ($139) from Barnes & Noble has a six-inch touchscreen and crisp, clear print for reading in bright light. It also has received praise for long battery life.



Post-It Flag PenThis highlighter-pen combo comes with room for 50 color-coordinated flags on a shirt clip. You can find it at various stores that sell office supplies. It’s sold solo ($3.99 on and in a three-pack ($7.55 on

Crayola DryErase CrayonsAn alternative to white-board markers, these dry-erase crayons ($5.04 on come with an eraser mitt.

Azuna 3D NotebooksAzuna 3D technology adds a new dimension to notebook covers (one-subject notebook $2.99, only at Staples).

'Friend me or no Facebook'

On its face, Darcy Harper's year-old Facebook friendship with her son Tyler might look like a match made in cyber-heaven.Indeed, the same could be true for Madelyn Spiegelman and 16-year-old Clyde Stewart-Mathews, and Andrea and Spencer Shelton.But the truth is those friendships were forged with a stern caveat: friend me or no Facebook."That's just the rule, " said Spiegelman of Dunwoody, Ga. "You either do it or you're not going to be on Facebook."Turns out such parental guidelines aren't all that unusual. According to a new study on social networking trends and practices, 16 percent of teens say friending their parents was a precondition for joining the social networking site."Facebook continues to be the new frontier in the ever-evolving relationship between parent and child, " said Kristen Campbell of Kaplan Test Prep, which conducted the study.Although roughly two-thirds of U.S. teenagers feel at ease having their parents friend them on Facebook, for many teens getting friended by their parents is like, OMG, sharing a tender moment with them in public.Andrea Shelton has personal experience with this when she posted "Spencer, you're the man, " recently on his wall."I thought it was cute, " said Shelton, a resident of Atlanta. "He was mortified, and I learned a lesson: Lay low, Mama."While Shelton agreed she wouldn't post on Spencer's wall, she and other parents say they refuse to relinquish all control. They say they constantly monitor their children's activity on the site so that they not only know who they are talking to and what they are saying, but how they say it.Spiegelman said that on a few occasions she woke her son from a deep sleep after he mistakenly left his chat open exposing inappropriate language."The consequences weren't good, " she said.Darcy Harper of Norcross, Ga., said she, too, monitors her son's Facebook activity all the time and has seen things posted by other teens on his wall that made her heart flutter.In retrospect, the 44-year-old mother of three, including 10-year-old twin daughters, said she probably would've waited two more years before giving 13-year-old Tyler the green light."That would be my advice to other parents, " she said.According to Campbell, when a teen ignores a parent's friend request, it doesn't necessarily mean the teen is hiding something, but it could mean that this is one particular part of his or her life where the teen wants to exert independence.The study found that 65 percent of teens "are not hiding and that is positive, " said Campbell, an executive director at the company that develops college prep programs.A separate survey of 973 high school students reported that of teens who said their parents were on Facebook, 56 percent provided their parents with full profile access — status updates, party photos and all — than with no access at all. Only 9 percent of teens gave their parents limited access. (The survey was conducted by e-mail to 2,313 Kaplan Test Prep students who took the SAT and/or ACT between June 2010 and December 2010.Shelton, who admittedly was late coming to the site, said that friending children was some of the best advice she'd gotten."As much as I'd like to withdraw from this cyberworld, we've been thrust into it, " she said.As it were, Shelton and other parents said they've taken a more proactive stance and counseled against engaging in course talk or bullying, for instance, and warned that "whatever you put out there a future employer can use it against you.""So far so good, " Shelton said. "My big worry is what if he has another cyberlife I don't know about."Then in another breath she said that in a few years, "Facebook is going to seem like nothing compared to driving. I understand my prayer life will increase at that moment."

7 Things To Tell the Teacher


What can you tell a teacher that will help him do his job better? You might be surprised. While your child’s teacher is the expert in education, no one knows more about your child than you do. It’s just as important for parents to tell teachers about issues at home that may affect school performance as it is for teachers to report how children are doing in the classroom.

Students do best when parents and teachers work together as partners. The start of a new school year is a great time to open a dialogue with your child’s teacher. Not sure where to start? Here are seven things teachers wish you would tell them. Sharing this information with a teacher will help her better understand your child’s needs and lay the groundwork for a cooperative relationship throughout the school year.

1. Health conditions: If your child is diabetic, uses an inhaler, is allergic to peanuts, or has a serious health condition, her teacher should know. It’s also helpful to let the teacher know whether your child has been diagnosed with conditions like ADHD, which may affect behavior and concentration.

2. Family issues: Fill in the teacher if your family is going through a major change that could affect your child, such as a divorce, a death in the family, or a move. Even if your child seems to have adjusted well, alert teachers so they can watch for behavioral changes.

3. Personality traits or behavior issues: Maybe your son is painfully shy and is worried about making friends at a new school. Or perhaps your kindergartner has been having tantrums at home and you’re concerned she’ll do the same at school. It’s best to make teachers aware of these issues before they become a problem at school.

4. Strengths and weaknesses: Your daughter is a star student in math but is embarrassed to read aloud. Your son loves language arts but struggles with science. If you tell teachers these things up front, they’ll have more time to help your children improve in the areas they need it most.

5. Learning style: You’ve spent years teaching your kids, from potty training to tying shoelaces, so you have a good idea of their learning styles. If your child learns better through hands-on activities than through listening to explanations, mention that to his teacher. Also share any teaching strategies that you’ve found work well with your child.

6. Study habits: Does your son speed through math homework but labor over reading assignments? Do your daughter’s grades suffer because she spends so much time at skating lessons? Tell teachers about your children’s study habits and any issues they face in completing the work. Teachers often can offer suggestions to make homework time go more smoothly.

7. Special interests: Knowing more about your child’s hobbies or interests can help the teacher forge connections in the classroom. Let the teacher know that your young son loves a particular comic book superhero and that your middle school daughter is a gifted painter.


Reprinted with permission. ©


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