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Fork in the Road: Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s back to school we go...

Keep your cool as holidays wind up so you don’t wind down 
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There are plenty of ways to quell the chaos of back-to-school season, writes Glenda Bartosh.

“What is school for?” asked a columnist in The New York Times recently. 

Good rhetorical question as teachers and students head back to class—again—wrestling with way more beyond the usual I’m-so-happy-to-see-everyone-but-I’ve-got-butterflies-in-my-tummy drill. 

Yep, unless they’re in full denial about anything pandemic-y still happening, everyone’s pretty much trying their best to keep anxiety at bay with back-to-school (and back-to-work) dilemmas that have become far too routine: Mask/no-mask quandaries what with no more mandatory masking; how to grade fairly when classes have been cancelled; how to study fairly if you’ve been schooling away from school for a while. Plus who the heck knows just how many classrooms have been upgraded with good HVAC systems and where they all are, anyway, when nobody at the provincial level is telling.

Add in zero affordable housing for university and college students; skyrocketing prices for groceries, fuel, school supplies—you name it; and stressed-out parents trying to keep drama levels low as they negotiate age-old habits of buying new back-to-school everything, and it’s… Good grief! as Charlie Brown would say.

So keep your cool, everybody—here are some tips to help you do just that.

Gear down the new gear

If you’re one of those people, or you have kids who insist on new gear for back-to-school, maybe re-think what “new” actually means. 

Most students have everything they need in their closet right now. But if you have kids whinging about how “old” everything is, pull the old parent trick of tucking away a few items and bringing them out for re-use later when memories fade. If you’re the whinger, try tricking yourself by stashing away some items till you’ve forgotten about them and they seem fresh again. 

Two exceptions—growing bodies can mean size is an issue, and sports gear can simply be an issue. That’s when swapping with friends and neighbours on exchanges via Facebook and otherwise makes good sense.

As for non-reusables, like pencils, spread it out. Kids don’t need a dozen pencils the first week of school. Buy them as you and your budget can.

Bottom line: when it comes to “stuff,” most of us lucky enough to live in this part of the world pretty much have everything we need. Question is, why aren’t we happy with it? So second-hand stores, like Whistler’s Re-Use-It Centre and online Re-Love-It store, abound, and offer cool alternatives. As for those of our neighbours who really do need something, a donation of cash or goods to Whistler Community Services Society, which runs both stores, will be put to excellent use.

Re-think fast food

When you’re really pressed for a meal, nix the usual suspects. One of the biggest destroyers of household budgets and gut microbiomes (translation: good health) is supposedly cheap, fast food. Hubbie and I actually pondered a fast-food menu the other day—seriously, but it was just through the window—and we both went, holy crap! That stuff’s expensive!

Sure we all like to eat out and save time, especially now, but you can pull off some strategies that still get tasty, nutritional food in your tummy, and everyone else’s, f-a-s-t, and won’t break the bank.

The words of my nan, and my mom, ring in my ears: “Stretch it! Make it go further.” That good old prairie wisdom applies to expensive items, whether it’s food you make, or something from a shop or deli. Buy good (and that covers non-food items, too) then think how to adapt it to get the most from its value. Usually “stretching it” means adding extras that are less expensive and way better for you. 

To start, there is such a thing as good fast food you can supplement creatively at home. Try some of Peaked Pies’ yummy Mentil Lentil pies—OMG are they tasty and satisfying—or any of their substantial offerings. Green Moustache has likewise. (Note: their buckwheat granola is wonderful and goes a long way.) 

Add some sliced local cukes and tomatoes, or grate that most versatile and good-for-you veggie—fresh cabbage, so sweet and plentiful this time of year—and Bob’s your uncle. 

With the exception of maybe Binty and Cheryl Massey, and a handful of others, don’t we all pretty much over-eat even though we know better? (Tons of scientific evidence out there shows that eating less equals living longer.) 

So I’m also betting that one serving will often do nicely for two, thank you very much, especially when you add your own fixings at home. Buy one take-out order of lasagna and share it. Add some good bread, like rich, molasses-y Old Stumpie, say, from Purebread, or Ed’s Bred’s knock-out sourdough, and a spinach salad or whatever tickles your green fancy, and you’ve got it made—in a flash. Heck, we’ll just add whole fresh kale or Swiss chard leaves and nibble them, stems and all, like a wabbit. Simple. Good.

For quick-as-a bunny school treats and lunches, once again, fresh veggies are your best friend, from traditional carrot sticks to leaves, leaves and more leaves (think freshly washed lettuce, cabbage, kale, even parsley). And those sweet little B.C.-grown peppers you buy by the bagful can turn a snack into a meal. 

As for what school is for, think about the scientists and mathematicians around the world, including here at home at UBC, who are researching if the universe really does have consciousness; fine-tuning theories proving that time travel really is possible; and coming up with innovative ways to get rid of the trillions of tons of plastics killing our oceans. 

Tell your kids we’re going to need every good mind on deck ASAP to help them, so get their sweet selves to school. It’s amazing!

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who loves to eat well but has a limited attention span in the kitchen.