“Back to school” looks different for everyone this year. Your kids may be returning to school online, in person, or both. So with a busy fall approaching, let us help you make cooking for your family streamlined, simple, and efficient.
Over the years we’ve found several ways to tackle weeknight meals: meal prepping (making a few or many meals ahead of time); packing lunches and snacks the night before; and using countertop appliances that require less hands-on time and create fewer dishes to clean up. We know your time is limited so we picked out the most helpful equipment below.
To Help You Stay Organized at Home or On the Go
Bento Box: Monbento MB Square—Litchi
Our favorite bento box has a large capacity: two 4-ounce containers that can be used together or separately. When used together, there’s plenty of space to pack lunch in one container and a midday snack in the other.
Reusable Storage Bags: BlueAvocado (re)Zip Stand-Up 4 Cup/32 oz
We like that this widemouthed bag is roomy, holding nearly 6 cups of food; it’s also easy to fill. It’s ideal for packing fruit, pretzels, granola, nuts, cereal, and more.
For Families with Young Children and/or Babies
Water Bottle: Bubba Flo Kids Water Bottle with Silicone Sleeve, 16 oz
This water bottle strikes a happy medium: Kids like that it’s easy to drink from and parents like that it’s easy to clean. Plus, it has a cap lock that prevents accidental spills.
Baby Food Maker: Babymoov The Duo Meal Station: 6 in 1 Food Maker
The roomiest product of the models we tested, this baby food maker consists of a two-tiered steamer basket and an attached blender. The large steaming chamber allows you to cook multiple days of fresh vegetables for your baby in just a few minutes.
Baby Food Pouches: Baby Brezza Reusable Baby Food Storage Pouches
These inexpensive pouches have wide openings and can stand on their own, so they are quick and easy to fill. We recommend filling them with applesauce or yogurt and keeping them in the fridge so you can grab them quickly when your child needs a snack.
For Meal Prepping
The Best Plastic Food Storage Containers for Meal Prep: Rubbermaid Brilliance Food Storage Container Set, 10-Piece
The Best Glass Food Storage Containers for Meal Prep: OXO Good Grips Smart Seal 16 Piece Container Set
Both of these sets offer size variety, so they can accommodate most of your meal prep needs, whether that’s enough grilled chicken or roasted tofu for lunches all week long or the small amount of vinaigrette you need for tomorrow’s salad.
Appliances for Quicker Weeknight Cooking
Toaster Oven: Breville Smart Oven
This toaster oven is faster to heat up and cool down than a convection oven, which is a real asset on a busy night. We found it produces golden brown pizza and tuna melts, tender-crisp asparagus spears, crisp-skinned chicken, and—a favorite of all students and parents—perfect, baked cookies.
The ability to crisp up a batch of chicken nuggets or a couple of hand pies, or roast carrots, without embarking on a cooking project makes this a lifesaver for busy parents.
This model can seriously simplify cooking—its various functions allow it to replace your slow cooker, rice cooker, stovetop pressure cooker, and (if you’ve got one) yogurt maker. This multicooker has some helpful features, too, like a well-designed pressure-release switch.
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