Back-to-School Essentials for Busy Parents

Top-performing products to help you get through the day

kindergartner being helped with homework
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Whether your kids are in high school or heading off to preschool for the first time, the start of a new academic year is a busy and often stressful few weeks for parents—especially after a fun and relaxing summer.

From critical morning coffee to a good night's rest, CR takes you through the day with products that will keep you and your family fueled, fed, and healthy.

Coffee Maker
Cuisinart PerfecTemp 14 Cup Programmable DCC-3200
Cuisinart PerfecTemp 14 Cup...

    Cuisinart PerfecTemp 14 Cup...

    CR's take: There's nothing like a perfect cup of coffee to jump-start even the most jam-packed day. A traditional drip coffee maker, the Cuisinart PerfecTemp 14 Cup Programmable DCC-3200 makes plenty of java, thanks to its 14-cup glass carafe. It features programming, auto-shutoff, a cleaning indicator, a permanent filter, a water filter, brew-strength control, and a small-batch setting. This model receives an Excellent rating for brew performance and does well in our other tests, too. 

     

    For more options, check CR's coffee maker ratings and buying guide.

    Full-Sized Blender
    Ninja Professional NJ600
    Ninja Professional NJ600

      Ninja Professional NJ600

      CR's take: Whip up a batch of healthy smoothies for yourself and the family with this CR Best Buy. As a brand, Ninja full-sized blenders earn an Excellent rating in predicted reliability, according to our member survey. The 1,000-watt Ninja Professional NJ600 combines impressive performance and an appealing price. The Ninja's removable blade helps make cleanup a cinch and is a reason this model did very well in our convenience tests.

       

      For more options, check CR's blender ratings and buying guide.

      Multi-Cooker
      Breville Fast Slow Pro 6 qt. BPR700BSS
      Breville Fast Slow Pro 6 qt....

        Breville Fast Slow Pro 6 qt....

        CR's take: Make mealtime easier after a busy day: The 6-quart Breville Fast Slow Pro BPR700BSS is an ace in its pressure-cook mode. But it’s also the best we’ve tested at slow cooking, earning an Excellent rating in that test: Our beef stew turned out tender and ready to eat in 5 hours, and the chili was tender and delicious in 7 hours. Bonus: The ceramic nonstick coating is easy to clean and did not show any scratches after testing.

         

        For more options, check CR's multi-cooker ratings and buying guide.

        Microwave
        LG NeoChef LMC1275SB
        LG NeoChef LMC1275SB

          LG NeoChef LMC1275SB

          CR's take: No time to cook? Make the most of leftovers: You can’t beat the LG NeoChef LMC1275SB for performance, especially at this price. It aces our tests for speed of heating as well as heating and defrosting evenness—everything you want from a high-performing microwave. In addition, it’s quiet and easy to use, and the brand earns a Very Good rating for reliability. Its only drawback? Like many microwaves of this size and at this price, this model lacks a sensor, so you’ll have to gauge for yourself whether your food is hot enough.

           

          For more options, check CR's microwave ratings and buying guide.

          Handheld Vacuum
          Shark Ion W1 WV201
          Shark Ion W1 WV201

            Shark Ion W1 WV201

            CR's take: Whether you're trying to keep your car tidy in between soccer practice and dance team or cleaning up a quick mess at home, the Shark Ion WI WV201 is a champ at cleaning bare floors—receiving an Excellent rating—and getting into hard-to-reach places, and it's not too shabby at cleaning carpet. The vacuum and all its attachments can be stored on the charging base, making it a real space saver. And at just 1.4 pounds, it's the lightest hand vac in our tests. The only downside to its small size is the small dust bin, which may have to be emptied more than once if you have a sizable spill.


            For more options, check CR's vacuum ratings and buying guide.

            Laundry Detergent
            Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release
            Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release

              Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release

              CR's take: School means a return to extracurricular activities—which can mean kids getting messy. You’ll see seven liquid Tide detergents in our ratings, including Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release. Stains from dirt and body oil? No sweat. And Tide Plus removed more grass stains from our fabric swatches than any detergent tested, earning an Excellent rating in this test.


              For more options, check CR's laundry detergent ratings and buying guide.

              Bike Helmet
              Cannondale CAAD MIPS
              Cannondale CAAD MIPS

                Cannondale CAAD MIPS

                CR's take: Don't forget to take some time for exercise, whether that's a weekend bike ride or during your morning commute: The Cannondale CAAD MIPS is a full-featured helmet that gets top marks for impact absorption, and it comes with bells and whistles: reflective features to make nighttime riding safer, a dial to quickly adjust the fit, and Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) technology.

                 

                For more options, check CR's bike helmet ratings and reviews.

                Convertible Laptop
                Asus ZenBook Flip UX461UA-DS51T
                Asus ZenBook Flip UX461UA-DS51T

                  Asus ZenBook Flip UX461UA-DS51T

                  CR's take: From working on that last-minute proposal from the stands at swim practice to winding down at the end of a long day with your favorite streaming show, a convertible laptop could be a major help. The 14-inch Asus ZenBook Flip UX461UA-DS51T has an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of solid state storage, and a battery that, according to our testers, provides around 11 hours of web browsing. The display is slightly larger than those on the models above—without hindering the laptop's portability.

                   

                  For more options, check CR's laptop rating and buying guide.

                  Noise-Canceling Headphones
                  Monoprice BT-300ANC
                  Monoprice BT-300ANC

                    Monoprice BT-300ANC

                    CR's take: Give yourself the gift of silence whenever you need it most—without breaking the bank. The BT-300ANC features integrated controls for calls, volume, and playback, and the earcups fold in and swivel flat for easy storage and transport. According to Monoprice, the battery will run 8 hours between charges with both Bluetooth and noise-canceling turned on, and you can keep the music going even longer by switching off Bluetooth and using the detachable audio cable included.

                     

                    For more options, check CR's headphone ratings and buying guide.

                    Humidifier
                    Vicks VUL520
                    Vicks VUL520

                      Vicks VUL520

                      CR's take: Later in the school year, get relief from that cold you caught from your kids (and keep dry skin happy) with a top-rated humidifier. The Vicks VUL520 cool-mist humidifier offers top-notch performance, with an Excellent rating for convenience. It's meant for a room that's up to 250 square feet, perfect for bedrooms. Given the low price, this is a basic model. But it does have an automatic shutoff when it's empty.
                       

                      For more options, check CR's humidifier ratings and buying guide.

                      Air Purifier
                      Blueair Blue Pure 211+
                      Blueair Blue Pure 211+

                        Blueair Blue Pure 211+

                        CR's take: Trying to keep allergies at bay? The CR-recommended Blueair Blue Pure 211+ is especially effective at removing dust, smoke, and pollen at its highest speed, which is important for quickly cleaning the air in the room.
                         

                        For more options, check CR's air purifier ratings and buying guide.

                        Mattress
                        Tuft & Needle T&N Mattress
                        Tuft & Needle T&N Mattress

                          Tuft & Needle T&N Mattress

                          CR's take: A good night's sleep can go a long way when you're running around all day. The foam Tuft & Needle Mattress earns an Excellent rating in our durability tests, which means it shows no signs of wear and tear after eight to 10 years of simulated use. It offers decent support for sleepers of all sizes, whether you prefer to sleep on your side or your back.

                           

                          For more options, check CR's mattress ratings and buying guide.

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                          Laptops Rated
                          Access Ratings
                          Mary Beth Quirk

                          A native Wisconsinite and avid cheese enthusiast, I've written thousands of stories—on topics ranging from product safety to the best way to cook a burger—in my six-year career as a consumer-focused journalist. I live in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I have a very hard time passing up pizza. Follow me on Twitter (@marybethquirk).