Haylie Duff's daughter is gearing up for her first day of kindergarten — but just like for many other kids, it's going to look a little different this year.
The actress, singer and Real Girl's Kitchen blogger chatted with PEOPLE about her participation in Off the Menu's Wing Showdown, presented by Uber Eats and how she's faring at home as a mother of two amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
"We have found a very small group of kids that would be in her kindergarten class, and we're doing a pod with a teacher and rotating homes until we feel the schools are opening safely," explains Duff, 35, of the creative way she's trying to give 5-year-old daughter Ryan Ava Erhard the most normal kindergarten experience possible. "The families have all had very big conversations about the kind of exposure they have, who they see, and then tightening that up when they start this pod."
"It's our new normal for a while, and it's the best solution that we can find for letting our kids … have social interactions with other kids and hoping for the best," she says. "Families are grinding more than ever before during this time, and you just have to figure out the best solution for your family."
Duff adds that she passes "no judgment on the families that send their kids back to school because both parents are working full time," as "everybody's gotta do what they can do to get through all of this. We were fortunate enough to know some families that were gonna be in [Ryan's] school that were into this idea of a pod-style [classroom], so I'm hoping it works out as well as we think it's going to! I'm going into it very positive."
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Duff jokes that she's "out of ideas" when it comes to entertaining Ryan and her 2-year-old little sister Lulu Gray, but they've been "taking little adventures" together here and there alongside Duff's fiancé Matt Rosenberg and his mother — like a recent trip to feed the ducks at a nearby pond.
"Families have gotten back to the root of what's important [during the pandemic], which is spending time with each other; you don't always have to make such big efforts to have a good time," she tells PEOPLE. "My kids just want us to spend time with them; they don't care that we're doing these over-the-top things."
And while Lulu may only be a toddler, she has taken to mask-wearing too, thanks to Ryan leading by example. "She wants to do everything her older sister does," Duff says. "Yesterday, for example, at the farmer's market, she was wearing a little baby mask. Sometimes she'll pull it under her nose — which is not, obviously, the totally correct way to do it — but she's on the team, too. She's wearing a mask just like we all are."
"I've honestly never been so grateful for having two kids during this time because they can entertain each other, play with each other," she adds. "I've been really grateful for their little bond developing the way that it has, too."
For Duff, her "Texan roots" influenced the way she wanted to approach her recipe for the Wing Showdown. But she couldn't resist incorporating a bit of her current "L.A. lifestyle," as well.
"I had to bake the wings. My research was all about how to make crispy skin on the wings in the oven, and I found the ultimate trick," she tells PEOPLE. "It's basically putting baking powder in the dry rub and it dehydrates the skin so when you bake it, it's actually crispy."
To learn more about Duff's wing recipe and vote for her in the Wing Showdown through Sunday, visit thewingshowdown.com/haylie.
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