Real Mom Question: As afterschool activities start up again, when should I feed my kids dinner—4:30 or 8:30?
Real Mom Answer: Serve dinner before 4:30, prior to their evening activity, and a mini-meal when they get home.
How do we feed our kids when extracurricular activities like team practices and athletic schedules get in the way?
First and foremost, just do your best! Meals do not have to taste or be perfect. If you can get your children to eat real, wholesome kinds of food at dinner and throughout the day, then you’re already ahead of the game.
Try serving dinner immediately after school, perhaps around 3:30, which will enable your child to digest what they’ve eaten before running around. An early dinner is a great way to fuel your child for whatever activity awaits them, and if they’re hungry afterward, you can then serve a smaller, “mini meal” following their practice or game—presumably sometime around 8:30.
If possible, consider serving a full family dinner to all of your children at the same time, even if it’s earlier in the evening. Not only will doing so help to foster the importance of eating family meals together, but it’ll also save you time in the kitchen and eliminate the need for multiple meals.
If your children are on different schedules, don’t fret. Again, do your best. Think about each child’s individual nutritional needs and which nutrients are most important for them to consume. A couple of ways to ensure that your children acquire the appropriate nutrients are:
1. Start early. Make sure to include wholesome ingredients at dinnertime just in case your child is too tired after working up a sweat or wants to join the rest of the team for victory ice cream.
2. The big picture. Think back to what your child has eaten all day. Did their menu include wholesome grains, leaner proteins and healthier fats? If not, try to incorporate any missing elements in to dinner or their mini meal. If that’s too difficult, it’s not a big deal. Simple squeeze it in to tomorrow’s menu.
3. Plan ahead. Make meals ahead of time. You can even pack a thermos filled with hearty one-pot dishes or serve up quick frozen meals that you’ve prepared in advance, that way, you don’t have to think too much in the heat of the moment. (For inspiration, check out my “Make-Ahead Meals” and options for vegetarians that can be whipped up in 15 minutes or less on Modern Moms.)
If your child is hungry for a post-game snack, then a quick mini meal should suffice. Remember, bedtime isn’t far off, so use this time to help your child refuel following vigorous activity and be considerate of portions. One option is to make a homemade smoothie. My boys love a berry smoothie I adapted from Driscoll’s Berries, but if you decide to blend up your own, be sure to add a protein source and eliminate any extra sugar the recipe calls for. Other quick and tasty choices are a bowl of soup, which is both filling and hydrating, or whole-grain cereal (like muesli) with Greek yogurt and fruit.
Last but not least, be mindful of your own diets too on these especially busy evenings. Whatever you do, try not to fall prey to the fast food joints that tempt you from the side of the road while driving the kiddies to and from practice. Instead, bring food from home along with you, even it means eating another sandwich or missing a family meal, and remind yourself that none of those greasy ingredients will truly provide you with the power you need to be the super mom that you are.