How do you deal with dinner when everybody is scattered all over the place?

I asked this question in the Frugal Girl’s comment section on a post where she mentioned several nights where her kids weren’t there for dinner.

What do people eat when they’re out and about? That’s getting to be an increasing occurrence with us as DC1 gets older and has more after-school activities. Occasionally zie’ll be at one where food is provided, but most of the time they assume meals before or after (but there’s no time before and after is pretty late!). I am embarrassed to say that my kids had trailmix (emergency snack in the car) for dinner at least once this week (after that they weren’t hungry for dinner when they finally got home).

The comments were mostly that trail-mix is fine– maybe add a banana.

I guess I shouldn’t be implicitly shaming trail-mix meals!  And I know nuts are fine, but I’m not 100% sold on the merits of so much chocolate or sugary dried cranberries or the lack of anything green (other than pistachos).  A great snack, but maybe not a regular dinner plan… Plus there’s always the worry that kids will (gasp) get tired of it or that we’ll run out before making it into the city for more.  We’re at the point now where 3-4 days of the week are in this weird spot where one or both of the kids don’t get home until ~6:30 or later, sometimes with some downtime (sometimes briefly at home after bus dropoff, sometimes only in the car) sometime between 4:30 and 5.

What do you do for meals, or to stave off the low blood-sugar grumpies, on days where your “regular” routine is disrupted?


21 Responses to “How do you deal with dinner when everybody is scattered all over the place?”

  1. CG Says:

    Not respecting some reasonable dinner hour (5:30-6:30 or 6:00-7:00 or whatever) is one of my biggest scheduling pet peeves. Our oldest’s travel soccer is the worst offender here. Outdoor practice in the spring and fall is from 5:30-7 twice a week, and we have a good carpool setup so the rest of us would sit down to eat around 6:45 and he would join us at the tail end. He eats a big, healthy snack right after school to hold him until dinnertime. For indoor practice in the winter he has to leave at 6:15 so we eat at 5:30ish. Neither of these situations is ideal. I am pretty serious about dinner being a high quality meal that we all eat together, so trail mix in the car would happen only in a major emergency for us. On complicated days I do a mix of crock pot meals, things that are really fast, and things I can do ahead of time, but it certainly makes planning more of a challenge. So I guess my solution is to be flexible with the timing of dinner, but not the substance. Now that our youngest is 5 we can afford to be more flexible, but when we eat late she literally gets up from the dinner table and immediately starts getting ready for bed, since her bedtime is 7:30ish.

  2. Cloud Says:

    We have a couple of nights where kid activities mean dinner can’t happen until 6:30. We just let the kids have a snack whenever they have the time (usually that is at about 4-4:30, on the way to the activity) and then we all eat our regular dinner at 6:30. I’m actually considering just making 6:30 our regular dinner time because then I have more time to get to the gym on the day I go. The kids are old enough now that it should work, and it is nicer to have a consistent dinner time (because our bodies adjust to it, and then we don’t get so hungry for snacks).

    If the schedule is such that dinner is just too late, maybe look into those prepackaged protein snacks they sell now? They’re like lunchables for grown ups, and if you have a kid who will eat salami or what not, they might be good. Or, I suppose you could assemble your own, but that is extra work.

  3. Shannon Says:

    Agree with Cloud. When our kids were younger, we ate pretty early – like 5-5:30 range. Now, our dinner time is rarely before 6:30 – even on nights we don’t have events. We encourage the kids to eat a substantial and healthy snack when they get home from school and then just eat late. This has now kind of morphed into snack at school lunch (because they don’t like school lunch or they’re out of their budget for lunches) with a lunch type meal right after school. This is followed by a late dinner. Works for us as it allows me to get in a workout before dinner at home now – I HATE morning workouts, so this schedule is actually great for me.

  4. M Says:

    Life is crazy, crazy, crazy here. We eat between 7:30 and 8:30. My youngest (almost 4) goes to bed at 8:00-8:15, so she pretty much goes straight from dinner to bedtime. She usually has a snack after school between 4:00 and 5:30. Sometimes we feed her early by herself, but then that’s still at around 7:00 PM. I think having her growing up with two middle schoolers means she has always had a late and not entirely regular dinner schedule, which is not “ideal,” but it works and she is used to it. To be fair, it’s not only her siblings’ fault, because her dad and I also tend to either stay at work late or workout after work, so there’s always SOMETHING going late. We fed her alone for a long time, and still do about half the time, just because the rest of us eat SO late. Other options that have worked for us have been eating REALLY early (like 5:00 PM, super quickly, usually from slow cooker, before an activity), and also packing a meal. Sometimes when we just literally don’t come home and neither parent can be home, I will pack a bento-style meal that morning and bring it. It’s not a hot meal, but it at least hits all the food groups (deli turkey, raw veggies, some fruit/nuts/cheese/etc.). Despite the craziness of our life, we eat super healthy home-cooked meals 95% of the time. That’s part of the reason we eat so late in the first place.

  5. rose Says:

    When I did childcare I fed a snack when kids came in right after school got out,(3:15) and offered protein at 5 to hold them til parents could get home and cook. It is tough. Nuts and cheese and easy to eat cleanly fruits all work. but it is increasingly a problem in today’s world.

  6. Leah Says:

    We totally have this issue since our little dude goes to bed so early (6.30 most days). The early bedtime makes our normal dinner time around 5 or 5.30 pm. It’s rough when we have an evening thing we do. Right now, we only really do one thing with both kids in the evening. We bring snacks with us — string cheese, pouches, fruit. We eat dinner when we get home, but little dude goes to bed, and our gal might graze. She’s still a pretty light eater.

    I feel you — it is difficult to schedule evening activities at a good time. We usually schedule things 6-7.30 for older kids (assuming dinner first). For our kids, we have a hard time doing evening things due to early bedtime. A lot of stuff we’d like to do is from 6-7 pm, and that’s just too late. So, no school year swim lessons and such for us. Maybe at some point. But it does mean we get lots of family time, which is awesome.

  7. xykademiqz Says:

    Middle Boy (hitting first wave of puberty or close) is always hungry. On basketball practice days, I pick him up from afterschool around 5:30 and drive him to practice; he’s super carnivorous and famished by pickup time, so I get him a cheeseburger or chicken nuggets which he eats in the car while I drive (he doesn’t drink soda or eat fries); sometimes I will bring him some salami or cheese, depending on whether I had the time to stop at home or not. He’s back home around 8, at which point he usually asks to eat again and will have a small serving of whatever we had for dinner. Eldest has a car plus a job at a sandwich franchise, so he usually buys himself some food (often from said franchise; admirable loyalty!) around 3:30 before he comes home; he eats dinner around 7 with the rest of us, except when he has activities in which case he eats when he gets home. Smurf doesn’t have too much after school yet.

  8. natalieinne Says:

    My daughter does gymnastics which really messes with dinner. She has practice (including a half-hour drive) from 5-9:30 twice a week and then 4-8:30 once a week. She eats what we call “big snack” before she goes to practice, which is something with a fair amount of protein and fat to keep her energy up for the long, intensive practice. Then she eats whatever we had for dinner when she gets home before she showers and goes to bed. It’s not ideal, because I do think family dinner is important, but if we were all to eat dinner together, it would have to be at 4pm or 9:30pm which doesn’t work. Sadly, most of the time her father doesn’t see her until she comes home from practice because he leaves before she gets up and gets home after she’s left for practice.

  9. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    My son in now in college, so feeding him isn’t our problem any more. My own schedule is a bit rough—on Tuesdays and Thursdays I generally don’t eat between breakfast around 8:30a.m. and when I come home from teaching my last class (which ends at 8:45pm, and we usually have everything packed up by 9:15pm, but I need to check my email before I come home, so I’m usually not home until 10pm). Going 12–14 hours without food is sometimes tough, but I usually don’t have any time on those days.

  10. Zenmoo Says:

    One thing I like about the winter sport my daughter picked last year was that they had practice from 5 to 6pm and then you could get junior players meals at the club rooms (plus a couple of a la carte choices). Super basic food – spaghetti, chicken drumsticks & fried rice and hot chips- but cheap & RIGHT there & no dishes. She’s keen to play again this year & I’m happy with that! (Plus, the club has a bar that opens during practice & a nice view)

  11. Joe Says:

    Wow, the comments are nuts. Our kid is 7 and we have dinner at home every night. I’m not looking forward to this kind of schedule. He is doing soccer in the spring, but that’s just once per week.

  12. EB Says:

    In our house (and this was partly because of finances ruling out fancy classes) there was no conflict with dinner, from first grade thru HS. The kids off and on did activities at school, always over by 5:30, or the Park District (over even sooner). Rarely, evening activities that did not begin until 7 or 7:30. But they did not even remotely do the number and intensity of activities that previous posters are describing. Maybe because, as a child, I would have croaked to have such an intense schedule (and there were very few activities for kids, other than Little League, that I can recall). Also, being pretty free-range, we were glad to have them just find friends in the neighborhood and play outside — then in middle school, baby-sit for money. Then in HS, each one found an organized activity they wanted to commit to.

  13. bogart Says:

    We’re pretty easy because there are just 3 of us, and only 1 in the workforce. DS has practice starting @ 7 four nights/week @ present (or sometimes 1 practice starts @ 6, and with a ~15-~45 minute drive, depending on location. If the practice is near my work, sometimes DH and DS just meet me at one of several affordabl(ish) restaurants nearby for 1 of those 4 practices, otherwise we either squeeze in a quick family dinner if I can get home from work early enough, or DH and DS eat without me and I … do whatever (sometimes leftovers, sometimes a piece of fruit. One advantage (?) to being a perimenopausal woman is that I can subsist on basically zero calories, which I think will prove useful in the post-apocalypse). I also try to have fruit, nuts or something healthy-ish to offer DS in the car pre- and/or post-practice, because he’s only barely (well — maybe 20%?) more pounds heavy than he is inches tall and unlike me, desperately needs as many calories as he can get, from what I observe.

    As a teenager riding multiple horses in a day and driving myself from farm to farm with no retail or meal prep resources on site, I would carry one greenish banana with me per horse to be ridden, and eat as I went along. Worked well for me back in the day, though in hindsight I have my doubts about the nutritional completeness of that diet (supplemented with Reese’s peanut butter cups and Coke).

  14. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    We typically do dinner anywhere between 6-7 pm as is, so if we can stick to that when JB gets older and starts doing activities, it would be great.

    If we can’t manage that for some reason on weekends, we are not above the fruit, cheese, crackers and nuts sort of dinner/snack. If we’re lucky, ze will always be fine with that but it also occurs to me that we should start to add a veggie to those snacks.

  15. First Gen American Says:

    We have the opposite approach from most folks. We just don’t do activities that have crazy schedules. We love crew because practice is from 3:00-5 daily and no weekday meets. There is time for homework and dinner. Impossible to do with basketball. We don’t do travel leagues…we don’t do a winter sport so that we can ski and do snow activities instead. We don’t do more than one sport per kid per season. For example, right now both kids are doing archery on Saturday mornings and older son trains in gym after school preseason for spring sports.

    I sometimes feel guilt that we aren’t doing more but we are always trying to do different enrichment activities on the weekends to offset the lack of organized sports.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think that our kids have crazy activity schedules. It just takes time to get home from things, even if they’re after school.

      • First Gen American Says:

        Most activities aren’t designed for 2 full time working parents (at least not in my area) so I gave up trying on a lot of things and did what was easy. Like activities offered at the place where they already go after school. I don’t know how single parents do it. I am very thankful that I don’t have to do it alone.

  16. Emma Says:

    I didn’t think this was unusual until reading these comments but I have a four year old and six month old and have never eaten dinner before 6:30–even if there are no evening activities we still don’t get home from work/daycare till about 6:00. There’s an afternoon snack at daycare and I have a protein snack at work, but I have never even thought of this as an issue. I actually love evening activities and feel annoyed that there are not more that respect working parent schedules and start after 6:00 (thus allowing work till 5:00 plus transport time)!

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