I have two boys who love their sports, and as they get older they spend more and more time on the playing fields. Practices run longer and later into the evening and occur more frequently each week. Many nights, one of my sons gets home after 8:30 p.m., without having eaten dinner. It seems like yesterday this was their bedtime! Needless to say, I find it trickier to feed them a sit-down, balanced meal every evening.
I know I am not alone in this scenario; there are scores of boys (and girls) on the sports fields with my sons. So what to do?
Kids usually come home from school hungry. No matter how good the school lunch is or how hearty the snacks, kids burn through a great number of calories and expend a great deal of energy during a school day. It can be more beneficial to hand them a plate of meatballs or a bowl of chili at 4 p.m., when their stomachs are rumbling, than at 8 p.m., when they are drained and would rather go to bed than eat anything substantial.
Now, I understand making dinner an afternoon affair does not work for everyone. I work from home and have the ability to get an easy dinner together after school pickup. For those who are home, or have a babysitter who can help out, try it.
It can be challenging to get dinner on the table at all, let alone by the afternoon, so how exactly does this work? Look ahead to the days that a regularly timed meal is going to be a struggle and plan accordingly. For instance, defrost leftover soup or fill the slow cooker in the morning so dinner is ready in the afternoon. Throw a burger on the grill and slice some cucumbers while the kids run around for a few minutes after school. If there is leftover fish or meat from the night before, reheat or repurpose. If you keep it simple, it works. These are not nights to experiment with new recipes or even use a lot of ingredients. Save those ambitions for another time.
Feeding children an afternoon dinner provides them with a full tank of gas for their homework and activities. This meal also prevents low blood sugar and cranky moods when they return home at that late hour. They won’t require another dinner at that time, but do offer them a snack. My boys tend to gravitate toward edamame, bananas with nut butter or hard-boiled eggs. This is all they need, and want, because they have already consumed their nutrients for the day and their bodies are enormously exhausted.
For those of you who strive to sit down with your children each night for the famed family dinner, you still can. Sit with them during their post-activity snack and hear all about their evening. Or isn’t the family dinner supposed to be about healthful food, table manners and time together? Nobody ever declared it had to be at a particular hour. So once in a while, what’s wrong with 4 p.m.?
— Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.