My oldest three children have hit an age where their sports require evening participation. While we are homeschoolers and actively seek out day-time classes, sometimes evenings are the only available option, or are the best-fitting option for our overall schedule. AND, due to swim lessons being a huge priority for us this summer, our next 7 weeks will continue to be a little crazy sauce in the evenings. When you add it up for the week, our weekday evenings are comprised of 7 1/2 hours worth of gymnastics, 1 1/2 hours worth of karate lessons, 2 1/4 hours of swim lessons, 1 hour of music class, and a lot more hours of driving, loading up, sitting, and watching. We keep our Fridays totally clear and just stay home that day. It’s a little crazy, but it has been SO much fun, and totally worth it.
This presents new challenges….
1. We always eat dinner together as a family, and we don’t plan on giving that up.
2. We cook at home, and do not eat “fast food” (In-N-Out and Jimmy Johns sandwiches are our occasional exception), and we do not plan to start now. This is both for health reasons and budgetary reasons.
So to address number one, we have bumped our family dinners to later in the evening. While we have always eaten at 5:15 right after my husband gets home from work, we now eat at about 6:30 or 6:45. This has especially been an adjustment for the kids, and they’ve been needing an extra little snack to get through ’till our new later dinner. Since family dinners are a priority, this is something that just needed adjusting to maintain.
Now, as far as how to avoid eating out when your family is on the go in the evenings…
#1: Plan, Plan, Plan. Without a plan, you will surely fall back on unhealthy food options or “starving” children. Give yourself some time on the weekend to plan out your schedule and how dinners and snacks will fit into the plan. What time will you be eating? What is your budget for the week? Do you have time to cook when you get home or do you need something pre-made?
#2: Cross fast foods off your options list. Since our family does not utilize fast food, our kids don’t even ask for it. I count this as a win. We all know how convincing a 4 year old can be when they are tired, cranky, and insisting on food. If you make fast food a general non-option for your family, you’ll eventually stop turning to it as an option when your hungry and pressed for time (and your kids will stop asking for it!).
#3. The crock pot is your friend. I once blogged about how I made 29 Freezer Crock Pot Meals for Under $135. While I now have many other recipes that I use (and my family has grown), I still use this method. This allows me to pop a meal in the crock pot in the morning, and have something ready for us when we all get home. The premise is simple:
*Set aside some time to prep a bunch of meals at once.
*Shop for groceries in bulk (thus saving money in the long run as larger portions are generally less expensive per ounce).
*Put meals together and place in freezer ziplock bags, or disposable/glass baking dishes.
*Freeze meals and pull them out as needed.
*Pop one in the crock pot in the morning, and enjoy yummy food at dinner time.
*You can do a full month or even just a single weeks’ worth of prep at one time.
I have a big family-2 adults and 4 kids. My 5 year old son eats more than I do already (which begs the question, “why don’t my abs look like his yet?”). At this point, our meals are bigger and more expensive than when I cooked for just two children. Keep that in mind when looking at my prices for the meals below. If you have two children, your costs can be MUCH lower! Also keep in mind that I generally buy organic or local meats, so if you purchase conventional meats, yours will be cheaper, too. Here is what this week’s one hour on Sunday produced:
*Cheesy Spinach Manicotti ($6) This is a baked dish, and works for the night my husband comes home before I do.
*Short Ribs for the Crock Pot ($10)
*Honey Garlic Chicken & Potatoes for the Crock Pot ($11)
*Teriyaki Chicken for the Crock Pot ($8)
*LOTS of precooked brown rice ($2) This is the perfect side for the teriyaki chicken, and my girls will actually grab a bowl of rice for snacks all the time! We just reheat this quickly in the microwave.
This totals $37 for four nights worth of mostly organic dinners for a family of 6 for the nights we’re out late this week. That’s less than $10 per meal average! This means there won’t be any last minute stops for groceries, crappy food, or fast food. My family will come home and eat a delicious, hot meal every night of the week.
If you are a busy sport family, the crock pot is your friend. So is Pinterest. You can find a million and one recipes for freezer cooking on Pinterest.
#4. Keep lots of healthy snacks with you at all times! This last one is so important. When my kids are starving after gymnastics and asking to buy junk food from a snack bar or whatever, I ALWAYS have fruit in my backpack. Before we leave for the evenings, I throw a handful of apples, oranges, or bananas into my bag for the kids. Since they’re still adjusting to later dinners, and they are starving after swim lessons, they can easily eat an apple on the way home and not spoil their appetite for dinner.
While there are other healthy snacks to pack along (we make homemade granola bars and bring those sometimes, too), fruit is an easy, healthy, and ZERO PREP snack.
Evening sports activities with kids can be SO fun and worth it. With a little forethought and a little time planning and prepping, you can also be sure to have healthy, hot meals on the dinner table, keep your budget on track, and avoid that last minute “What’s for dinner?” question while your kids all melt from hunger. Evening sports are much more enjoyable when you know that dinner will be ready for you when you return home.