So, I’m going to level with you guys. Dinner has been hard lately. Like, really really hard.
I’ve been keeping up with C’s Picks because I feel like so many are counting on it for their meal plans, which I simply love. But we are coming in at about maybe 20% of actually following through with the line up.
It’s not that my love of cooking has shifted. Or my belief in sitting down as a family to dinner has gone away. It’s this thing that has crept into our world that I like to call ‘big kid sports.’
Look, it’s not T-Ball world any longer. Baseball season consisted of 22 games, 6 practices, and an all star game. But then that morphed into a mini travel league that includes three five day tournaments and practices. Literally, at one point were on a baseball field for six evenings in a row.
And we love it. We do! L’s love for the sport runs deep, so that travels up through all of us. We’re all in. And hey, when it’s the dead of summer you kind of just go with the flow anyway. Sometimes I tried – real hard – and would pack homemade dinners on the go. But let’s get real: sometimes dinner was simply the concession hot dog.
So, my view on it all was a big sigh. Ahhhhh, it’s summer. It will pass.
Ha. That’s funny.
After a week away in Montana, we came home to a very rude awakening. Tackle football began and we are back on a football field four nights a week from 6:00-8:00. Which, let’s be honest, is more like 5:30-8:30. Wait… what?
So that’s when I really began to think (and sulk), I have to tackle dinner differently. Not only in terms of what to cook and when to serve it, but to actually think about the concept of dinner in a whole new way.
I reached out to my neighbor and pro, Gretchen. With a just graduated senior who was on the high school soccer team, and two boys who play tackle football and travel/high school baseball, well, ever since moving in I have watched her and her husband’s cars go in and out of their driveway roughly 6 times a night during the after school hours. Meanwhile, I was chasing L around as a toddler, and a few years later, bouncing B on my legs as a chubby baby. I was exhausted myself, but it was a whole different type of exhaustion I felt from watching her.
See, as hard as the baby and toddler stage can be, there is the magic of you controlling their day. And, obviously, 7PM bedtimes. Talk about the ideal cooking situation! Yet as soon as they enter big kid sport world, that all fades away along with their delicious toddler chub. Get yourself to practices and games or you’re not on the team. Dinner shifts to, at times, 9PM and it looks nothing like it used to.
I told Gretchen I felt sad. Dinner has always been the highlight of my day. It’s what I do best, it’s my thing. But now it’s just one more item to try and shove in before (starting soon) homework, bath, and bedtime.
Then she filled me in on a few things. First, dinner doesn’t have to be THE meal. She said if we all happen to be around together one or two mornings on the weekend, make that the meal to connect, even if it’s over cereal. Sometimes it’s as basic as physically sitting down together. That counts.
She then walked me through how she planned her meals weekly. I’m with you, sister. But it looked different than my C’s Picks version. She had a calendar of what field Luke is on, where Eric was training, where her husband was coaching, etc. She’d find those rare nights when it was possible to actually have the entire family eat at a reasonable time, and those were her more ‘special’ meals. And yes, they do happen. Just not nightly. Let it go.
Most of the days go something like this: 4PM – bam. Kids are home from the bus (starting soon). And they are starving because lunch is for socializing, am I right? Dinner number one happens. Yes, she serves two dinners. Not full out complicated meals with an excess of dishes two meals. But two basic, hearty, ‘boys need protein to play sports’ heavier snacks or meals.
So, it might go something like this: triscuit ‘sandwiches’ piled high with sharp cheddar and salami, along with sliced apples and peanut butter. At 8:30PM, crock pot Italian beef and pepper sandwiches on whole wheat rolls.
The key in it all is the prep. You can’t be standing over a stove for two hours because you’re at a ball field. Or at least driving back and forth to one, or more. So most of her prep happens during the day. Chopping, getting out the right cookware, lining it all up. So come their 4PM arrival dinner(s) are well on their way. Also, crock pots rule.
No, it’s not the traditional concept of dad walks in the home from work at 6:00, pours himself a scotch, and everyone sits down at the table over a hot meal. But the love, care, and thought in this new little routine of two dinners(ish) still means something. And physically sitting down together – even if it’s only a few times a week for a random breakfast or lunch – it matters.
So where does that leave us? I’m still meal planning – weekly – but it’s just going to look a little different. My hope is many of you can relate to the mad dash that is the hours 5:30-8:30. If not, hey, get ready for an abundance of quick cooking ideas around here. Still a win, right?
To moms still bouncing their babies aimlessly around the home during that dreaded witching hour, I was so there. It feels like yesterday. And I’d give anything to have Logan back home with me now during that hour. I truly miss him, so much.