As you’ll read in this column, spring is our very busiest time of year! I couldn’t even settle my mind enough to write something new for this month, so I looked back in my archives and found this piece, which is perfect (with some light editing): it appeared in Saratoga TODAY in May, 2015, and things are remarkably similar, just busier (we have more boys playing baseball [four] and one running track this spring, in addition to jobs and drama club and a million other things, so every single night of the week and much of the weekend is taken up with commitments). I’ve also added frozen meatballs (served on slider rolls) and frozen dumplings to our game-dinner repertoire. I hope this helps you figure out how to feed your family on busy nights!
Of all the seasons of our year, spring is by far our busiest, most hectic, and most stressful. Though my boys play sports during all the other seasons, they tend to be on the same teams, or at least their practices and games are on the same days, so we usually only have one weekday and Saturday with sporting events. I can handle that well enough.
In the spring, though, my older three are on three different teams, with three different practice and game schedules, which means we’re at the fields as many as three nights during the week, as well as what seems like all day on Saturday, and I love it — I do — and I think it’s so good for them, and I know we don’t have it nearly as hard as many other families who have a lot more activities to plan around, but still. Spring tires me out!
One of the things I’ve taken to doing that makes those nights easier on me, and which my kids love, is bringing dinner to the field with us. When the weather is nice, I bring a blanket and we sit on the ground; on cold or rainy nights, we eat in the van, parked as close to the field as we can to see the game. Either way, my boys are always excited to see what I made.
My goal has been to put together meals that are portable, not too messy, likely to be eaten by the majority of my kids, easy to make and bring a lot of it, and basically balanced. In case it’s helpful to you all, these are some of our favorite entrees, all made in the hour or so before we leave for the field (so the hot foods are still warm when we get there):
• Salt potatoes and breakfast sausage links: It takes twenty-five minutes or so for these potatoes to boil to doneness, and the sausage links cook up quick in the frying pan or microwave. My boys love eating the potatoes just like apples, no butter or anything. This one is particularly perfect for a cold drizzly game night.
• Grilled cheese: I make a whole bunch of sandwiches and quarter them, so when we get to the field I have a big bowl of quarters that the boys can take as many of as they want.
• Ham and cheese quesadillas: It takes less than a minute to lay some ham slices and shredded cheese on a tortilla and melt it in the microwave. I fold them in half and then in half again, so each boy gets a nice thick hammy cheesy triangle.
• Hot dogs or pigs-in-blankets: I’ll either cook up regular dogs and put them in buns and bring them all set, or I’ll halve them and bring buns along as not all my boys like them in the buns. But sometimes I get pigs-in-blankets from the freezer section.
• Pizza bites or mini pizza bagels: The freezer section has a lot of fun finger food-type options, and pizza ones are a family favorite.
• Taquitos: You could make them (cheese with seasoned chicken or ground beef or mashed beans) or buy them in the freezer section (some yummy options) and have a fiesta right at the field.
• Chicken bites and veggie straws: “Chicken bites” means any small pieces of chicken, whether homemade (baked/poached and cubed, or breaded and baked/fried) or from frozen, and we love those veggie straws that are like chips but make me feel like we’re eating healthy-ish.
• String cheese, crackers, and nuts: So easy, the kids tend to love it because it seems snacky, and I like that it’s full of protein.
• Cereal: When I just don’t have the time or energy for anything else, I’m not above putting cereal in baggies for each boy.
Those are the entrees; I also always bring a fruit to have with the meal, like cut up watermelon, grapes, peeled oranges, or those portable slurpy applesauce (my boys are nuts for those!). I pack it all in a reusable grocery bag with a few plastic bowls and a stack of napkins and wet wipes and a water bottle and a cup (I strictly limit the water for the non-diaper-wearing children, as potty runs can absolutely break me), and I tell the boys that this is dinner and that if they’re still hungry when we get home, they can have cereal but no other food. And of course, I always have a good stash of Dum Dum lollipops for good-eating rewards and good-behavior bribes. It’s amazing the power those little lollipops hold.
And that is our game-night dinner plan. Since it’s either “feed them at the field or be toppled by the horrific prospect of trying to scrounge up dinner for cranky, dirty, tired kids when we get home,” I choose the former, and I kind of enjoy the challenge of trying to put together interesting options. I hope this is helpful to some of you!