There was a time, when the girls were two and three, that we dreamed of the day when they’d be 10 and 11, able to sit at the table and place food in their own mouths while filling us in on their days. Now that we’re finally here — avert your eyes, new parents — we realize that our dream was a mirage, that life finds a way of constantly moving the goalposts on you. Family dinner is still chaotic, only the challenges have shifted from the physical to the logistical. And, March and April, for us — with the girls deeply entrenched in two spring sports — is the most chaotic time of year. As we’ve detailed more than once on this blog, practices don’t end until 7.30 p.m., which means that, most nights, dinner doesn’t happen until the (very European) hour of 8.30 p.m. When you’re dealing with an overstuffed activities schedule, it’s crucial to have a few strategies that make a solid dinner possible. Here are three we will be relying on all season long.
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Strategy 1 — The Before-Work Play
When the cook is on carpool duty — i.e., it’s not just the athlete coming home late — the key is to prepare something in that 15-minute window before you head to work in the morning. We love soba noodle salad with a simple rice vinegar dressing and greens — spinach, kale, chard — tossed right into the pasta water in the last minute of cooking. Refrigerate till you get home, toss on the dressing, and, if you have time, add some shredded chicken for the win.
Strategy 2 — The Pan-Fried Pizza Move
By the time our midfielders stagger through the door, they’re like a couple of feral dogs. They don’t even bother to take off their shin guards before inhaling whatever is put in front of them. A piece of fish on a night like this? Ain’t gonna cut it. Individual pan-fried pizzas with whole wheat crust? That’s more like it. Just brown your rolled-out dough in a cast-iron pan with some olive oil, flip, add sauce and toppings, then finish under the broiler. Abby likes a classic Margherita; Phoebe goes for ham and pineapple.
Strategy 3 — The Freezer Plan
When there’s so little time on the clock, it’s tempting to fall back on takeout or frozen pot pies. But, we’d rather walk through the door, reach into our freezer, and pull out something homemade — like a batch of bake-ahead turkey and spinach meatballs. Think of it as the utility man of the family dinner — ever reliable, can play both protein and vegetable, goes on a bun (meatball subs!) or over pasta, and will crush its store-bought competition any night of the week. Pro tip — freeze them in single-serving batches, so you can thaw and deploy as needed. Victory.
Jenny Rosenstrach is the author of Dinner: A Love Story and the blog of the same name. She and her husband write The Providers column for Bon Appetit.