Growing up, my middle sister Megan was an amazing athlete. In high school she broke all sorts of records in cross country and built her schedule around training. Her team was everything to her – and to me! Seven years her junior, I really looked up to Megan and her teammates, and I really looked forward to all her team events too. Even as a little kid, I didn’t mind the long practices and meets, and I L-O-V-E-D Friday night carbo-loads, which often happened at our house.
At least 20 girls and their parents showed up for each carbo-load. Mom would quintuple our family’s sauce recipe, and Dad would cover every stovetop burner with a gigantic drum of a pot to boil pound after pound after pound of pasta. I was in charge of dessert. I was always so excited and proud to host … and always absolutely amazed by the amount of pasta Megan and her teammates could put away.
Those Friday nights are some of my all-time favorite childhood memories. So now, it is with great pleasure that I get to host my own kids and their buddies for team meals. Sometimes we get to host their parents, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes they’re on Fridays, and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes I serve pasta, and sometimes I don’t. But I still get just as excited about these team meals as I did when I was a kid (and I’m still in total awe of how much the team can eat!).
Between then and now, I’ve put in a lot of hours making team meals. Here are my best tips for prepping and serving a simple and delicious one:
Plan ahead. This. Is. EVERYTHING. The prep you do in advance of the main event will make alllll the difference. As soon as you can, find out approximately how many people you will be serving and when, so you know what to serve (carbs for pre-game, protein for post-game, sweets and treats for celebrating). With these details in mind, plan your menu. Pick a main dish you can mostly make ahead of time – pasta
, burgers, ice cream – and build the rest of the menu around it.
Choose recipes that can be assembled a day or two ahead of the actual meal, and that are good served family-style. Slice and dice everything you can in advance, and plan which serving pieces will go with which dish. Consider the plates and utensils you’ll use, and set those aside too.
The Freezer is Your Friend
Whenever you’re making dinner for just your family and have enough ingredients to assemble a second lasagna or casserole or pot of chili, do it! Wrap it tightly and pop in the freezer for later. My mom used to do this all the time. In fact, we had a freezer in the basement dedicated exclusively to extra helpings of family suppers – meatloaves, stuffed shells, macaroni and cheese. When the team showed up last minute, we would pull out a little bit of everything and offer up a homemade buffet. The assortment was a fun twist on what was expected. And it all came together so effortlessly!
Just remember, a meal straight from the freezer needs time and a half to cook completely. That frozen baked ziti will need 90 minutes in the oven instead of the 60 minutes it usually requires.
Many Hands Make Light Work
It takes a village to put on a team meal. Truly. Don’t be afraid to delegate drinks, dishes and serving supplies. As you plan the menu early on, take note of specific jobs that would be perfect to dole out. When parents ask what they can bring or do to help, you have your answer teed up. And if you have a hard time delegating, just ask them to bring their favorite side or something for little kids. Also don’t be afraid to ask guests with food allergies, aversions or dietary restrictions to bring something they can enjoy with everyone else at the table. It takes the whole team to win a game, and the whole team to put on a winning team meal!
Keep Calm and Carry Out
Sometimes team meals are super impromptu. As in planned in the van on the way home from the big game. A slew of ravenous 10-year-olds are not willing to wait for a 90-minute bake time, much less an elaborately planned spread. This is when you call your favorite pizza place. No shame. Pick it up on your way home and add whatever veggies you have on hand to make it a balanced meal. Always keep a tube of cookie dough in the fridge for situations like this too. You know the kids are going to want dessert!
As a longtime sports fan and now soccer mom to several kids, I can attest to the memory-making power of team meals. Sure, the team’s gotta eat, but these meals are just as much about the memories that happen in the kitchen and around the table. Team meals for the win!