To describe mine as an “on-the-go” family would be the understatement of the century. As my kiddos get older, we find ourselves also jamming homework, practices, and meetings into the spot where just dinner used to be. Rarely is supper served at our dining room table these days; more and more, everyone’s wearing a seatbelt when supper is served, or we find ourselves spread out on a blanket on the sidelines of soccer practice. Constantly, I am perfecting a portable kitchen for my family.
In Fact, Here are My Best Time-Saving Tips for Families Like Ours
This is essential. Truly, careful menu-planning is the only way a home-cooked meal can be served on the road. And strategy is everything. Begin with meals that leave little or no room for negotiation. It is much harder to make your children eat their broccoli when you are driving (and you definitely don't want to find out where they will hide it if they don’t). Offer meals that require few utensils, or none at all. Soups just don’t translate well for on-the-go eating, especially when small children are involved; embrace the sandwich instead! Serve salads wrapped up in tortillas or stuffed into pitas, and fruit and veggie sides stacked onto interesting breads like bagels, pretzel buns, and Hawaiian rolls smeared with cream cheese.
Always consider the timing of your meal-in-motion, too. Suppers on the way to practice need to be light enough for the kids to play without discomfort – think crackers with a short stack of thinly sliced salami, sugar snap peas with hummus, and a clementine (“tapas” for kids?). On the other hand, suppers after practice need to be a lot heartier, full of protein and healthy fats, to replenish what they’ve just burned.
2. Paper towels
I wrap every individual sandwich I make in a paper towel. They preserve the warmth of hot sandwiches, and the crispiness of toasted ones. And, then you’ll have them on hand for wiping of sticky fingers, sloppy bibs, and messy mouths.
3. The backpack of everything
Once you have packed a bag of anything you could possibly need for supper on the go, there is no turning back. Our family keeps an old preschool cinch sack, filled to the gills with mobile-kitchen supplies, in our car at all times. At the bottom is a blanket, for makeshift picnics, long games on hard bleachers, and unexpectedly chilly weather. On top of that are random snacks to hold us over during the aforementioned long games. We’ve got disposable utensils and condiment packets collected from past spins through the drive-thru, and re-sealable bags and paper plates to use as dishes for all ages. A roll of paper towels, a pouch of wet wipes, and a couple large plastic trash bags make for easy clean-up of any meal.
4. Water bottles
I like to gather commemorative hard plastic water bottles from sporting and charity events and keep them in a bin in the car. Sturdy bottles filled with water are great for many reasons. First of all, water quenches everyone's thirst without filling up their belly. Secondly, the bottles make for easy sharing around the dinner “table”, whatever shape it takes from night to night. And thirdly, water bottles can be refilled at taps anywhere and that is amazingly helpful!
5. Always know where to get dessert
Even after so much effort and prep, it is still possible that, at the end of the day, all five of us have not actually sat down together. On these days, my favorite thing to do is go for dessert. Not only does a last-minute sweet treat position me as the hero (wink, wink), but, a round of ice cream cones allows for us to connect, at long last, after all the craziness, and just compare notes on the day that was (which is what family dinner is all about anyway).
Dinnertime can be quite a whirlwind at my house. Even though the window to make it happen keeps getting smaller and smaller, however, I will always hold firm to it being one of the most important parts of our day. Instead of giving up on the family dinner, we adjust – with thoughtful planning and key tools – to bring it to life on the go.