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Family dinner with busy teens


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If you have teens and tweens who do evening activities, and eating dinner as a whole family is a priority do you eat before or after the activities?

It looks like most days this fall one or both kids will have an activity that starts at 5:30 or 6:00 and ends at 7:00 or 8:00. So we could eat at 4:30/5:00 or at 7:30/8:30. My guess is that whichever time we don’t sit down together and eat a meal, the kids will put together a snack that resembles a meal.  

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We chose to eat at 4:30/5 in those cases. I try to shoot for 6 dinners together so once a week we may eat in a couple of shifts during busy seasons. During those seasons we also make more of an effort to have family fun time at other times—movies, tv shows together, hikes, board games. 

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We prefer to eat around 5pm, so we would eat before the activities.  If you think they will be super hungry afterwards, you could make a little extra for dinner and 5hey could eat leftovers.  Or just be sure to have plenty of healthy choices they can fix themselves.

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11 minutes ago, SDMomof3 said:

We would have dinner at 4:30/5:00 and the kids would have snacks/2nd dinner afterwards. They did better with a good meal before 3 hours of swim practice. 

Yes, for sports I give my dd one serving before soccer and save seconds back for after.  That way she doesn't get a cramp and has energy.  It also means she eats better quality food after practice.

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When my husband worked in the evenings and the boys were busier with evening activities, we prioritized eating family breakfasts and weekly traditions like Friday night movie and pizza and Sunday afternoon dinners.  If people are on the go, it's totally ok to eat at different times for a season of life.  

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We have a small family but at various times we have had to be flexible about family dinner. We adjusted as needed and it seems to have worked out. We still enjoy dinner together as we can. 

I knew someone who was so dedicated to the idea of family dinner that kids' activities were restricted and there ended up being some resentment. I know that's not what's being discussed here but that experience had an effect on my philosophy about family dinner.

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When I was just stepping into this age with the evening activities I would ask every parent what they did.  And it was always pretty split btwn people who would eat a meal before and the a snack after or the other way around.  I think you just do what works for you and for the kids in the activities.  We never ate a meal before swimming because it would always make my kids feel like they were going to puke to eat a full meal. 

Before covid because dance was so far away and we wouldn't get home until after 9pm every night the kids ate in the car or the one or 2 who got done with sometime waiting for the oldest ones to leave ate in the waiting room.  They would always snack on the way there.  Again they just couldn't eat a full meal before dancing without feeling ill.  I didn't like them eating so late as the things I have read say that isn't good.  But they did have 2 hours before they would be asleep.  

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I would say it just varies at our house.  I find it’s nice to have so,e flexibility for us.  We do abuse take out at times.  One thIng I do lot of is large batches of easy to warm up meals.  Chili, taco or burrito fixings, sheet pan meals, baked pasta dishes, Shepard’s pie, salad fixings, etc

Edited by FuzzyCatz
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4 hours ago, BaseballandHockey said:

If you have teens and tweens who do evening activities, and eating dinner as a whole family is a priority do you eat before or after the activities?

It looks like most days this fall one or both kids will have an activity that starts at 5:30 or 6:00 and ends at 7:00 or 8:00. So we could eat at 4:30/5:00 or at 7:30/8:30. My guess is that whichever time we don’t sit down together and eat a meal, the kids will put together a snack that resembles a meal.  

With teens they're going to eat before AND after, so I'd pick what works best for me to cook or for Dh to join us.  In my family, eating at 8 isn't a big deal at all, but the logistics of cooking earlier are much easier.  For the last 5-6 years, I've made lunch or big family meal and dinner has been easier stuff.  Before that, when Dh worked in an office, I would prep dinner earlier in the day, serve hearty snacks at tea time (for us that's 4 or 5) then cook later.  A lot of times we got take-out or just went out.  Dd didn't like a heavy meal before a dance class, so this worked for that season.

With the amount of togetherness you get with homeschooling, I don't think it's essential to eat EVERY meal together.  It might not matter which meal is The Family Meal.  It can even be breakfast if that's when you get your big cooking energy or even post-activity dessert.

Edited by KungFuPanda
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My kid used to get severe cramps during sports if he ate or drank up to 1.5 hours before the practice. So, I used to almost choreograph the quantity intake: huge breakfast, normal lunch an hour earlier than usual, high calorie snack 2 hours before practice, smoothie after practice, late dinner. I just worked with what was best for the athlete because I could always prep my meals the previous night if needed.

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Think about why family dinners are important to you, and then think of other activities that serve the same purpose, because it just gets more difficult!  Keep the family dinners if practical, but I wouldn't stress over it or insist that people sit at the dinner table when they aren't hungry, wait if they are hungry, or not go early to practice to meet up with friends. 

I think there are great benefits when a family eats together, so I'm all for it when it doesn't create stress. We did weekend breakfast or brunch a lot (even tho' my kids didn't have many activities, lol), letting them invite friends on occasion adds appeal, and eating out sometimes can be fun and draw everyone in. 

2 hours ago, KungFuPanda said:

 With the amount of togetherness you get with homeschooling, I don't think it's essential to eat EVERY meal together.  It might not matter which meal is The Family Meal.  It can even be breakfast if that's when you get your big cooking energy or even post-activity dessert.

I'm not sure if they've decided for the coming year, but they were more emergency homeschoolers, it wasn't their regular gig. 

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Given the two choices, I would say to eat earlier. That way I could prep and cook the meal all at once. If we eat after sports, I have to have it all prepped and then cook afterward.  I am not a big fan of instant pot or crockpot meals multiple times per week. Unless, I was going to be the one staying home, and can cook in peace while the others are gone.....then I would choose that !  

I don't like to eat my dinner that late, so for my body, I would prefer to eat earlier and have a snack later.

It really depends on the athlete and sport. When my son swam, he ate a full meal before and after practice, so either worked for him.

 

Edited by Tap
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We do later.  My preference is early because I hate cleaning up at 10 o’clock at night but the kids don’t like to eat before sport where they will be running intensely.  I do crockpot meals and try to do as much prep and clean up as we can so it’s easy.

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We just don't anymore.  We instituted Forced Family Fun time instead.  1 day a week, we coordinate schedules and put aside about 2 hours for everyone to get together,play a game, watch a movie, or just do something.  This week's is actually tonight.  We're watching a movie and bbqing the chicken I meant to do the other night.  Next week's FFF is a bike ride.

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1 hour ago, HomeAgain said:

We just don't anymore.  We instituted Forced Family Fun time instead.  1 day a week, we coordinate schedules and put aside about 2 hours for everyone to get together,play a game, watch a movie, or just do something.  This week's is actually tonight.  We're watching a movie and bbqing the chicken I meant to do the other night.  Next week's FFF is a bike ride.

Love this!

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We don't even try really. I mean, I serve food later - around 8:00 though sometimes as late as 9:00. But then we drift in different directions. If we eat a meal together, it's usually lunch.

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We decided to prioritize Sunday dinner and let other meals fall as they may.  I do think it’s important to regularly eat at the table together with proper place settings and table manners.  But at this stage of our family’s life once a week counts as “regularly.”  Most weeks it’s more often, but I don’t stress about it as long as I know it’s happening at least once.

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Around here, that would vary with who is participating and in what kind of activity.

some would want food before, some after. 

We have more of a “here is what is available, eat what and when you like” philosophy in general with all meals.

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One thing I was going to mention is that bonding time for us as my kids aged was driving time.  My kids would be much more chatty in the car for some reason.  And meals have fallen by the wayside during some seasons.  You'll find a groove that works for you.  Avoiding evening activities would have been impossible at our house.  

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12 minutes ago, FuzzyCatz said:

One thing I was going to mention is that bonding time for us as my kids aged was driving time.  My kids would be much more chatty in the car for some reason.  And meals have fallen by the wayside during some seasons.  You'll find a groove that works for you.  Avoiding evening activities would have been impossible at our house.  

Yes, the car is truly a special place for conversations with teens!  Probably because it's not face to face.

Edited by Kassia
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2 hours ago, Kassia said:

Yes, the car is truly a special place for conversations with teens!  Probably because it's not face to face.

The other special thing about car rides is that kids and teens in the backseat seem to think that the driver has lost all ability to hear, as though there were a chauffer's partition dividing them. You can overhear a lot of interest without even trying. 

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15 hours ago, katilac said:

Think about why family dinners are important to you,

Family meals have been a good structure for my DH and the kids.  Right now, they need that kind of structure.  Since, I'm the primary driver, cook, and homework supervisor, he doesn't get the benefit of bonding during those times.  

15 hours ago, katilac said:

I'm not sure if they've decided for the coming year, but they were more emergency homeschoolers, it wasn't their regular gig. 

These two kids were just crisis schooled, and not very well at that. They'll be at our public school in the fall, and I'll be working, but home by the time they're home from school in the afternoon.   

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I am a single mom, so this is what worked for me.  When the schedule didn't allow for a sit-down meal at home, I would try to work in a meal at a fast-ish food restaurant.  Like Chipotle, Panera, Subway, or similar.

If you need something that includes every family member every night, that is going to be more of a challenge.  I would shoot for 2-3 nights per week of full-family meals.  If you want their dad to be at more of the meals, maybe have him do the sports driving (and eat with the kids) on some of the evenings.

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When I had young teens and tweens with busy evening schedules, we ate dinner before, which was sometimes insanely early and rarely included dh. SInce baseball/softball isn’t timed, there were nights where it’d be pushing 9:30/10:00 by the time we were home. There would be kids on the teams begging parents to go grab some fast food to bring to the dugout because they were starving. There were always snacks in there, but that didn’t cut it on late nights!

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We did not have a regular, consistent time for dinner.  Timing of activities and work schedules varied from day-to-day.  Also, the type of activity varied; there were some activities that people did not want to eat (at least a meal) beforehand.  We would srive for each child to eat at least one meal with at least one parent each day rather than strive for the enitre family to be together at one particular time.  And we focused more on a few meals each week in which the family was intentionally together.  

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I just remembered that we used to eat dinner in the car (together) on the way to baseball.  Ds20 played baseball for years.  Practice seemed to always be at dinner time, at a field 45 minutes away from our house.  I made dinner, packed it in portable dishes (Easylunchboxes), and the kids ate in the car.  I ate my dinner when we got there while ds was playing baseball and the girls played on the playground.  Dh actually worked nearby, so he would come over to the baseball field after work and eat his dinner which I had brought with us.

Edited by Junie
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It's not the healthiest, but can you change your routine to family dessert?  That way you all still check in around the table at night, but it's not the structure of needing to make a meal and rush out the door.  Make some pies or cookies once a week, have everyone build ice cream sundaes, throw a cobbler together...

I would do that here but oldest and dh don't often get home until midnight, so it's a crapshoot for dinner time now.

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