This is how it usually goes:
3:00- Kids rush through the door after school. Eat pretzels, graham crackers, cookies, whatever they can lay their hands on.
3:08 – Sugar rush. Mom sends everyone outstairs. (Outside or upstairs. But not by me.)
5:00 – Start to make dinner.
5:01 – Kids crowd around, needing everything they can think of. Tripping over them, losing patience, trying to get things ready. It’s hot. I’m hungry.
5:45 – Put dinner on the table. No one eats it all because they feel gross from all the snacks. Clean up the table.
6:30 – Rush to church/YMCA/little league/gymnastics/whatever.
Here is the new plan that we have been loving for several months.
2:20 – Start making dinner while the kids are at school. Try to time it so that it is ready right when they get home. A real meal with vegetables and protein and sides and everything.
3:00 – Eat dinner. They are starving and want to talk about their day. It is a pleasant event.
3:40- 7:00 – Do whatever you need to do with satiated kids. No need to stop in the middle of everything to make dinner. Go to the gym, the soccer game, the gymnastics practice.
7:00 (or whenever) – Sit down for an evening snack with Dad. Family mealtimes are important! But if the kids are eating cold cereal while the dad eats some warmed up leftovers from dinner, that still counts. And he doesn’t have to fight with the kids and the meal prep for your attention, which greatly reduces the stress of the evening.
The benefits to having a real dinner ready for school kids right when they get home are numerous: They eat it, because they are hungry. It’s done and they can move on to practicing, homework, chores, and playing with energy and level blood sugar which gives them a lot more grit in sticking with their tasks. You don’t have to prepare a meal while everyone is vying for your attention and underfoot. You don’t have to keep the meal waiting for your spouse to get home if they are delayed at work. You have all afternoon to get things done.
The cons are simply that sometimes kids get hungry enough for another complete meal 3 hours later, but at least they are having real food twice instead of just snacking. The other hard thing is simply thinking ahead, making the mental shift in your schedule. And then making sure that you do have a family meal later that evening, but it can be a small production rather than a big one.
I know this won’t work for everyone, some spouses come home at the same time every night, some kids don’t get out of school at the same time, there are lots of issues that are unique to each family. Boiling it down to the principles here are 1) Feed your kids real food when they are at their hungriest. 2) Prepare the meal during a peaceful time of day. 3) If your family schedule is jam-packed after school, find a way to work around it, instead of battling through it everyday.