I’ll start by saying this right off the bat – planning family meals at home is the ideal. But, as we know, many families simply aren’t sitting around the house waiting for dinner to be served at 5 o’clock. Back-to-school often means back to a hectic schedule with late hours.
It used to be that kids went to school from about 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning and would return home around 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. There may have been a few after school activities sprinkled in through the week, but the normal day would begin and end within that schedule.
Today it seems that the days start earlier and end much, much later. The variety and availability of extra-curricular activities makes it almost impossible for a family to fit everything into the daylight hours.
Add meal times into this busy schedule and you can see how something’s got to give. All too often, that something is eating a good meal together.
There are typically two scenarios in this late night rush;
1) Meals are grabbed quickly at a drive-thru and eaten in the car. This can do a lot of damage to your budget, your nutrition, and in the time you spend together as a family.
2) You skip eating on the road and arrive home near bedtime with a hungry family. You grab whatever you can from the pile of snack foods or prepackaged foods you have on hand. This offers very little nutrition, a budget nightmare, and, again, no family time.
What’s the answer?
We have to accept the facts. There are going to be nights when it’s just not going to work out that everyone will be able to sit down at the dinner table together. This is why you have to plan for meals on the road.
No, you are not a meal planning failure – you are planning for the inevitable meal out. Ideally, we love to have our meals at home sitting around with our family at the table. But, with after school activities the way they are, there will be plenty of times when your family simply cannot be home to eat. You have to be prepared for these times.
I have listed a few strategies to plan for meals on the road, so you can get the most nutrition and value when you know some of your meals will not be at home.
Start with your actual schedule.
Make a daily calendar and map out where you’ll be, when, and with whom. With your schedule in hand, you know when you will be driving around with the family looking for food. Now you can look for and find some great deals on meals. The success of this system is in the planning. Rather than waiting until the last minute, and hearing cries of “I’m hungry!” coming from the back seat, it is much more successful to plan where you are going to eat when you’re on the road.
Sleuth for deals ahead of time.
Finding food that is well prepared, nutritious, and delicious should also be a priority. Here’s where your sleuthing comes in. With a quick search online, you will find restaurants in your area that offer low-cost, half price, or free meals for kids on just about any day of the week. A website like KidsMealDeals.com is one option. The participants offer meals that are kid-friendly and parent approved. These restaurants depend on repeat customers, so they are most likely going to trot out their best promotions to keep you coming back week after week.
The menus can sometimes be limited, but most kids don’t mind having their favorite dish again each week. There are normally menu choices for parents that are very appealing, because, after all, kids aren’t driving themselves to these restaurants. Their business relies on making you happy, too, since you’ve got the car and the checkbook!
Map it out.
Now that you’ve found a number of restaurants that offer good, low cost, kids meals in your area, map them out. Use the information to fill in your calendar so you know each day where you’re going to feed your family on the run. You know when and where your kids need to be each day of the week. Why not map your meals out to fit your schedule?
Since families have gotten busier with after school activities, it just makes sense that there will be days when you simply cannot sit down to a meal at home. But, if you can take a break from your chauffeuring and enjoy a few minutes with your family over a simple meal in a restaurant, that’s still a plan. And that’s the main point here – plan ahead for your meals while you’re away from home during your busy school days so you can still enjoy time with your family.