With school-aged children, there is a period of gastrointestinal chaos, and that period is every weekday from 3 to 6PM. Around 3PM, when many kids get out of school, they're famished. The moment my daughter gets buckled up in the car, she looks at me like a sad pigeon and begs, "Snack. Do you have a snack?" (Nice to see you, too, child!)
Photo: Benoist SEBIRE (Getty Images)
Kids play hard at school, and the amount of food they eat for lunch is questionable ("So you ate your crackers and nothing else?" I say as I do the daily lunchbox inspection). When they get home, that long stretch of time until dinner often goes something like this:
Kid: I'm hungry.
Parent: OK, here's a small snack.
Kid: [Eats small snack] I'm still hungry.
Parent: Can you wait? Dinner will be ready in an hour.
Kid: Hunger. So... much... hunger. I think my stomach is eating itself.
Parent: Well, OK. Go ahead and eat something else.
[Two bags of popcorn, 27 pretzels, one bowl of applesauce and a tortilla later ... ]
Parent: Dinner's ready!
Kid: I'm full.
Parent: [Familiar look of defeat.]
Parenting requires adaptability, and that means following your kid's internal clock. Scary Mommy writer Wendy Wisner did just that, and started feeding her kids dinner at 3PM. With that small change, life suddenly became more pleasant.
It's hard sometimes to get a meal together for them then so early, and I will admit that sometimes if they are truly famished, appetizers are eaten. But it's doable, and what I cook is nothing fancy. Pasta, nuggets, grilled cheese, and a fruit or veggie.
They happily eat it, too. And it's better quality food and more filling than the snacks I used to serve them at that time, which only spoiled their appetite for dinner. They usually eat this early dinner before they do their homework, which means that they are well fed and happy when it's homework time, and also for the rest of the evening.
... Think about it: our kids go to sleep by 8 or so, right? So why should they wait till 6 or 7 to eat?
Wisner's kids sometimes have healthy snacks later on if they're hungry - and that's fine because they have already had their main course. And yes, she too eats dinner smack dab in the afternoon. "I'm up at the butt-crack of dawn," she writes. "I tend to have an early breakfast, an early lunch, and an early dinner."
Every night, my dinner table was a battleground. 'What is this?' came the oft-repeated refrain, accompanied by a scrunched up face and a tiny fork pushing the vegetable portion of the meal to the farthest side of the plate. No matter how tasty I found the item in question, no matter how much butter or Parmesan I sprinkled on top, no matter how much trouble I had gone through to make it look fun using a spiraliser, my children could not be convinced that the green item on their plate wasn't actually poisonous. I was defeated.
As parents, you might see a couple of obstacles with this meal-scheduling strategy. First, it isn't really feasible for those who work full-time, unless you have a caregiver feed the kids. And second, what about family dinner? That's important, right? Even if one parent is home at 3PM, the other probably doesn't get back until later. Does that parent eat dinner alone? (If so, I am jealous.)
Still, even with the challenges, if your kids are really, really hungry at 3PM, I say feed 'em dinner at 3PM. Find other ways to sit down together as a family (perhaps with popsicles at 7PM?). Their body rhythms will change over time, and you won't always be stuck having dinner before the seniors start ordering their Early Bird Specials. But for now, and always, you've gotta do what works.
"My Kids Eat Dinner At 3PM, And Here's Why" [Scary Mommy]