5 Easy Ways I’m Keeping My Family Fed During Spring Sports Season

published Apr 9, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman
Bento-style meals and other lunchbox recipes make great grab-and-go fare for the busy sports season.

When I signed my first-grader up for baseball, I was excited for spring evenings at the ball field and watching him find community in his team. What I wasn’t expecting? The pregame batting practices that would keep us on those fields for hours on a Wednesday night or the double-game weeks that would turn my meal plan on its side. Faced with this newfound family dinner challenge, I did what any other millennial parent would do and asked for advice on Instagram

As you can imagine, the more seasoned sports parents had lots of advice, tips, and tricks. Others begged to see the answers! Even the families who have some sideline experience asked for help: “We’d love to avoid the dreaded concession stand spiral, but siblings get hungry watching the games too.”

The overwhelming message was that you can’t avoid night after night of takeout or the concession stand without a little bit of planning or meal prep. The good news is that you don’t have to plan out the whole season — a week at a time is all you need — and you can do as little prep as you have time for.

Here’s some of the best advice I received about keeping my family well-fed this season, and how I plan to incorporate it into our meal planning and prep. 

1. Do after-school dinner instead of after-school snacks.

Right after my kids get off the bus they eat a snack that’s supposed to hold them over until dinnertime, but when the first pitch is at 5:30 p.m., we can have dinner at after-school snack time (around 4 p.m.) instead. After-school dinners need to be super quick, short on ingredients, and filling enough to last until the ninth inning, so I’ll be leaning on Miracle Meals and five-ingredient meals that require zero prep. After the game, we can eat what would usually be served as an after-school snack. 

2. Split up dinner shifts with help from the slow cooker or Instant Pot.  

Some little league evenings also coincide with piano practice or swim lessons for our other kiddo, which means my partner and I are playing a one-on-one defense (yes, I know that is a basketball reference) with each of us taking one kid to little league and the other for lessons at different times. These nights require a dinner that can be eaten in shifts (think: slow cooker tacos or an Instant Pot pasta that can stay warm between our respective dinner times). Ideally, I’ll prepare the ingredients for these dinners in advance so either I can start them before work or my husband can cook them in the Instant Pot while I’m at practice. 

3. Pack sideline picnics.

Here’s the little league ideal I had dreamed up: My whole family is in the bleachers eating a warm meal at dinnertime that isn’t concession-stand nachos. This kind of dinner does require a decent amount of planning and prep, plus some special equipment, so I’ll save this one for super-special occasions. In order to bring a hot meal to the ball field (and keep it hot), dinner needs to be prepped and ready to reheat in the precious hour between after-school and batting practice. My plan for these super-special sideline dinners is to choose a one-bowl meal with components that can be prepped on the weekend and then assembled in a meal prep container, heated in the microwave, and then packed in a rolling cooler. I’ll also have a container ready for my little center-fielder to eat right after the game. Reminder to myself as much as anyon  — don’t forget to pack a delicious sauce and silverware for eating. 

4. Lean on lunch box basics.

There are some tournament weeks where back-to-back games mean there is really no way to feed my family a hot meal. For these occasions, choosing lunch box staples is the sanest way to get everyone fed. There are the obvious sandwiches, subs, and wraps, but pasta salads and bento-style meals also work well because they can hang out in a cooler for longer than hot foods. Most of the prep for these types of meals can be done either during meal prep (cooking pasta, cooking chicken for chicken salad) and then the meals can be pulled together and packed the morning of tournaments or big games. Need some inspiration? Here are 50+ lunch box recipes to get you started.

5. Know when to play the takeout card. 

Let this be your universal permission slip that you can’t totally avoid getting takeout for the entire season — and that is more than OK! In the most ideal world, these meals are a little planned — say when an opponent’s home field is near your favorite Thai food spot — but they won’t always be. One mom’s advice included doing “at least one game night a season of pizza delivered to the fields. Just be prepared to order some extra for the siblings in the stands.” When possible, order ahead and have one parent pick up food in the seventh inning so you can eat right after the game.

Little league season should be fun, but it does require flexibility and some planning to feed your family with games from March to June. These ideas may work some weeks and you may have to try something totally different the next.

What ways are you feeding your family during spring sports season this year?