Like many parents, feeding my kids can really suck at times. My oldest was and still is an extremely picky eater. My kindergartner is chronically obsessed with sweets, and will rarely still sit at the table for more than three minutes at a time. Mealtimes can be a real shit show sometimes, but I also know that is definitely within the realm of normal.
Still, the hours between when they get home from school and go to bed are often totally chaotic, especially when it comes to feeding them. Neither of them eats much lunch at school (and from what I can tell from speaking to other parents, that’s pretty normal too), and when they get home from school they are starving.
I don’t mean just a little hungry. I mean HANGRY. I mean “feed me now or I will lie on the floor crying for 25 minutes and give you a migraine” hungry. I get it; I remember coming home from school starving out of my mind as well. The struggle is real.
So, for years, I’ve been feeding them after school snacks. You know: mini-pizza bagels, pita chips and hummus, granola bars—whatever’s fast, relatively healthy, and easy.
But the snacking never stopped. They’d basically eat snacks continuously from 3-4pm. And then, as you can imagine, dinner was basically a joke. Or, there wasn’t any discernible dinner. One eating session just kind of blended into the other. It was super-annoying, and confusing too.
So, one recent afternoon I had this lightbulb moment: What if I just start feeding them dinner at 3 or 4pm, when they’re clearly the hungriest? Like a healthy meal (or as healthy as my picky as hell kids will eat) and save the snacks for later?
Well, this little plan has been implemented for a few months, and let me tell you: It’s the Best. Idea. Ever.
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.
But, you might ask, if they eat so early, don’t they get hungry sometime before bed? They have snacks later if they are hungry—healthy snacks whenever possible. But this has decreased some of the mindless snacking they used to do before dinner and after dinner, which is a good thing in my book.
And what about me? Do I eat dinner then too? Well, actually, I often do. Like most parents, I’m up at the butt-crack of dawn. I tend to have an early breakfast, an early lunch, and an early dinner. Maybe not quite as early as my kiddos, but I usually sit down and eat a bowl of something good and healthy at 4:30 or 5. Then I’ll eat a small snack after they go to bed.
So yeah, my kids eat dinner at 3 or 4pm. It probably sounds strange to some, but actually, when I brought it up to a few friends, they told me that they pretty much do that too. Or that they wanted to try, and that my little story gave them permission to.
Think about it: our kids go to sleep by 8 or so, right? So why should they wait till 6 or 7 to eat? Early dinners seem more in line with their body rhythms. My kids seem to like to eat this way even when they don’t have school. It staves off some of the 4 p.m. witching hour nonsense too, a welcome bonus.
Feeding my kids an early AF dinner has been awesome, and I can’t believe it took me years to realize this. And for anyone who thinks I’m off my rocker, and that kids should really eat at a more normal, civilized time in line with when families are supposed to eat, I ask you this: Who cares what time it is? Do kids’ bodies actually give a shit about what an acceptable time to eat really is? (Spoiler alert: they don’t.)
Here’s my motto: Feed your kids well, when they are hungry. Do what works for you and your family. The rest is bullshit. Bon appetite!