Feeding the family by 9 p.m.

Mealtimes: With today's active families, the dinner hour often falls victim to hectic schedules.

September 19, 2001|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

"Eating by 9" is an idea every mother can get behind.

Especially since most of us are tired of washing a fresh batch of dishes every night at 10 p.m.

Organized sports, after-school activities and mountains of homework have eroded the American family dinner hour.

It has become the American family dinner hours.

Most mothers of active children find themselves serving a member of their family something that ordinarily passes for a meal any time from midafternoon to midnight.

Let me illustrate.

I recently prepared turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn for my son to eat several hours before his evening soccer game.

He sat down to dinner at 2 p.m.

The same food was available (on a microwavable plate) for my daughter after her soccer game.

She sat down to dinner at the civilized hour of 6 p.m.

My husband was ready for his portion after the boys' soccer game which, thanks to overtime, did not conclude until 9:45 p.m.

By this time, my son, who hadn't eaten since 2 p.m., was hungry again. My husband and I did the "Dance of the Microwave" while I tried to find something to satisfy the ravenous boy before he bit someone.

About this time, my daughter came looking for a sweet snack that would have been called dessert if it had been served at 6 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.

The kitchen did not clear until the 11 p.m. news. I don't recall that I ever got dinner myself.

You can see why "Eating by 9" has such an appeal to my fellow mothers and me.

"I not only never knew when," says my friend Susan. "I never knew how many."

With a couple of college-age kids home for the summer, a teen-age daughter who likes to think she has her own life and a husband who has a long commute to work and who likes to play golf, Susan never had a firm count.

"I never knew if it would be three, five or seven."

Twice a week, Susan prepares her expandable meals dressed in a bathing suit.

"When I go to water aerobics, I make dinner and walk out the door. I eat whatever is left on the counter when I get back at 8:30."

Like many of us, Susan shelters a son who never fails to get up from the dinner table and pour himself a bowl of cereal.

"It just never stops."

My friend Betsy has four children and three dinner seatings: 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

"I have people leaving for a sport a little before 5 and people getting home from a sport a little after 5 and people getting home from work about 6," Betsy reports.

"And then there's the cook, who is too disorganized to handle this."

Betsy has to be prepared for the possibility that the eater at the 5 p.m. seating will like the evening's offering and eat it all.

"Then there has to be a second dinner because nothing is left.

"Except, of course, when I make plenty of food. Then no one is hungry and no one eats."

Betsy's big eater, 14-year-old Jeffrey, eats at all three seatings. And then gets up to make himself "dessert." An omelet perhaps, or a sandwich.

Betsy can make a visit to the powder room and return to find a fresh sink full of dirty dishes.

The rest of us go to sleep with the kitchen spotless - like a bartender setting up for the next day - only to wake and find that homework has required a midnight feeding.

Ice cream, mozzarella sticks, microwave macaroni and cheese, cookies, fried rice. Empty Gatorade bottles, soda cans and plastic cups dot the house, which looks like the food court at the mall on a Saturday afternoon.

So most mothers begin the new day the way they ended the previous one: washing dishes, planning meals.

And hoping all the eating will be over by 9 p.m.

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