The Easy Meal I Pack for Sports Nights with the Family

published May 12, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

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I can’t say I had a strong idea of what kind of parent I was going to be. Even as someone who loves a plan and a schedule, I went into this thing sort of like, “Well, I gotta wait to see what I’m working with!” But as a kid who spent her lunch hours in the English teacher’s room, summers at orchestra camp, and attended the midnight releases of the final volumes of “Harry Potter,” I sort of assumed my own kids would, you know, have similar tendencies. (I’m not going to name those tendencies, but I think you get the idea.)

I’m sure it’s of no surprise to you that things didn’t exactly go that way. Turns out I was meant to be a sports mom.

I didn’t participate in pretty much anything athletic in my young life. I was one of four kids, so while my parents had plenty to juggle, none of us stuck with sports after early elementary school. I lacked any real frame of reference of what being a sports mom really meant. Sure, there are jokes about minivans and orange slices. And OK, yes, I now drive a minivan, and I know that watermelon wedges are way more popular than oranges. But team snack is nothing compared to the extreme sport of organizing a family schedule around multiple game schedules. With my oldest now being a teenager and fully invested to his sport, the commitment from both him and our family is real.

Our Simple Strategy for a Filling Dinner on the Sidelines

The trickiest bit is figuring out how to feed the rest of the family while we all sit on the sidelines. While I definitely make room for the occasional hot dog, I don’t recommend subsisting on an entire season of snack bar nachos alone. But it’s not always the easiest to get a full dinner prepared between your last Zoom call and a 5:30 p.m. field time. Whenever possible, I prefer to make something ahead of time.

Grain bowls and salads are standbys, but sloppy joes are the one failsafe item my family always requests.

Grain bowls and salads are standbys, but sloppy joes are the one failsafe item my family always requests. They’re perfect for dinner at the field — heavy on nostalgia, light on work, and perfectly packable. I typically stick with traditional ground beef, but you can definitely opt for ground turkey or go in a plant-forward direction with lentils. The filling is a total breeze to prepare and can easily be made a night or two before. 

Credit: Creative Studio

On game day, I just microwave it until hot and pour it into a large thermos. I try to slice some fruit and vegetables a few hours ahead of time, but if I’m really tight on time, I just grab some clementines and a bag of baby carrots. I toss all with a stack of plates and a bag of buns into a tote. All I have to do during the game is spoon some filling into a bun, hand it off to the nearest kid. You’d think the mess factor would be high, but we’re all outside anyway, and that’s what napkins are for!

Did I think I was going to be in my 30s still eating sloppy joes and carrot sticks? Definitely not. But I also didn’t think I’d ever know what the drop third strike or infield pop fly rules are. (Still not 100% on the latter.) And any time anyone who doesn’t also manage this juggle asks me if I ever get tired of the after-school extracurriculars time commitment, my answer is always of course! But how can you not love supporting your kids doing what they love? If you need me, I’ll be in the bleachers whispering “bon appetit” to myself every time the ump yells “play ball!” 

Three Sloppy Joes Recipes to Get You Started: