Running on empty

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SPARTA-More roast beef? Mashed potatoes? Please pass the peas. And how was your day dear? That sounds pretty typical of the average American family dinner. Sure, if the year was 1955 and the mother of that family was June Cleaver. Our mother, Caroline Viggiano, representing the typical 2005 family, sounds more like a coach bellowing orders at the team as the dinner hour approaches, "Come on, let's go! Get in the car! We gotta go!" For many area families, dinner time takes on a whole new meaning as couples chauffer their children to and from after school and weekend activities, during those once coveted hours. What used to be considered the priority meal marking the end of the family's day, is now last minute food ideas, eating on the run, or a quick bite squeezed into any window of opportunity between the hours of 4 and 9 p.m., the hours now reserved for practices and games. "On the move" is an understatement, according to the Sparta resident and mother of three. How this family fits it all in is a mystery even to them. She and husband Mike spend their time actively involved in their children's sports. "Yeah, one of my kids may arrive without shoes or a coat, but hey, we're there," says Caroline, who spends her after school hours getting her young athletes were they need to be. Gia, an eighth-grader, plays travel basketball, basketball, and travel softball. Daughter Devin, who's in the sixth grade, is a competition cheerleader, lacrosse player and takes gymnastics classes. Youngest is second-grader Michael, who plays football, hockey, and baseball. The couple agrees that watching their kids play sports is a joy, but also admit that the time spent involved in sports wreaks havoc on dinner time. If games are scheduled in the evening, the family eats early, rush out the door only to return home to a kitchen in need of a cleaning of dinner dishes at 9:30 at night. Typical scene for many families. Now, factor in homework, projects, and their children's social activities, and you really have a full plate, just not of dinner however. "How much pizza can you eat?" asks Caroline. "Lucky for us, we like it. We all have the pizzeria's numbers in our cell phones. Where we order depends on the direction we're coming from." The Viggianos like so many others, believe they single handedly keep the local pizza establishments in business. "If I ever get the time, I'm going to cash in on all those ‘Buy 10 pizza's, get one free' coupons, accumulating in my kitchen draw," laughs Caroline. She would love to see the snack shack in town serve more than hot dogs and pizza. "Most parents are not only at the fields watching one child, they have their other kids with them and are often buying dinner there." Caroline believes that for families on-the-go flexibility, more than planning, is the key to making the dinner thing work. "Somehow I always have a meal plan. It may be eating at a restaurant five days a week, or grocery shopping that day for our dinner. But, as soon as you have some sort of routine down, Boom! the sport changes," she said. Another thing Caroline has to consider is the fact that she has to make healthy choices for her family. Something she discovered when, in her view, her family was beginning to resemble macaroni and cheese. "I started making healthy snacks for the minute they landed off the bus, like fresh chicken fingers, and potatoes," she says. Caroline's and many other parents' goal, is to master the most challenging part of the family dinner equation: Not what they eat but more importantly that they eat it together. "With three active kids, everyday can be different. Everyone is going in a different direction. But on a whole, we always eat together whether it's at home or out and whether it‘s early or late." But for many families like the Viggianos, changing routines and always being on the move is part of what makes them a family. "The funny thing is that when there is actually a lull in our schedule, I totally enjoy cooking. Finally, no pressure. We relax, and after a few days we're recharged and ready to roll again. However, unless we're running Mach 1 with our hair on fire, we tend to get bored and a little lazy during a brief down time period. We actually look around and think, what should we do tonight? Aaah, finally an opportunity to go watch a friend's kid play a game … Get in the car! Quick! We gotta go!"