Feeding the neighborhood

It's that time of year again. It's warm outside, but still too soon for humidity and bugs. It's a fleeting window of opportunity, and I encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy it while it's still comfortable.

It's also that time of year when all the neighborhood kids are playing outside, and a parent calling "Dinner!" no matter how delicious, becomes the villain in the story. There's an audible disappointment, and my son begrudgingly drags in, smelling of the outside. I love that smell, though I remember my mother disdained it when I was a child. 

fattoush salad

When I'm cooped up in the kitchen preparing dinner, I tend to gaze out the windows and wish I were in fresh air. So as a happy medium, I've been loading big trays, and bringing them onto the front porch. When my son sees me holding that tray, he knows he can still be outside, and his friends are invited too. That's right, they can have some dinner as well!

My husband and I both grew up in homes that functioned as a hub for everyone: friends running through the sprinkler, classmates cramming for finals, my father's soccer team having beers - you name it. I didn't know it at the time, but my mother created a welcoming environment with plenty of food to keep an eye on us. My friends all thought my parents were cool, and loved coming over. And chatting with us, or listening in on our conversations was a way for them to keep tabs on us, see who our friends were, and to make sure we were doing okay. It was genius. And I now do the same.

How can you feed a whole neighborhood? 

It may sound crazy that I would trot out a plate of food for the whole neighborhood, but consider this:

  • Mind you, it's only a handful of kids.
  • Many have already eaten, and just want to sample out of curiosity.
  • These aren't formal dinners that require utensils - think finger foods or handheld bites.
  • Don't serve foods that would break the bank.

When the kids see the tray, they cheer and run into the yard. I see my son beaming with pride.  

What type of meals work for a porch dinner?

Growing up, my parents would set out giant summertime trays of sliced watermelon, cubes of sharp cheddar cheese, and Ritz crackers. It was hydrating and filling at the same time, and we devoured every morsel. I highly recommend this when watermelon is in season, and not the spongy mess stores try to sell otherwise.

Some other suggestions include:

  • ¬†Build your own taco bar
  • A roast turkey bar, with an actual turkey, a loaf of bread, and some fixins. Exponentially less expensive than buying processed deli cuts, and the presentation is just...
  • Giant salad
  • Pre-made sandwiches cut into triangles, so it's not one person per sandwich, but a shared experience, where kids can nibble on however much they want. Make too much on purpose, and save the leftovers for a packed lunch.¬†
  • Quiche, a frittata, or a big pan of scrambled eggs with veggies tossed in and a stack of toast
  • A big bowl of hummus, crudite and crackers
  • Grapes, cheese, sliced meats and crackers - basically a charcuterie board

The last bullet point is a reminder that you can pull a charcuterie board together for kids easily, and they aren't as discerning as adults. Avoid cooking. Save time in the kitchen by dicing up already-made foods. Slice pickles, cut string cheese in half (they'll still know what to do), open a dip, and throw in some cookies.

It's fun to watch the sunset and observe bats darting about at dusk. Not to mention the joy of listening to your child and their friends soaking up this delicious time in their lives. 

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