How Al Fresco Dining Can Help Save Your Sanity (for Like 30 Minutes)

Porch dinner own chairs.JPG

Sometimes you just need to eat dinner outside.

Before we get too far into this, let me assure that this story is not a giant humblebrag about living in Florida in the winter. I’m not going to go on and on about how the weather has been perfect lately, crisp and cool at night and beyond comfortable during the day (except for a couple days ago when it was randomly 30 degrees and we almost declared a state of emergency—Lowe’s customers were practically massacring each other to procure the last of the Duraflame logs). I wouldn’t do that to any of you stuck in the northeast or Midwest or Canada who are currently living in blocks of ice or igloos or houses made of bear skins or something (I’m unclear on the details as I don’t have much experience with cold climates).

Okay, now that I think about it, this is pretty much a giant Florida winter humblebrag, but on the bright side, you can shove it in my face in July when we are literally piles of melted flesh and mosquito bites and you are enjoying a cool summer breeze through the open window at night on your veranda (again, I don’t understand the details of northern climates or architecture).

Anyway, back to my story.

My oldest has started back to school after the interminable holiday break, but, if anything, the days only seem longer now. And with good reason, really. His school starts at the ungodly time of 7:55. During holidays and on weekends, my typical morning routine is leisurely and blurry. My 3-year-old clatters through the bedroom door sometime before 6:30 and barks at me from his spot on the floor beside my ear. I then stumble into the living room, turn on Netflix for him, and drift back to sleep on the couch until he requests food or someone else gets up. However, on school days, our morning has to be more precise. And since there are two children at home all day anyway, there is no break during the school hours. Ultimately, the afternoon hours between school pick-up and dinner time tend to linger like unwanted guests.

And while I sometimes look forward to eating the one actual meal I regularly eat, the whole production of dinner with kids present is a complete nightmare. Usually the food prep part is relatively fine. I don’t do anything elaborate, so I can whip something up that my kids will hate and only I will end up eating in a few minutes with the help of TV or the fenced backyard for distraction. The actual eating part, though, is another story. I dread the approximately three minutes that is dinner time. All the not eating and baby climbing on the table and mouth noises and sticky fingers are just too much for me.

So, I decided one day recently to shake things up.

“Hey, why don’t we eat dinner outside on the porch?” I said, grasping at straws because the weather was nice and I had recently cleaned up the back porch, which was a huge accomplishment.

“Oh, like a picnic?” my 6-year-old said, with a gleam in his eye that instantly had me regretting my decision.

But, we did it! I served up a smorgasbord of food for the kids including soup from the fridge, grapes, and the meal I’d actually made. I got them all situated at the patio table and served up my plate of couscous, broccoli, and tofu. I learned earlier that day that my cholesterol was high, but the meal choice wasn’t a reaction. This is how I always eat. Thanks a lot aging, genetics, and lack of exercise for the high cholesterol!

As I sat down, the 6-year-old requested more grapes.

“Not right now. I’m going to eat first,” I said. This worked for once because we were dining in an exotic location that was thirteen steps away from the kitchen instead of three steps.

I then shoveled in my entire meal in about sixty seconds.

When I came back with the extra grapes, the 1-year-old had migrated from her chair to her brother’s and was reaching around him, dipping her hand into his soup bowl as he howled his objections. For the rest of the meal, she meandered from chair to chair sampling everyone’s food like a vulture picking on carcasses. Periodically, one of the boys would get distracted by something and leave his place. Naturally, the 1-year-old pounced at every opportunity and practically bathed herself with lukewarm soup and wilted broccoli.

Scavenger at work

Scavenger at work

All in all, it was a huge mess. Which just goes to show you, you can make your dining location slightly more exotic, but when you have kids, the whole dinner thing is still likely to be disastrous. However, I wouldn’t change a thing about our outdoor dining adventure. I mean, I would change several things if I were magic, but I wouldn’t change anything within the control of my earthly powers. Just the thought of a minor change to the dreaded dinner routine got me motivated enough to carry on with all the necessary preparations with a bit more joy. And sometimes a bit more joy is the kick you need on particularly long days. Even if things don’t turn out the way you envision, a fun deviation in the path you take can be just enough to keep you going.

If you love this post, I have some good news. My book, Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years, is available at Amazon. And if you haven’t, don’t forget to like my Facebook page and sign up for the email list.