entertaining (and entertaining!) ideas for tiny dinner guests
creative ways to keep dinner guests of all ages happy!
Published Aug 19, 2015 5:00 AM
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Having kids (or friends with kids) does not mean the imminent end of dinner
parties. With kids at the table, your menu options might look slightly less
adventurous, and heated discourses on politics and current events will likely be
overthrown by discussions of who is Team Elmo vs. who is Team Dora, but eating
together will be well worth the effort. Read on for tried-and-
true tips for entertaining with kids and keeping everyone (including the host) happy
and well fed.
Get kids’ energy out before the meal
Whenever possible, get the wiggles out before sitting down to a meal. This could
mean a game of catch in the backyard or playing twister in the living room. It’s hard
for kids to sit down for a meal right away, especially in an environment with new
toys to explore. You’d be amazed at how a few rounds of Simon Says can help blow
off some steam…and bring shy kids into the mix.
Empower kids as little helpers
Give a bunch of flowers to kids to make several smaller arrangements or enlist them
to create name cards or placemats with a few art supplies. Kids
love to feel important: assigning them a job, like hanging up coats, taking drink
orders, or helping to set the table gives them a sense of purpose and frees you up
for other hosting responsibilities.
Make your meals DIY
Unless you have a group of future foodies on your hands, every little one will have
some personal food peccadillos (and, to make everyone’s life more complicated,
those peccadillos will be different than every other child’s). Offering a deconstructed
meal such as DIY tacos, personal pizzas, or roll your own sushi gives kids control
over what will end up on their plate. Some kids love making their food, others will
be too busy playing and will defer to Mom or Dad’s expertise; either way, you won’t
end up wasting as much food or offending little guests by daring to serve food that
contains spinach or some other controversial ingredient.
Steer clear of serving precious food
It probably goes without saying that caviar should be left off the menu, as
well as those chunks of fancy, single-origin dark chocolate that appear to kids to be
the perfect size for grabbing by the handful and stuffing into their mouths. The goal
is to serve foods that encourage kids to be independent eaters, so pass on the
linguini or parents will spend half the meal twirling strands of pasta. For dinner guests who are still mastering the use of utensils, offer easy-to-pick up foods: panini cut into “fingers”, crackers topped with hummus, crudité with
interesting dips, steamed edamame, even small dumplings. A mezze platter with a bunch of different options is sure to please as well.
Engage kids during the meal
Listening to adults gab about a home renovation doesn’t make for a lot of kid-
friendly involvement at the table. Bring everyone into the conversation using a
simple, pre-filled question jar (like a plain mason jar) with queries, such as “If you
could bring three things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?” or
“What superpower would you choose?” Or play “Two Truths and a Lie”-it’s an
excellent way to let little imaginations run wild even when little feet and bottoms
have to stay put for the meal.
Don’t feel limited by dinner
The end-of-the-day can be a tricky time for kids, especially younger ones: they can
be tired, cranky, and hangry. For parents whose children are asleep by 7pm,
consider breakfast or brunch. Kids are usually in good spirits after a full night’s
sleep, and plenty of parents would love a mimosa and some adult company after a
5am wake-up call! Many brunch foods (think frittatas or quiches, muffins, savory
quick breads, bagels and spreads) are easy to cook, prep, or buy in advance, making
this earlier meal an entertaining no-brainer. Pajamas optional!
If a relaxed meal isn’t going to happen all together, feed the kids first
If the kids in attendance are at the age (or temperament) when all of the adults’
attention will be focused on cutting food or tending to their little ones, you may
want to consider serving food in two shifts-kids first! Sitting together while the little
ones eat is still a good idea: the adults can partake in an appetizer or cocktail while
they supervise the meal. After the kids have eaten, put on music for a dance party or
settle little ones in for a movie, while adults indulge in some disturbance-free dining
Cook up a favorite-with a twist
Serving new and unfamiliar foods can throw some kids off-guard, and they may
launch a mini mutiny. In other situations, your child or your guest’s child might try a
new dish simply because one of their peers is wolfing it down. Strike a balance in
menu options without sacrificing the more adventurous tastes of the adults by
offering a twist on a classic-such as these lobster tacos . It’s nice to ask if there are
any allergies or food deal breakers among any of the visiting family members, and
that’s also the ideal time to ask for help if you need it. Parents of picky kids are
usually more than happy to recommend or provide a basic dish that everyone can