By Marni Fogelson

Published on August 19, 2015

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Photography by Bee In Our Bonnet

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 

time.

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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 

share.