Bringing family and friends together for a holiday meal is a seasonal ritual for most of us. We invite, plan, organize, cook, clean, and then welcome guests to our home. While the adults mix, mingle and chat, the young ones in attendance typically scurry off and play before the meal is served.
Entertaining these lovely little people can be such a fun addition to any celebration, but it can also cause a touch of anxiety to the host, or possibly even the parents. Keeping everyone occupied and well behaved isn’t always easy, but here are five methods I always employ to ensure everyone is happy during a holiday meal.
1. Be Sure to Serve Something Kid-Friendly
An essential rule as far as I’m concerned. I’m fairly familiar with the likes and dislikes of the kiddies who make their way to our home for special occasions, and I always try to include them in my meal planning process. This doesn’t necessarily mean I serve chicken fingers or mac and cheese, but I do try to ensure there is commonly liked vegetable available, fresh bread, and meat that is sure to please everyone (turkey usually does). There is nothing worse than attending a dinner with nothing available for the kids to eat. If you’re lucky enough to have small children who will eat anything, then this won’t be an issue for you when you go to another home, but keep in mind that not all children will eat like yours. Be sure to have something familiar on hand so everyone will enjoy your dinner.
2. Designate a Special Space for the Kids to Eat
This doesn’t have to be a kids’ table per se, although if you have the room that can be a welcome idea for the young eaters. At our annual Christmas party, the dining table is transformed into a buffet and the smaller kids usually seek refuge from the standing adults by gathering under the table to eat. They love to have a secret space to call their own and the big people can move around freely without trampling the little ones. If space for a designated kids table is an issue, set pillows out around the coffee table and let the kids sit on the floor to eat, or consider allowing the children to eat outdoors at a patio table while the adults enjoy their meal inside. In any of these situations the kids will be more entertained and less bored if they don’t have to sit and listen to adult conversation. I can also attest to hearing some really sweet discussions taking place between cousins, which makes this type of seating arrangement worth any hassle it may cause.
3. Paper and Pencil Crayons are Your Best Friends
Those who know us well know that when our boys were little we didn’t travel far without a stack of paper and a container of pencil crayons. Waiting for dinner, or waiting for tablemates to finish their meal can be a boring task. Paper and colouring utensils provide a vehicle for fun games, comic book drawings, sketching, scribbling etc. Placemats can be designed, maps of the house/garden can be drawn and words games created. This is the easiest way to keep kids of all ages entertained and happy at the table.
4. Specialty Dinnerware
I find it surprising how this simple idea can make such an impact on the kids. My mother-in-law almost always purchases fun themed plates (usually with pumpkins and/or turkeys) for the kids to use during mealtime. They clamour for their favourite item in the group and happily eat off their designer dinnerware. In our house we have small cups with built-in straws, which are always a favourite for the visiting children. Be sure to stock something special in your cupboard and the kids are sure to feel extra special while dining.
5. Plan a Fun Activity or Two
This is the Holy Grail of all of my entertaining tips and tricks. We have done trips to a nearby park, pumpkin carving, scavenger hunts, donut eating on a string, bobbing for apples, and charades. The latter is a favourite of the group and one that can be played during the meal. Place a small bowl in the centre of the table with the names of all the guests in attendance, and have each child draw one name and act as that person the entire time they are eating. This is especially funny when there is a large family gathered together.
Tell me, what are your trips and tricks for entertaining children at holiday meals?