8 Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party with Kids
Having a few tricks up your sleeve can make all the difference when you have little ones joining in the fun.
Hosting a dinner party sounds simple enough (all you need is some food and friends, right?), but it can actually take a lot of energy to make the evening go smoothly. The food has to turn out well, the timing has to be perfect, and conversation needs to be flowing. Add kids to the mix—your own and your guests’—and all of that can feel almost impossible to pull off. But before you swear off hosting dinner parties until your kids are teenagers, know that you can totally handle it. You just need to keep a few tricks up your sleeve.
Embrace the early bird dinner. No one, no matter their age, does well being up past their bedtime. Aim to serve your main meal well ahead of bedtime, and ask guests to arrive 30 minutes to an hour before then. Sure, that might mean eating dinner at 5:30 to accommodate everyone, but it also means everyone—including you—gets the rest they need too.
Put out lots of snacks before guests arrive. You aren’t going to have dinner ready the minute your guests walk through the door, but you will have hangry kids (and maybe some adults) pretty quickly. It’ll help you feel less rushed to get the main meal on the table and likely means even picky eaters will find something they’re into at some point in the night. If you’re looking for some healthier options so kids (and again, some adults) don’t fill up on chips, try putting out cheese and whole-wheat crackers, air-popped popcorn, and a veggie plate with dips like hummus, guacamole, or spinach-and-yogurt dip.
Actually accept offers of help. When most people get invited to a dinner party, their first reaction is to ask if they can bring anything. Now is the time to say “yes” to that offer! It doesn’t need to be anything major, but by having your guests handle the beverages or desserts, it’s one less thing for you to worry about. If your guests like to cook, suggests sides they can bring while you focus on the main dish.
Get the whole family involved in the set-up. Your kids will be much more likely to be excited about the party—and helpful during it—if they feel like they’ve had a hand in it. Younger kids can help set the table, older kids can do some prep with you in the kitchen, and kids of all ages can help decorate (and clean up!).
Embrace the kids’ table. There’s a reason it’s a staple at every big family’s holiday meal! Separating the kids from the adults means both groups get to talk about things they are actually interested in.
Let guests customize their plates. Whenever you’re inviting over a lot of people, you’re going to have someone who can’t eat dairy, someone with heartburn, and probably more than one person who just don’t like very many things. Instead of you trying to come up with the one dish that will please everyone (psst: it doesn’t exist), adopt a DIY approach. Set up a pizza party where you prep all the kinds of toppings and people can create their own personal pies, go Mexican and have different taco fillings for people to play around with, or go breakfast for dinner and set out toppings for a waffle or pancake bar.
Do as much ahead of time as possible so there’s less to do later. When the party wraps up, you are not going to want to be tackling a kitchen full of dishes on top of cleaning up the chaos left from the kids. Do as much food prep earlier in the week as possible and try to only use serving platters and baking dishes that can go in the dishwasher. (Pro tip: Empty the dishwasher right before the party starts so you have room for all your plates and glasses.) You can also consider more environmentally friendly disposable plates or cups, like those made from bamboo.
Have some entertainment in place for the younger crowd. Wouldn’t it be nice to get through the whole evening without a kid whining about being bored? Have some activities out and ready to use, like art supplies, puzzles, and party games. If the weather is nice, set up yard games outside, like kickball or bag toss. While you’re at it, take a moment to talk to your kids about how they will need to share their toys with your guests. Is there something they really don’t want other kids playing with? Now is the time to tuck it away in their room.