Welcome to this first post in my new series, A Good Way To.... I'll cover a wide range of topics all connected to kids and food. This first one is about having friends over, and keeping kids involved. Hope you enjoy!
My tips are fairly simple and straightforward. Dinner parties don't differ all that much from family dinner, other than food that probably takes a little longer to prepare, and taking more care over the table setting. As I've talked about in past posts, preparing dinner and setting the table are both tasks that kids can help with in the lead-up to guests' arrival.
For preparation, choose simple, small tasks that work for little hands and have a satisfying result. Whisking eggs to help make a dessert, for example, or shelling peas for a salad. Once my son helped peel the skins off roasted hazelnuts. Kids can make place cards for guests, or signs for the front door, such as this recent masterpiece from our 5-year-old:
"Welcome to the Party," it reads. Above the cake on the right, he's written "It's too dirty to have shoes on" and then a visual demonstration follows below, of "bare feet" and "no shoes on". This he taped to our front door.
One thing that worked well for us when our kids were a little younger was to have them at the table with everyone for one or two courses, and then have one parent take them off to bed before the last course is served. (Since they have become more aware of the existence of dessert, this isn't as successful.) Dinner parties can get late, and though it's nice to have them join in, it's also nice to have some of the evening set aside for adult chatter and sweets. This is a method we have used for years in our one-level apartment - the bedroom is next to the dining room - so be assured that it even works in smaller living spaces!
Our friends have fun with us and the kids, and you never quite know what might happen. Here, our illustrator friend is sketching Polly as a gymnast while she poses across the table, and another friend is easily relaxing with her rose next to the evening's acrobatic show.
A couple of things we do not have at dinner parties in our house are a separate kids table or more than one menu. Just as we do every night for family dinner (and have done since our kids began eating solid foods), we all eat the same meal, and we don't make exceptions for a dinner party. In fact, that's an important time for kids to feel included: when we're pulling out all the stops for friends. That's also why we all sit at the same table - as a kid, I never enjoyed being funnelled off to a separate table. I wanted to be where the action was. (Plus, we don't have room for more than one table!)
Setting a good example for your kids by being a warm and welcoming host all evening, at the ready with a drink and a nibble when guests arrive and filling glasses as the night progresses, is also significant. When we put out snacks to start the evening, we always ask the kids to wait until the guests arrive to try any of them. This takes patience but it's good to practice making the effort!
We love hosting people for dinner, and had no intention of stopping when we had kids. Despite interrupted conversations and endless rounds of I Spy, it's a wonderful thing to welcome kids to a dinner party. Many of our friends when they come for dinner go out of their way to play with our kids, and often bring small gifts or special treats for them.
For more inspiration, read the 6 essays contained in The Art of the Dinner Party from the New York Times (including the one by Hamilton, excerpted above).