Family-Friendly Entertaining: Ideas from the Home Baking Association

Want to throw a delightful dinner party but wondering what to do with the kids? Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a yuppie to entertain successfully. Whether you’re just having the in-laws over or the whole block, with a little planning and flexibility you can make your dinner party superb without shipping the kids off to a sitter.

Plan the Meal

Consider planning what you will serve several days in advance. When you invite guests, ask about any dietary restrictions. Consider a balance of flavors, textures and densities. For example, if you serve a rich lasagna for dinner, choose a lighter dessert, such as chocolate macaroons or sorbet. If you prefer to interact with your guests before dinner, choose a dish that can be baked so you can socialize while your oven finishes the job.  Of, if you enjoy having guests in the kitchen, choose dishes that require some last-minute preparation so everyone can pitch in. Also consider whether you enjoy eating family style with all of the dishes on the table, buffet style, or whether you want to pre-plate all entrees.

Add an Appetizer

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy–chips and salsa, blanched vegetables with hummus, or cheese and bread–but if you’re entertaining after a long day of work either parenting or at a job, you can buy yourself another half hour to finish the main dish without your guests going hungry. Try this Garlic and Cheese Appetizer Bread from the Home Baking Association.

 Shop, Clean and Cook Early

In the one to two days before your event, shop for everything you’ll need for the meal except bread, which should be purchased the day of. Clean your house the day or evening before the party, so that only minor messes need be tidied the following day. Kids can and should pitch in. The evening before a party is also a perfect time to prepare any foods that can be made in advance, such as whisking together salad dressings, washing lettuce or making a dessert. Allow anticipation to build by giving kids a little taste of what’s to come.

Set the Stage

Clean and set the table after the last meal your family has preceding the party. Set out candles and flowers when you set the table. Even if guests arrive before you’ve started cooking, a set table and a delicious appetizer take the edge off of their hunger and any stress you may feel.

Seating Arrangements

Feed young children just before adults sit down to dinner with a picnic on a blanket on the floor. However, give older kids a chance to interact with adults by inviting them to sit interspersed with them at the table, as opposed to at a “kids table”


In the days before your event, find an activity for younger and older children to do when they finish eating because they’re less likely to linger at the table chatting with adults. Consider an age appropriate movie, a new lawn game or some art supplies to keep kids happily occupied.

By Pamela Ellgen
Pamela Ellgen is an award-winning journalist and certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She graduated with a B.A. from Washington State University where she studied writing. Ellgen is the author of the family cookbook, Modern Family Table.


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