Six tips for hosting a dinner party (with kids in the mix)

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by Sandy

Sandy Coughlin is an author, blogger, wife, and mom to three children. She lives in Oregon and loves to develop recipes, cook, and host dinner parties. Read more at Reluctant Entertainer.

Summer entertaining is a beautiful time to get together with friends who have kids because you can be together in the outdoors and the kids can run and play.

I think back to the last house we lived in and the fun we had with our neighbors and all of their kids. Even though our house wasn’t big (1300 square feet), our kids had a blast playing outside on the trampoline, in the hot tub, making forts, and riding their bikes. The adults could sit around and visit while the kids ran and played.

After hours of play outside, sometimes my kids eventually resorted indoors to play video games or veg out watching a movie (which was fine with me), but overall, they found ways to be entertained.

My goal was to make our guests feel warm and welcome, include the little kids, and to be a catalyst for relaxation and connection.

Here are six tips for hosting a dinner party with kids in the mix:

1. Create a separate table for kids only (who doesn’t love the venerable “kids table”?).

2. Feed the kids right away, after they all arrive. This helps ward off grumpiness, and you can move on to the “grown-up” portion of the evening.

3. Have some activities in mind, and be prepared to help keep the kids active. See the list below for ideas!

4. Play lively music. Everyone is happier when the atmosphere is upbeat.

5. Keep snacks on hand for a few hours into the night. After their hard play, kids will be hungry again.

6. Agree ahead of time on a “family-friendly” movie for all ages (check with the other parents first). When the kids start winding down, announce that it’s “Movie time!”

10 summer activities to keep the kids busy during a dinner party:

1. Borrow extra scooters if you have sidewalks or a level driveway.
2. Set up badminton or bocce ball in the backyard (for older kids).
3. Chalk is fun in the driveway or garage.
4. Have extra wood by a large tree, and kids can build their own fort.
5. Make sure your water toys are organized and towels are clean (if you have a pool, Slip n’ Slide, or even just a hose!).
6. Frisbees are a blast — even the adults can play.
7. Encourage kids to come up with their own “show,” whatever that may be.
8. Have drawing and coloring supplies on hand.
9. Water balloons are fun, too.
10. Relay races are also a blast!

I always prepared my kids in advance for sharing their toys, and if there was anything too precious, that they didn’t want to share, they’d put it up and out of the way.

It’s a good idea to have a pep talk with your kids to remind them how to treat their guests. Kids are kids. They are constantly learning and need to be reminded of good manners.

Now I’m reminiscing again, as my kids are all teens now…

Yes, when summer was in the air, we’d all have a great time. By the end of the night, we adults would be sitting by candlelight, and kids’ would be sleeping on various pieces of furniture or even on the floor, or asleep in their mommy or daddy’s arms.

I really do miss the days of family summer dinner parties.

Do you enjoy entertaining with kids around?

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Comments

  1. Loving the pep talk tip – most of the time I have to give myself that talk, right into the mirror. 10 minutes before the guests arrive. especially if the guests are family. :)

    xoxo michele

  2. Great tips, Sandy.

    My kids are 2 and go to bed at 6:30 so we never entertain at night but great ideas for our current lunch time entertaining :)

  3. These are great tips! The only thing I think differently about is the music. I like to keep the background “noise” low so no music (or noisy toys) for me.

  4. Great tips Sandy! I love entertaining kids when hosting a party and your lists will surely be added on my list on how to host a party with little kiddos! Anyway this one “Feed the kids right away, after they all arrive. ” , totally works on me. :)

  5. Great tips. I like the idea of having a separate kids table. And of course, when they play and get hungry they need something to much before they are ready for the next round!

  6. kids table is great idea, and give them to eat right on the start. for me it always working, after they eat they can be able to play or do other stuff.

  7. Thanks Sandy, I enjoy a lot with kids around and with those tips I sure it gonna be much more fun :-)

  8. This is wonderful! I confess I am really stressed by having people over and having small children at the same time… I actually recently pulled your book off my shelf and put it pointedly on my bedside table, as a reminder that I am needing the inspiration / pep-talk again.

    I have always loved the kids table, but it never occurred to me to feed the kids their dinner earlier—that is brilliant!

  9. avatar
    Melissa L. says:

    I’m always stressed if people are over, and here is why: we live in an apartment. It seems like apartment dwellers are forced to meet out at overpriced, loud, kid-oriented places or everyone has to get a sitter. And before someone suggests a picnic, let me assure you we have done the playground over and over it’s gotten OLD. I have downstairs neighbors who complain about my kids’ normal movements, never mind extra kids: we NEVER invite anyone to our place. “Hey, come on over so you can park your kid in front of our (small) TV and I can constantly say, ‘We can’t run in the apartment, sweetie!’ ” No back yard, no spare room, a super tiny kitchen. I would love some tips for people that have friends and kids but don’t have a house, yard, trampoline, hot tub, etc.

    • what about setting up a craft table/station? Kids could make masks, print colouring pages, glitter pens, stickers etc. Dont put it all out at once, to save them getting bored, you can keep putting out new stuff as the night rolls on. My kids love making animals, letters etc out of pipecleaners too!
      Or make a cubby, feed them dinner like a picnic, then fill it with pillows, give them a portable DVD player type thing and hope they watch a movie in there then fall asleep?

  10. Great tips! Planning ahead with kids in mind will make the whole event go so much smoother for everyone. :) I think even kids appreciate having their own table! A few organized activities for large groups of kids are a must, or they’ll concoct their own (which may or may not end up being a good idea…) :)

  11. Wonderful ideas! I find that keeping healthy, kid-friendly snacks available at all times is a big plus. Some kids are too excited about playing with friends to eat much at “dinnertime” or may get hungry again after play or may just be more “grazers” than meal-eaters, so keeping a steady supply of snacks keeps everybody well-fueled and happy.

  12. Wait – your kids SLEEP at the end of the night? My kids are off sneaking one last chocolate chip cookie and then finding furniture to launch themselves from. What am I doing wrong? ;)

    • I think some kids are just built that way. My almost-3-year-old will NOT go to sleep if she knows there’s still a party going on! When she was just over 2, we went to a New Year’s party at a friends’ house. There were several babies and a few toddler/preschoolers there. She and a 4-year-old both stayed up past 1am!! Of course, she crashed within 2 minutes of getting in the car, but she was not going to slow down while there was still fun to be had.

  13. These are great ideas! We have hosted (and attended) family dinner parties that have been smashing successes in wonderful weather, but it gets tricky when it’s too cold (or this month, too hot) to be outside. But I’ve never tried the movie time option–that sounds promising!

  14. Thanks so much for sharing these ideas in one place. I will be hosting teen girls for a team party in late August and plan to incorporate some of these ideas then.

  15. I love the tips and love to entertain with kids! Especially important these days
    when we continue to see the family attacked and kids banned from public places!

  16. We do lots of visitors and entertaining… days, nights all the time – my husband just loves inviting folk over. The easiest way to contain my kids is to give them a task, and if there are tilers visiting then each of my older kids are assigned a toddler to keep entertained: show them the trucks, help them play with the cooking toys… that way my kids are busy and feel important to the whole process and the visiting parents get a teeny tiny break.

  17. We absolutely follow the “choose 2 toys to hide in your room” route when having other friends over. I find my kids are much more willing to share the bulk of their things when they know a couple items will be protected. Plus, it’s hilarious to see what they choose each time! “This beautiful leaf, mom!”

    Outside play always helps avoid the refereeing that comes with sharing inside toys. At a recent party, the kids spent HOURS riding bikes and scooters around a chalk “track” that one of the dad’s drew in the cul-de-sac.

  18. Love these ideas. Just a little planning ahead of time can make the whole evening go smoother. There is something heart warming about spending grown up time with your adult friends but also including the kids and watching them run around, socialize and have a good time as well. I think it’s not only important for grown-ups but helps kids to learn how to be around larger gatherings of people who may not be their immediate family.

  19. What great tips! Makes me almost want to have a dinner party just to try out some of your suggestions!
    Bernice

  20. I definitely forwarded this post to my cousin who has a two and three year old and one more on the way. Oh the chaos that ensues when we try to plan a dinner party. Little humans that run around amok, adults laughing and drinking, and moms freaking out. Just a wonderful cocktail, don’t you think?

    L

  21. avatar
    Heather says:

    Anyone have any tips on entertaining with kids – in a 950 sq foot apartment!? We (I) am feeling lonely and want to deepen my friendships beyond “hi how are you” but feel like I can’t invite anyone over because I don’t have a house like they do. And no one is inviting us over, because we’re not really friends yet. And no one wants to go to the park in the 100 degree heat of the south. What could I be overlooking here?

    • This must be so hard for you to find a way round this! Perhaps time it so the kids will be calm and get them involved in their food? Decorating pizza’s or cakes & biscuits for their desserts is always loved! Then OBVIOUSLY eating them too!! Face painting is a fun game (for all if you’re feeling brave). If you have enough sheets, encourage them to build forts and set up a ‘den’ full of goodies eg. books, cushions, blankets, games etc. Using this as a cosy movie spot works too. I know it sounds heavy going but it’s an action packed couple of hours and if you arrange your dinner so that it can be prepared first and simply put in the oven then you can focus on the kids & they’ll have eaten and be happy you’re all involved. Hopefully you’ll have tired them out & by the time you’re ready to sit down they’ll be ready for a movie perhaps with popcorn too! If they’re having fun, everyone else does!
      Remember it’s got to be fun for you too :)

  22. We LOVE having people over–kids or no kids. We have “two tree swings” in our backyard that our kids friends love playing on. We also just keep various lawn toys and balls around the yard. It’s amazing how well the kids will all play outside and entertain themselves while the adults visit.

    When playing indoors a big pile of dress up clothes will often keep kids (especially girls) occupied. Recently all the little girls put on a random fashion show with all these mismatched dress up clothes we had in a box.

  23. Great tips! I love the idea of combining outdoor fun and activities, with time later for the kids to mellow out and watch a movie. So fun for grownups and kids alike.

    You’ve inspired me to get going with some summer entertaining plans! We moved into our neighborhood just a year ago and are itching to spend a little more social time with our neighbors, and get to know everyone a little better.

  24. These are all great ideas! What a great way for the next generation to learn to socialize. My only experience is the family Christmas dinner where the kids were shunted off to the spare bedroom and expected to be quiet. My grandchildren are not going to experience that!

  25. Jump rope and face paint!

  26. Great tips and I agree wiht just about everything you’ve said.
    All our entertaining these days involves kids – my husband’s 50th is coming up and there will be 10 adults and 11 kids, all school age now, so it’s easier than when they were all little. The kids table always works well – so the kids can eat and then get down and play while the adults linger over food and chat. Then the kids come back to their table later when dessert is served before rushing off to play again.
    The movie also works well to calm things down when it’s already past bed-time – we always have to select one that is appropriate to the youngest child there and the older ones have to accept that, but I think secretly they like watching their old favourites again.

  27. Great tips, thank you for sharing! For indoor entertaining you can now hire out soft play equipment which can be brought to your house, unpacked, and then tidied away at the end of the day. A great idea for keeping the children entertained!

  28. Those are really great tips. Whenever my older sister has a party, I’m usually the “kid entertainer”. They turn me into a human jungle gym and we also throw water balloons and frisbees. I usually sit at the kids table, too. :)

  29. Thanks for the tips. We host a few dinner parties with kids and family and friends in the summer, and I found some new ideas here.

  30. thank you so much for the tips that you have shared! i would love to apply and share these tips with my friends.. im pretty sure that we’re gonna have a blast using these tips!

  31. Hm…maybe it’s just a sign of the times (and place) that I’m from, but when I was growing up, “dinner party” always meant kid-inclusive. No one threw lovely events with table arrangements and the newest food network recipe, because no one in my parents’ group of young, starting-out friends could afford a baby-sitter for 3. So, we all brought a (kid-friendly) dish, and when we got there, the kids just took off running by themselves. We couldn’t watch TV, because the dads had it on the sports game of the season, and there were no computers back then. (Sometimes a lucky house visit would have an Atari.) We played whatever card game was popular that year (often Spoons) or played death-match monopoly, or ran around with the dog, jumped back and forth between grandma’s spare room beds, played princesses and pirates on the back porch… The older kids made up most of the games and kept the younger ones in order, and we held all the adults in the same slightly terrifying awe as our own parents and listen when they barked at us to stay away from the poison ivy. (Thinking back, I realize it was probably just mint, but it kept us contained as well as an electric fence.)

    All grown up, I don’t entertain in my home, because in Japan, that’s just not done. (Homes are private spaces and kids rarely play in each others’ houses, even.) But I do have a Halloween party every year when the neighborhood mom’s tentatively bring over their kids to my teeny-tiny apartment. (I’ll have moved everything mobile into one room beforehand and closed off that space.) I let them draw and sticker away on mini pumpkins (squash would work well for other times of the year). Then, I set them loose with markers and crayons on a bunch of coloring pages and Halloween activities I found online, printed out for an assortment of ages. We play pin-the-tail-on-the-black-cat, while my sister-in-law hides eggs in the park across the street. Then, we all go out to find them. The kids dump off their bags with their parents, and run around chasing invisible space monsters for a while, then we head back inside for lunch. Regretably, in a small space, you have to spend most of your time managing the kids, but I really don’t CARE if they break or spill or destroy anything.

    I took my kids to a pot-luck at my friend’s house for a party. Despite her assurances that she was cool with it, I saw her nice pottery, her cat, her husband’s guitar, and her wooden floors, and sent my kids for a walk around the block with dad. When they came back, it was disney movies all the way.

    Maybe I should give her some poison ivy for her birthday.

  32. After mentioning how I love to entertain…as long as the cooking is done in advance, I recently wrote a post detailing one of my favorite make-ahead dinner parties, a Mexican-themed one. It’s one of my go-to’s, that would be festive and casual enough to do for family entertaining: http://fullplatecookinglessons.blogspot.com/2012/01/throw-party-and-enjoy-it-too-do-ahead.html
    Hope it inspires some Simple Mom readers too!

  33. I like the idea of having movie ideas before the occasion so that everyone is on the same page.

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