It's Your Party

This Year, the Only Table We’re Setting Is the "Kids' Table"

No more agonizing over multiple menus.

November 15, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

We're highlighting clever tips and tricks for pulling off any holiday get-together without breaking a sweat. It's Your Party, after all, so you might as well enjoy it!

Who doesn't love a good party? For me, there's nothing better than figuring out the menu for a large get-together by burying myself under a mountain of cookbooks and recipes. Growing up in an Italian family, I learned from a young age that there is nothing more important than spending time with loved ones, making memories, and of course, eating delicious food.

Whether it’s a big holiday or just a Saturday night get-together, the goal is always the same: Make sure everyone has something good to eat. And believe it or not, satisfying both adults and children is not an impossible task. In fact, I made a bold move a few years back by getting rid of the designated "kids’ table."

Well, let me clarify: At certain large-scale family events, for space and sanity, there may still be one physical table dedicated to the youngins. But for the most part, they're joining the adults at the dining table and I'm not preparing two menus. No longer do I make a whole bunch of fancy-shmancy food for the adults and then a few surefire dishes I know kids will devour (to ensure there's no whispering to their parents, “There’s nothing for me to eat!”).

Shop the Story

Instead, it all came down to realizing the adults seemed to be drawn to the kids’ foods—and vice versa. So I found a great happy medium that works for all crowds. Besides, I don’t have to tell you we're all kids at heart, both in our minds and in our stomachs. (No judgment if you steal fries and chicken tenders off of your kids' plates, too.)

How to Do It

So, after many gatherings where I saw that the adults ate all the homemade pizza I had made for the kids, and the kids were stealing the stuffed mushrooms for themselves, I figured it was time to make my life easier and also give all the people what they wanted: one table, many choices, including a few versions of the same dish to ensure there’s something for everyone.

First, Set the Party Scene

When preparing for a big party where I know lots of kids will be running around, I make sure to keep things simple. I get small arrangements of flowers for the table (nothing too tall, I hate when I can’t see the person I’m speaking to!) and votive candles. I skip place cards for the adults, but the young ones know where they are sitting because I always set little chocolate turkeys or Santas on their plates.

I also love borrowing from a child-friendly restaurant's playbook: crayons and paper. Just lay out some kraft paper as a tablecloth on part of the dining table and let the kids get to work. Don’t be surprised if you soon see a rousing game of hangman, tic-tac-toe, and sketches in the works.

Go Heavy on the Small Bites

Deviled eggs and pigs in a blanket have a permanent spot at my parties. Honestly, they are always the first apps to disappear. Every. Single. Time. And, because they’re so easy to riff on, I make them fun for everyone by creating different versions of each. For the deviled eggs, I make one traditional, and one with a kick, where I add a healthy dose of sriracha into the mayo, yolk, and mustard mix. The adults love both types, and some of the kids like to give the spicy ones a try.

Ditto for my pigs in a blanket. Working with store-bought puff pastry sheets means I have the freedom (and time) to customize them. By brushing the mustards on the inside of the dough prior to baking, you get flavor in every bite and there’s no need for a separate dipping sauce. The kids gobble up the ones with honey mustard. As for a slightly more dressed-up version, I spread whole grain mustard on the inside and sprinkle some Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel seasoning blend on the outside.

For get-togethers, I always put out a cheese platter and crostini so guests have something to nibble on when they arrive. My kids' favorites are cheddar, Manchego, and really, any soft, mild cheese. I’ve also found that they'll eat a variety of cheeses if they can be have them with jam or honey. Even the youngest ones appreciate a delicious, salty-and-sweet combination.

Speaking of cheese, my Brie en croute bridges the adult-child divide. Not only does it come together in minutes, you can be prep it ahead of time.

But Don't Forget the Mains...

For my main dishes, a simple glazed ham, or chicken or eggplant Parmigiana always pleases everyone. If it’s a holiday, I go for a classic roast beef or turkey, with all the trimmings. Often, the children enjoy the appetizers so much, they will take only a few bites of the main course before running off to play.

...and Sides

One dish I always make as a side that both kids and adults go crazy for is Chicken-Fried Macaroni and Cheese. It’s a kid’s dream and adults have a very hard time resisting it, too. Another go-to is Wonder Fries. These golden potato nuggets are delicious both plain and with the irresistible miso dipping sauce.

For greens, I’ll always make some broccoli with loads of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on top (here's another broccoli favorite. My Marsala Mushroom Peas is another simple dish that gets added flavor from the Marsala wine. It’s a versatile side that goes with everything.

A Sweet End

Choosing crowd-pleasing desserts is never a problem. The young ones especially love anything they take away when the party ends. I love making these Last-Minute Fall Hand Pies and watching the kids grab and run back to the playroom for some fun before the parents haul them off, to home and into their own beds.

Entertaining for adults and kids doesn’t have to be super stressful. My favorite memories from childhood are the times when our home was full of people and my mom was distracted by the party. That’s when my sister and I could run wild through the house with our cousins and friends, playing and having loads of fun. Our parents were relaxed and in a jovial mood, the perfect combination for lax discipline!

Don't agonize over two separate menus to accommodate guests young and old; focus instead on customizing party favorites that you know everyone will want to dig into, eat together, and remember for years to come.

What are the party go-tos that appeal to kids and adults alike? Share them with us below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Cookbook Author. Heirloom Kitchen.Food52 contributing editor & Recipe Tester.