Kids & Company Blog

Tips for Hosting Holiday Dinners With Children

If you have children, you know that holiday dinners can be overwhelming – both when it comes to the planning and the execution. How do you engage children in the prep and keep them engaged (and seated) throughout the meal? Read on for our top tips for hosting holiday meals when you have children. 

Tips for prepping holiday meals with children

Getting the children involved before the meal even begins is a great way to include them and get them excited about the big meal. 

  • Let their art be the star of the show: Start with having children make the centrepiece for the dinner table. Not only is this a great way to have meaningful decor without spending too much, it also becomes a conversation piece. If you're looking for inspiration for activities you can do at home on the holiday themes, check out Kidco at Home, our online activity resource for families. 
  • Make the kids table cool again: If you’re not ready to have the littles join everyone at the main table, that’s perfectly okay! The kids table can be a special place where children can have a little more independence and have fun feeling like grown-ups. Get your children involved by having them set things up, from laying the tablecloth to setting the table.
    Pro tip: Use a wipeable or disposable table cloth (or even festive wrapping paper in a pinch!) to make cleanup a breeze, especially if you end up with a few spills. 
  • Child-friendly ideas for holiday meals: Involve children in preparing one of the menu items. Research shows that children who help prepare foods are more likely to eat the dish. A few kid-friendly holiday recipes to try (and that we serve children in our centres) include Maple Dijon Salmon, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, and Gingerbread Loafyum! You can also try serving holiday dishes in the weeks leading up to your special meal to help children get used to any special foods or flavours they might not usually experience.

How to have a stress-free holiday dinner with children

A bit of preparation makes hosting a holiday dinner with children a holly jolly family affair. 

  • Plan a holiday playlist: Organize a few songs that you'll sing together as part of the dinner. Select songs your children know to help keep them engaged – and seated – at the table. At Kids & Company we teach about diversity, which offers a wonderful opportunity to learn about the many different holidays people celebrate around this time of year. We love singing Jingle Bells, I Had a Little Dreidel, or Kwanzaa is Here.
  • Personalize their place setting: Set a little holiday gift at each of the children's place settings. This gives them something they can play with to keep them sitting. Stickers are great for this, and they also help with hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills development.
  • Keep children busy during dinner: children are natural-born helpers, so giving them a special job during the meal can help to keep them engaged. Filling water glasses for grownup guests or fetching things adults need while they’re eating (salt and pepper shakers, extra napkins, more dinner rolls) gives them an opportunity to get up and move while still being an active participant in the meal. 
  • Have a backup plan: Give yourself grace if things go awry. If children run off from the table (as they are inclined to do) if you have a Plan B, you won’t be caught scrambling. Have a holiday playlist ready for them to dance to while the adults eat. Your children can help you pick the songs ahead of time! Or, set up a craft station for once the children are done eating to keep them busy. Holiday themed books and games also offer plenty of fun for children of all ages when they’re done with dinner. 

Ultimately, there’s only so much planning and preparation you can do, and children love to throw curveballs! If your holiday meal doesn’t go 100% according to plan, give yourself (and the children) some slack. Holidays often bring a lot of changes to routine and heaps of excitement that some little ones find challenging to navigate. At the end of the day it’s about spending quality time with loved ones, so give yourself some grace and try to enjoy the spirit of the season.

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