If you never thought you would read about how to throw a toddler dinner party, I hear you. Before becoming parents, my husband and I loved to throw dinner parties. We made our home sparkle for our guests, spent hours preparing a tasty meal, and served all the wine. Talk about good times!
Today, that tradition is merely a fond memory. While parenthood is a time in my life I wouldn’t trade for the world, I do miss the care-free days of spending leisurely hours with those we love around the table. Our daughter just turned two and I recently came to the realization that she is old enough to start enjoying the dinner party tradition. Do toddlers make dining more chaotic? Yes. Less relaxing? Yep. A fun way to spend time with our circle of friends and their newest family members? Absolutely.
Whoever says dinner parties are just for adults is missing out on a good time for the whole family. Here are three tips to host an incredible evening that ensures every guest departs with a smile on their face, no matter big or small.
Photo Credit: @melindawatts_
Give Your Toddler a Simple Role
Involving your children in dinner party prep is a great teaching opportunity. For our last event, I started by suggesting to my daughter that we invite a few of her friends over for dinner. Her face immediately lit up. Giving her a role in the planning process, I then asked her what we should serve. She decisively proclaimed: “Mac and cheese.”
Agreeing that this was an excellent menu choice, I asked her if she would prefer to serve broccoli or green beans on the side. She chose broccoli. Win! By serving vegetables I want to encourage my daughter to try, she’s much more likely to take a bite or two if her friends are eating it too. Of course, this could backfire if all of the other toddlers refuse to eat the vegetable, but A) I’ve never had that happen before and B) If it happens, then parenthood solidarity, am I right? A toddler dinner party may include their own new delicacies to explore.
Relatives recently gave us a learning tower so my daughter could safely reach counter height in the kitchen. If you don't have a learning tower, consider bringing their high chair or booster seat into the kitchen so they can pull of parsley or cilantro leaves, or use a child-safe cutting knife to help chop some veggies. When it came time to prepare the toddler portion of the meal, she was thrilled to scamper up onto the platform to watch, and sometimes help, while I threw the ingredients together.
Note: I recommend making something separate for the adults, but no one is judging if everyone wants to scarf down some good old-fashioned Kraft.
Photo credit @ourwishfultrio
Create Special Ambiance
Just because the meal will be catered to the four and under crowd doesn’t mean you can’t attempt to create peaceful ambiance for the evening. On the contrary, don’t underestimate the power of a nice Spotify playlist, fragrant candles burning in a safe, out-of-reach location, and creating a simple centerpiece for the table. In my experience, making the evening feel special inspires my child to be on her best behavior.
Before the toddler dinner party begins, make the vibe kid-friendly by bringing out toys to share and games to play. Just like adults get excited for conversation, toddlers love playing with each other’s toys. You could also consider putting on a special post dinner show and creating a cozy space for kids to enjoy resting and hanging out together with some comfy seating and resting spaces such as these. This also allows the adults to have more conversation while the kids enjoy a special movie with their friends.
Come early and leave (reasonably) late
I personally find the hours between nap time and bed time to be the most challenging time to parent. As the day winds down, my daughter usually requires an interesting outing in order to avoid an epic meltdown.
Bringing the party to your house provides the fun distraction the toddlers need, and preserves the adults’ sanity at the end of a long day or week. However, it takes a village to pull it off. Invite your friends to come over early for appetizers and drinks. The adults can split duties, with a few supervising the kids playing while others set the table and finish preparing the meal.
Time dinner just right so by the time the meal is ending, guests can go home and put their toddlers straight to bed. The little ones will be wiped out from their toddler dinner party adventure, but not quite to the dreaded point of being overtired.
Photo Credit @jemarqueshogue
Last but not least, start table topics during the meal that everyone can chime in on. For example, over macaroni and cheese and broccoli, one of my daughter’s friends asked about a painting hanging on our wall. It depicts an old schoolhouse in the middle of a field as a storm rolls in from the west.
The girls enjoyed talking about the scene, asking questions about the darkening sky, tall grass leaning in the wind, and what happened in the schoolhouse. In fact, my daughter enjoyed the discussion so much, as soon as she woke up the next morning she exclaimed: “It’s going to rain!” It was cute to see her reference the conversation from twelve hours prior.
So, there you have it: My top suggestions for hosting a successful toddler dinner party. If you give it a shot, I’d love to hear how it goes!
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Katie McCall is a lifestyle portrait photographer, content strategist, and producer based in San Antonio, Texas. When she isn’t behind a camera or laptop, she's exploring the world with her husband, darling one-year-old daughter and tiny pup. If you’d like, please follow their adventures on Instagram (@hersideproject)!