As I write this, the year is rounding its last turn and headed towards the home stretch. It's family dinner season.
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not really a natural hostess. My mom? She knows how to host a dinner. For my part, I could set the table and put the hot rolls right next to where I was sitting but beyond that I didn't pay that close of attention. It was so easy, breezy and comfortable.
When it came my turn to host I realized that, yep! This was one of those adulting times. I was not to be the one who answered the call to dinner and sat down to eat delicious foods. I was to be the active participant in the behind the scenes bit. And I was not entirely sure how to do this!
Through a few years of some, shall we say, interesting interpretations of a family dinner, I cultivated a few tips and tricks. And, because I want you to have a wonderful holiday dinner with friends and family, I want to make sure you have them too.
For this blog, I'll focus on Thanksgiving, but these tips will totally apply for any friend/family dinner/gathering. Make it work for you! Host your own incredible friends and family dinner!
Hosting fantastic friends and family dinners: Big pieces/furniture
Okay, so most of this is pretty obvious. You'll need an eating surface. And a serving surface. And places to sit. BUT you can totally get creative with what those are.
Go beyond the norm and put the kiddie "table" at a coffee table or have a carpet picnic. They'll love the change in routine! Make your furniture do double duty with a piano bench drawn up for additional seating. If you have a buffet that's perfect for, you guessed it, buffet-style serving. Or use a kitchen island for the same purpose. All I'm saying is think outside of the box before you invest in more furniture. Use your noggin!
Hosting fantastic friends and family dinners: dishes
You got it! You'll need 'em!
In broad strokes, you can go for classic and matching or a little boho mixed bag. The main point is that you have sturdy dishes that you aren't emotionally attached to. Or if you really really want to use Grandma Susie's dishes, limit it to plates or something that you have multiples of. You won't want to have to hold your breath the whole dinner. Sit back and enjoy.
Hosting fantastic friends and family dinners: add some PEOPLE
You've got your table set, now bring on the guests! If you're like me, you don't have family members super nearby. Or maybe you're lucky and you do. Either way, invite your loved ones to join you, friends, family or otherwise. Think about expanding your circle beyond who immediately comes to mind. Think about a co-worker who maybe can't make it home for the holidays. I've been that co-worker and let me tell you, that invite to share Thanksgiving dinner meant everything.
And don't leave out....
Hosting fantastic friends and family dinners: the kiddies
Just like I talked about in the dishes section, save yourself headaches and get kid-friendly dishes and glasses. They have super cute options at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn Kids. No affiliation links here; I'm not trying to make a sale. I just want you to be able to relax and the little ones to enjoy their meal. Plus, they're seriously cute. Snoopy??? Who can resist?
Pro tip: since they're kiddos, go for the salad or dessert plates. They're cheaper and easier for small hands to maneuver successfully.
Face it, kids will not take as long eating their meals as you would like to leisurely enjoy yours. Stay a step ahead of them with entertainment.
Before the meal this can look like a butcher paper "tablecloth" with crayons handy. One of our favorite restaurants gives out "Wiki sticks" and they keep the wee ones entertained. Mad libs? Always a fun game. Be creative and stay age/developmentally-aware. If you're unsure, ask families ahead of time for advice.
Have your post-dinner entertainment ammo ready also. Depending on the kiddo (and their family!) pop a seasonal DVD in (wait, does anyone actually use DVDs anymore? Forget it, stream Netflix!), start an age-appropriate puzzle, the point is, have something you can easily direct them towards. Otherwise you'll have someone tugging at your elbow as you try to eat and socialize. Or worse yet, they'll make their own entertainment.
A word about food. I am a ginormous Thanksgiving dinner fan. But this came to me very late in life. Look at it this way: Thanksgiving is a big dinner with a bunch of people with food that you only eat maybe once a year. It's kinda weird. So make some of the traditional dishes in a plainer version. Or introduce a new traditional dish. Mac and cheese is great for this. Warm, comfort food.
*Pro tip: kiddos are often more likely to eat things they've helped with in some way. Whether it's vegetables they've grown in the garden or fruit that they've cut up for the salad, put them to work. Let them contribute. Thanksgiving is about community, right?
Hosting fantastic friends and family dinners: ambiance
Okay, so you've got a bunch of friends and family gathered around the table ready to eat. And they may or may not all know each other. As the host, get out there and break the ice a bit. I'm not talking those cheesy team-building games. Talk about something fairly non-confrontational that you know everyone can contribute to.
Personally, I love to talk about holidays as a kid. It's like "A Christmas Story," right? Everyone has a pink fluffy bunny moment or two. Another fun topic is talking about holidays gone wrong. That time that you sneezed and green jello shot out your nose. That. Share that with strangers. You'll be an instant hit.
So if it's your year to host, and you're spinning your wheels a bit, don't! Take a deep breath, consider these family dinner tips and you'll pull it off! Still worried? I've got a checklist for those checklist people. I admit; I'm totally a checklist person. I put things on my list that I've already done, just to check them off. So if that's you, grab this hosting checklist. You'll be the hostess with the mostest!
Most of all, enjoy time with your friends and loved ones. If everything goes to shit you can always order take out. Or eat cereal. The point is you're together. And that's not always a given. So enjoy.
Much love from my home to yours.