Set up a snacking station and more tips for a (parent friendly) kids’ party

My birthday each August marks the beginning of the end of summer for us, but on the positive side, it offers the perfect opportunity to throw one last party before the children go back to school and we are once again slave to those early bedtimes and morning routines.

Last weekend I did just that, inviting over forty friends and family for a harvest dinner on our urban homestead. I envisioned us eating outdoors, near the raised beds, seated around one long table. (My ‘Tablescapes‘ Pinterest board definitely played into that aspiration.)

Just this once, I wanted to give the parents a break. I wanted them to have a proper glass, be able to use a knife and fork, and be seated, instead of trying to balance a flimsy paper plate of food, a drink and a bebe in arms. More on how that worked out later; this post is about the little ones.

I had 15 kids attending; I needed a plan to keep them out of their parents hair – if only for half an hour or so – and feed them efficiently: and so the snacking station was born.

In short, setting up a snacking station only means putting out finger food that appeals to children, and letting them graze all evening long. The advantage is that the parents don’t have to monitor (much), and the children eat when they are hungry.

For the host, everything can be prepped in advance, and the set-up is relatively quick, especially if there are little helping hands to trot everything outdoors. I used our play kitchens from Ikea (Duktig) and Magic Cabin, but a kid’s table would work just fine as well.

Here’s how it worked:

Of course, crackers and cheese can go on anything, but it’s more fun to serve them in play dishes. And those boxes of raisins? They were the first snack to go.

Lemonade is served up in a beat-up camping cooler. Not only does this keep it cold, but it is virtually indestructible and spill proof.

Freshly washed ripe plums are ‘draining’ in the sink, ready for eating, while a paper towel roll in a can eliminates the problem of napkins blowing away in the wind.

Mini muffins are ‘baked’ in the oven and served right in their mini baking tray, ready for the taking.

The cookies, escorted by a willing Meaghan, made an appearance much later in the evening, after the last frog had been captured, and the games were winding down.

In addition to the snacks in the photos, I also put out assorted cut vegetables & hummus, pizza squares, pretzels, oatmeal cookies, and water.

Other ideas for keeping the kids (and parents) happy.

Book a babysitter. With fifteen kids attending, I knew I needed some back-up to keep the peace, dole out band-aids, and, heck, just to answer all Mateo’s questions! I had a friend bring her regular baby sitter, a mature tween girl, to organize a few games with the kids and keep an eye on them. Best. Money. Ever. Spent.

As we 22 adults sat around enjoying dinner in the garden, I noticed how quiet it was and glanced across the lawn at the tent. Our amazing Bethany had over a dozen kids seated in the tent playing a game. Quietly.

Pitch a tent. If space allows, set up your tent (or borrow one) for the kids to use as their special clubhouse.

Include your kids in the set-up/preparation. My boys are fierce with their sets of markers and whipped up the ‘Kids Corner’ and ‘lemonade’ signs while I prepped the wraps and washed fruit. Then we walked everything out to the backyard together. I showed them where everything was so they, in turn, could help their friends find a drink, a napkin, a snack.

Organize a Scavenger hunt. We had a list written up of items to collect around the yard and forest. Missing from the bowl in the picture above is a live frog, the ‘bonus point’ scored by the boy’s team.

Parent’s Feedback

This set-up got two thumb’s up from the moms and dads for the most part, but we pieced together some observations and came to the following conclusions:

  • Toddlers will stand and eat pretzel sticks the entire time, if allowed.
  • Painfully shy children may not have the courage to scout for their own lunch and will be asking their parents for food ’round about 9pm.
  • Garbage will be strewn about, no matter if a trash can is provided or not.
  • Any urban chickens will be fed raisins from a box. They will be totally cool with that.

From what I’ve observed, eating plays second fiddle to games and play when our kids get together with their friends, especially the savory foods – so why not let them have fun? They can always eat a square meal tomorrow, but summer is fleeting, let’s party while we can.

How do you keeps the kids (and parents) happy when entertaining?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. This is SO fun! I think you used all of my favourite tips for entertaining with kids: serve something kid friendly, designate a space for the kids to eat, use fun dinnerware, and plan an activity. Last fall we had a party and did apple bobbing and donut eating off a string and that was a huge hit with the kids.

  2. I absolutely love the idea of having a designated kids corner. They feel like they are having a party of their own at the same time. Great thinking on getting a babysitter to help, will try that next time. 🙂

  3. A snack table is a brilliant idea. And I’ll second the babysitter idea. I’ve never done that but I’ve been places where it’s been done and it certainly is money well spent.

  4. Robin from Frugal Family Times says

    Love this, Aimee! We often do a variation of this when dining with friends and their kids. Ours looks more like feeding the kids first and then enjoying a grown up meal afterward while they play. This seems extra fun and great for a big group. I’m thinking back to school party….thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Sounds like your party was a huge success. The snack area was a good idea. I’d have liked that when I was a kid. Having the babysitter to play games with the kids was a great idea, too.

  6. I LOVE this idea! I can definitely see how some kids wouldn’t browse the whole snack bar but maybe if the babysitter helped them get a few things on mini plates at the beginning and then they could graze later on during game time or relaxing.

  7. I LOVED this! I have learned not to force eating with my kids when they are in large groups. They just want to play. This is the perfect way to give them something if they want it, but let them enjoy playing, too!

  8. What fun activities! I love the snacking station idea 🙂

  9. Fantastic ideas and presentation! Who doesn’t love a finger food, grazing dinner? When we entertain and just have one or two other families over, I typically prepare a simple kids dinner that I serve earlier and have them sit outside or on the floor on a blanket to eat picnic style. They love that! Once the kids have eaten, we can put on a movie for them and settle in for a more relaxed adult dinner.

  10. Very cute post. I love all the shoes outside the tent 🙂

  11. This is one of the best party ideas I have ever read! Thank you for sharing your genius. And the observations about pretzel sticks and raisins and chickens was just too cute.

  12. This is such an adorable idea, Aimee… Brilliant! I need to remember this in a few years 🙂

  13. Aimee,
    Great thinking, adorable and thanks for sharing! My daughter’s birthday is in August and during the many moments in the heatwave last summer whilst I was 8 months pregnant, well-meaning friends consoled me by saying “have a b-day in the summer with be great! Birthday parties will always be outdoors and so much fun!” At the time, I was little amused but now I’m a believer! Can’t wait to set up something inspired by this next post next summer. And LOVE that you gave an after-party review with ideas because as I was reading, I couldn’t help but wonder how it all went.

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