Achieve Dinner Party Success

Planning a dinner party may be challenging and even more so when babysitters cancel, quickly turning the adults-only get together into one that now includes kids on the guest list. Here are simple solutions to keeping the kids entertained that will help you host a successful dinner party--even with kids on the guest list.

You’re finally hosting that lavish dinner party you’ve been planning and your babysitter canceled last-minute. What’s a host to do? I sat down with multi-tasker extraordinaire Jeanne Muchnick, Westchester mom of two teenage girls and author of Dinner for Busy Moms, to get tips on how to handle this unfortunate to avoide dinner party disasters

“Dinner disasters happen. I always expect the unexpected,” Muchnick says. That said, there are some simple solutions and activities that you can set up for the kids to do that will keep them entertained while you entertain the adults.

Make the call.

Call your guests to apologize and explain the situation. With any luck, they might have a sitter they can recommend or one they don’t mind sharing for the evening. If luck doesn’t seem to be on your side, Muchnick suggests inviting your guests to bring their children. “I’d hate for children to be the reason we parents can’t get together and socialize and have ‘our’ time,” Muchnick says.  If you encounter guests who prefer an adult-only evening, apologize and offer to make it up to them with a night out on the town.

Don’t freak, just tweak.

You’ve spent all day in the kitchen preparing an exquisite meal and now your kids are dinner guests, too?! Don’t rethink your entire menu—just modify your meal to make child-friendly options. “Kid pleasers like grilled cheese (you can cut into random shapes to make little ones happy) or spaghetti with butter are always winners,” says the mom of two. Sesame Street’s “C” is for Cooking cookbook features easy recipes you can prepare with your kids beforehand. No time to make extra dishes? No problem. It’s completely acceptable to call your favorite take-out place and order in.

Skip the kiddie table.

“Kids like the unexpected and will have more fun (and leave you alone to your dinner) if they are entertained while eating,” Muchnick says. Start the adventure by creating a carpet picnic. Set the scene by clearing a space in the middle of your living room or den, and roll out that gingham picnic blanket to create an indoor picnic for the kids. As an after-dinner activity, prepare a scavenger hunt. Hide various outdoor items in the room before the kids arrive, supply them with a list of items, and let the hunt begin!

Plan easy post-meal distraction (um, entertainment).

Our expert suggests gathering craft items such as crayons and markers, coloring books, construction paper, Elmer’s School Glue, child-safe scissors, tape, finger paint, and glitter. A quick web search can provide fun ideas for crafts. Having these supplies on hand is great for situations like this (or to cure the rainy day blues). If your children aren’t into arts and crafts, transform your living room into a movie theater. Set the scene by dimming the lights and providing plenty of comfy seating. Beanbag chairs or large pillows make great movie seats. Just don’t forget the popcorn!

Remember: Perfection is overrated.

“To me a ‘perfect’ dinner party is one where everyone is happy—even if that means apple juice (or wine) is spilling. The fact that there is conversation, laughter, and enjoyment of company is what makes an evening,” Muchnick says. Yes, as the host, the additional guests can add extra pressure, but consider this: Don’t stress or you’ll make a mess!

Visit for more tips from Jeanne Muchnick, or go to and search for “Muchnick” for a variety of articles featuring her parenting (and food) wisdom.