If your child is asking for a fun and festive lunch with friends for a Christmas present, it doesn’t have to seem like a lump of coal in your stocking. While Santa probably won’t be of too much help in the matter, planning a Christmas lunch for children offers the opportunity to relish the holiday season. Working out the plans in advance helps you get ready in time so that you can relax the day of the lunch and enjoy the event for the gift it truly is.
Brainstorm your guest list. This may sound obvious and be the first thing to fall when you need the time to start planning, but if you keep your eaters in mind, you'll be able to say “Ho ho ho!” instead of “Oh no, no, no!” This involves figuring out whether all the kids attending are around the same age and if chaperones or parents will be invited with their children.
Poll the parents – or kids themselves – to take stock of any food allergies. The University of Maryland Medical System warns menu planners to be alert for children with fish, peanut and shrimp allergies. This doesn’t mean you can’t serve your St. Nick’s Nutroll, but you may want to keep it and its serving utensils completely separate. For little children, a small image of the iconic skull and crossbones placed in front of the edible item may ward off snack seekers.
Think drink – obviously, kids can’t tuck into the champagne cocktails of the season, but a cup or two of eggnog without alcohol may put lunch-goers in the spirit. Eggnog, containing dairy products, may be a problem for kids with allergies and lactose intolerance, so have sugar-free juices or bottled water available.
Weigh the headcount against your plans for the meal. A large lunch brunch is more festive if you lay out a buffet-style cornucopia, giving kids the “gift” of letting them choose a little here and a little there for themselves. If you prefer to serve a plated lunch, it doesn’t take much effort to go from ordinary to festive. To assuage even the pickiest bunch, simple bowls of pasta with butter sauce become Santa’s Servings with a few drops of green food coloring – or red pasta sauce, of course. Options such as pasta are inexpensive and can be quickly made in bulk should some of your “no” RSVPs suddenly come calling down your chimney.
Kids are grazers, so lay out plates of healthy finger foods that they can reach for while they're socializing. Cut-up fruit on toothpick skewers will appeal to kids with a sweet tooth. Low-fat chips and ranch dressing will satisfy those looking for a savory snack. Pile up vegetables near the ranch dip to entice the health-conscious noshers.
Give attendees their just desserts. Christmas falls months after the Halloween candy and sweets season, but it is still a time of candy canes, cakes and chocolate. By the time lunch attendees reach dessert, your dishwasher and sink may be so overwhelmed that a finger-food or self-contained snack is the ideal way to top off the meal. Make candy cane snowmen by inserting candy canes into large marshmallows and dipping their tops in chocolate. Or go with the old standby of Christmas cookies.
Solidify your menu ahead of time and include it with the invitations. Having a plan lets you relax a bit until it is time to get the elves into the kitchen to start whipping up the actual foodstuffs. Give attendees and their parents a long enough lead time to get your lunch onto their calendars. Between their own family events, school happenings and traveling, even the youngest carolers may find themselves booked up at the most wonderful time of the year.