Catering to Kids Part 1: Feeding Kids at Grown-up Events

Catering to kids can be tricky – feeding kids at grown-up events can be even trickier. How do you please the adults without pandering to the children? Or do you give in and serve them chicken fingers and French fries while the adults have grilled salmon?

Do children have a different sense of taste than grown-ups? Are we somehow predisposed to like fatty, salty foods, such as chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, in our early years? Or do we as Americans give in to our children’s whiny food demands too easily?

Consider this example of a typical weekly menu in a French elementary school. The children are being served things like cucumber and tomato salad and veal marinated with mushrooms.

Not only can we not imagine being able to afford such meals in a typical public school in the U.S. – we automatically assume, “My child would never eat that.”

Most pediatricians will tell you 3 things:

1. The less fuss you make about meals and food in general, the less fussy or picky your child is likely to be (in other words, don’t turn every meal into a fight – they’re either going to eat something or they’re not).
2. Serve a large variety of foods to get your child used to trying new things and to show them how exciting food can be.
3. They’ll eat when they’re hungry. No child has ever starved because they weren’t served hot dogs/chicken nuggets/whatever their favorite food is every night.

While all of this is great advice, how do you as a caterer include children in a one-off event? While your personal food philosophy may be to try everything once (and the really good things twice), you have no influence over how the kids at your event have been raised or fed leading up to the event you’re catering. So, how do you feed the kids and make everyone happy?

Here are a few tips for catering to kids at grown-up events:

Talk to the organizers.
How do they feel about having children served a separate meal? If they have a strong stance one way or another, you may not have a lot of choice in the matter. However, this is definitely your chance to put forth any ideas you have of including children fully in the event – and that includes serving them meals that are similar to or the same as the adults.

Serve a variety of food.
With enough choices, you’re sure to find something everyone can enjoy.

Make some of the children’s favorite things.
A friend of mine once told me that whenever she served a food she wasn’t sure her son would eat, she made sure to serve at least one or two things she knew he liked in the same meal. That way, he was still trying new foods, tastes, and textures, but she could be reasonably sure he wouldn’t leave the table hungry. Sometimes, it was as simple as serving his favorite vegetable or some applesauce with the meal. If you can, find out what some of the children’s favorites are and include those items in the meal – whether it’s a plated meal or a buffet.

Make it easy for them to eat.
You’ll have better luck with getting kids to eat overall, especially younger kids, if you serve them foods they can eat easily. Think of things they can pick up in their hands like finger foods, such as green beans, and things that will be easy for them to chew and swallow. If the food tastes good and they can manipulate it easily, they’ll be happier and eat more of what you serve them.

Make it fun!
Consider serving the children the same food as the adults but served in a fun way! Maybe the green beans will make a smile, while a piece of chicken breast can be a large nose, and the eyes can be two dollops of mashed potatoes with a caper for the middle of the eye. Get creative – and watch the delight in the children’s (and their parents’) faces!

With any luck, the food you serve may open a whole new culinary world to the children trying scallops or brussel sprouts for the first time!

Or, at the very least, you’ll avoid a mealtime meltdown, so everyone can enjoy their food.

What tricks have you tried – successfully or maybe not so much – when catering to kids at grown-up events? Please share your ideas with our readers! We’re always looking for new things to try!