One mother's words have stuck with me and sum it all up really, "don't go to any trouble". I had suggested a meal for when her son was coming over, she thought it sounded lovely but knew her son wouldn't eat it. She told me to go for whatever was easy for me, something like pasta or fish fingers. Her advice kicks off my lessons learned:
- Don't go to any trouble. I have to remind myself, it's not the same as cooking for an adult who is coming over for dinner!
- Biscuits, ice-cream/ice lollies are dessert winners. I've had homemade chocolate cake in the house, brownies or other baked yummy things that have been turned down by 5-year olds, who would rather have an ice-lolly/ice-cream (even in the middle of winter) or biscuits, the more chocolatey the better!
- Always have a back-up meal to hand. Despite checking with a boy's mother who told me her son loved sausage and mash, he refused to eat mine. I wasn't especially prepared for having an 'option b' so quickly made him a sandwich with some carrot and cucumber sticks on the side (I knew he had had a cooked lunch at school so felt less bad about making a sandwich).
- Check with the parents before buying ingredients / planning for a particular meal. Things I have assumed all children will eat are not liked by some so it's definitely worth asking the parent first. Even then, don't be surprised if they still don't eat it!
- Expect food waste. It's rare that a visiting child eats every scrap on their plate. I am so used to my two polishing off everything most of the time, in fact, they sometimes finish off what the friend has left on their plate too!
- Playing is higher priority than eating. Different toys to play with or a game that needs to be finished before they get picked up are strong distractions for the child who is over on the play date. Food just gets in the way and delays things - this partly explains the aforementioned food waste too.
- Lower your expectations on all counts! I'm learning to do this now and it makes the experience less of a big deal for me. Initially, I was quite disappointed to have food rejected by a child, a little put-out by them rushing my own children to finish their meals before they'd 'finished' and generally not showing much in terms of table manners but now I realise that's just the way it goes. Again, I remind myself, it's not like having an adult over to dinner.
- The dinner is the least important aspect of the play date. As long as the child eats something, the main purpose of the play date is the coming over to play and that's what really matters, that they have fun! Dinner is kind of incidental....