If you’re gearing up to host family or friends over the holidays, doing so with kids in the house can be daunting. We have simple tips for keeping your sanity during holiday hosting—no matter what else may happen in the house!

holiday hosting with pancakes

Holiday Hosting

We’re inching closer to the holidays, which means that it’s likely that you’ll either be having friends or family over or you’ll be spending time in someone else’s house. Handling the dynamics of holiday parties, meals, and events with little kids underfoot is complicated—so many opinions! So many feelings! And it can all make the actual work that goes into hosting a holiday feel even more intense.

As we all know, this time of year can be loaded since the kids are likely to be more wound up and under slept, plus there are heightened emotions to make the best of every moment. And also dietary restrictions when feeding a crowd and the sheer reality of close quarters with many people.

And many thoughts and opinions from family members on parenting that can prove to be a challenge for even the most zen mama.

(We always like to take a time out and listen to a podcast or make some salt dough together, too.)

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House Guests

Some of these tips may apply more to those of you who will have house guests (or who will be house guests), so take what you can use according to your own situation. They should, hopefully, help you make the best of what can be a tricky situation!

1. Manage Expectations

This can apply on so many levels, but here are some tips to keep in mind on the expectations front:

  • The food doesn’t need to be perfect to be good and enjoyable.
  • The kids don’t have to be perfectly behaved to be loved and enjoyed.
  • You don’t have to turn your house into a hotel to make guests comfortable.

Remember to focus on taking time out of your normal schedule and the being together part whenever you feel stressed by the details.

2. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

If you’ve made a holiday dinner that everyone loves, feel free to make it again. They likely haven’t had it in a year and everyone loves having something special to look forward to. (Thanksgiving is a classic example of this!.)

3. Outsource As You Can

We like this idea both in terms of buying prepared food—like I don’t have a pizzelle iron, but they sell them at Whole Foods, so look, problem solved!—and letting other people take ownership of their special dishes. In other words, if someone offers to bring a dish, say yes.

They’re most likely wanting to make their special recipes anyway, so this is not a time to insist on doing it all yourself.

4. Recruit Helpers

Put someone on recycling duty. Have someone else handle keeping the kids occupied right before meals to keep them out of the kitchen. Have a favorite uncle take the kids outside or to the playground. It’s okay to ask for help and accept help when it’s offered.

5. Delegate Clean Up

If you’re in charge of the meal, you 100% should not be in charge of the clean up! Get yourself a glass of wine or tea, sit on the couch, and let someone else do the dishes. (And empty the trash and run the dishwasher.)

jam cookies on cooling rack with powdered sugar.

6. Embrace Imperfection

Whenever little kids are in the picture, it’s nearly impossible to have everything go “right”. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is okay and lower the bar a little in terms of what you’re looking to as your measure of success.

7. Let the Kids be Kids

Kids will likely be out of control at some point during holiday get togethers simply because it’s exciting. There are lots of people, gifts, and special foods—of course they’ll be a little wound up. Remember that this is fun for them in a different way and that they are likely doing their best with the flood of emotions they are feeling.

And if they seem to get overwhelmed or start acting out? Take them to a quiet place to snuggle, read a book, or take a walk outside if needed.

(I also like to cover a table with craft paper and let the kids color together.)

8. Try the Phrase “Follow My Lead”

If anyone comments, pressures, or tries to dictate what your kids eat and it rubs you the wrong way, Katja Rowell, MD recommends using the phrase “Follow My Lead”. This is something you can talk about ahead of time if you expect this, or use it in the moment. Here’s an example:

Aunt Lucy: “Harper, eat your green beans and then you can have some cookies.”

You: “Actually, we let her eat her dessert with her dinner. Can you follow my lead on this please?”


Aunt Lucy: “Micheal, you need to sit with us at the table until everyone is done.”

You: “Actually, it looks like he’s done eating and it will probably be more enjoyable for all of us if he goes into the other room to play. Please follow my lead on this.”

It’s a relatively unobtrusive way to take back control over the conversation and to avoid confusing the kids with different rules when you’re at home and at someone else’s house.

Easy Holiday Recipes to Try

I’d love to hear your feedback on this post, so please comment below.

This post was first published December 2018.

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  1. I’m with Virginia on the whole eating breakfast super early and struggling to find something that sounds delicious for a snack a few hours later. Lately I’ve been loving to make myself a mini charcuterie plate! I just keep some good quality, yummy meats and cheeses on hand and maybe add a small handful of nuts, a few slices of fruit and some crackers. It just depends on how hungry I am and what sounds great to me at the time. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s literally just throwing stuff on a plate and it comes together in a snap but also feels special and is a nice nap time break.

    I also have a couple of cracker recommendations. I love the Simple Mills almond flour crackers. I’m not gluten free and typically don’t enjoy the flavor or texture of gluten free snacks, but I find these absolutely delicious! I also really love the fig and olive crisps from Trader Joe’s!

    I hope this helps or inspires! Thank you so much for the amazing podcast, I really get so much out of it every time I listen.

    1. You are TOTALLY speaking her language with the charcuterie plateā€”I bet she’s going to start doing that. And I need to try that variety of their crackers. They sound delish! Thanks for the ideas!