Were you one of the unfortunate who felt punished for being a kid when there was a crowd around the dinner table? You couldn't wait to grow up and sit at the big-people's table and finally feel as if you were noticed. Or were you one of the lucky ones who still want to sit at a separate children's table because it was so much fun?
Youngsters shouldn't feel penalized when sitting at the children's table during the family holiday get-together. If you put as much effort into decorating and accessorizing their table as you do for the adults-only setting, you may be surprised to find a few adults wanting to keep the kids company.
The concept of a children's table was created for a variety of reasons, including space and seating, adult conversation, breakage of fine dinnerware, and, yes, even superiority (in the vein of "children should be seen and not heard," etc.). But there is no reason the kids shouldn't enjoy their meal as much as or more than the older set. Most children will find it hard to act "appropriately" as per the demands of the family matriarchs and patriarchs, and sitting at the children's table does provide for a bit more leniency. Adults -- whose conversation may be personal, technical or bawdy -- will feel more comfortable when they don't have to censor their words or stop frequently to answer a child's questions. Having a children's table is a terrific opportunity for everyone to enjoy the meal.
Children should never be made to feel that they are an imposition or in the way. Talking from personal experience, don't just put the kids in a separate room around a bland table with only the barest of food selections. Try throwing a colorful tablecloth over the table -- disposable plastic is OK -- and set the places with attractive plates and glassware. Today pretty disposable plastic plates and stemware can really dress up a table and avoid damage to fine china; even mismatched everyday dishes will do if set with care and thought. Brighter and cheerier colors can help to set a festive mood, and attractive accents can help do that. Use age-appropriate holiday toys and decorations as centerpieces, napkin holders and place cards. Avoid using vases with water just in case the item is tipped. A simple and festive centerpiece could be a small wreath, lying flat, filled with a few large and unbreakable Christmas tree balls. Positioning a simple vinyl tablecloth under the table will make cleanup after spills and dropped food easy and will protect even carpeted flooring so no one has to fret.
There are lots of terrific things a considerate host can do to make a seat at the children's table a coveted place. Let the kids draw between courses. Put a square piece of butcher or craft paper over the tablecloth, and set crayons at each place setting; printable coloring pages are an alternative. Use small Christmas stockings to hold each child's napkin and utensils. Small chalkboards can be painted (borders) and personalized with the children's names for use as place cards. Give each child a goody bag with a small toy, a tree ornament and a candy cane for an after-dinner treat. If the table is large enough, set a small working electric train (battery-operated is preferred) at the children's table to carry condiments and more.
Especially if the younger set is seated in a different room without adult supervision, it is a good idea to have one of the older children supervise; provide a little gift as thanks. Preparing a few kids-only food choices will also help to fill even the fussiest eaters. Most children like finger foods such as chicken tenders, carrot sticks, olives, grapes and breadsticks. Depending on the children's ages, you can allow them to serve themselves during select courses and let a parent prepare the main meal blue-plate-style. Use plastic wine goblets to serve water, juice or soda to make each child feel "grown-up."