If holidays really are about pulling out all the stops to celebrate family, why are our tinier kin often relegated to a lifeless card table in the corner? Party planner and author Debi Lilly shares a few ideas on how to create a thoughtful, memorable and—most important—fun kids’ table. Drawing on the ideas in her new book, A Perfect Event: Inspired, Easy Elegance for Every Occasion ($20, Dunham), the designer created this holiday table setting just for us, complete with seasonal themes, unexpected treats and gamelike elements sure to make a seat at the kids’ table nothing less than a coveted privilege.
Curate a tabletop collection of whimsical decor
1 Lilly calls animal-shaped tabletop topiaries one of her “ ‘instant elegance’ children’s party decor secrets.” The leafy likenesses can be purchased at Lilly’s A Perfect Event studio ($45–$60).
2 Combine the topiaries with “grocery to gorgeous” decor, a term Lilly coined to describe place settings created by layering everyday grocery-store items such as herbs, small inexpensive toys or other surprises like seasonally colored mini bud vases of flowers, feathers, mini pumpkins or other natural accents. “This is one of my favorite party tricks, creating a ‘pull apart centerpiece’ that looks gorgeous and the kids absolutely love,” Lilly says. “It keeps them busy as bees while the adults enjoy and linger at their own table.”
Make it playful and interactive
3 “My favorite trick,” Lilly says, “is to unroll black paper down the table, set tied bundles of chalk at each setting, and create an instant doodle-art chalkboard table.” Can’t find black paper? “A roll of white paper and colored crayons work just as well.”
Recognize that candy is king
4 “A favorite family tradition at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table was a little cornucopia of candy corn, set at each place. This was my big job each year as a young child—and, boy, did I love it,” Lilly recalls. Start the tradition in your own family by serving “spa snacks” in waffle cones with seasonally colored snack mixes such as Chex Mix with orange, brown and yellow Reese’s Pieces. Place the cone in a cup to keep it vertical.
5 To wow little guests further, “Have kids help fill candy jars with seasonal candies, add them into the table decor, and set mini candy jars at each place, for them to fill when done eating.”
Preview the meal
6 Menu cards give the holiday meal the air of a very special occasion, plus they offer kids a preview of what to expect. Create a descriptive restaurant-style list of each dish, and add the date and some seasonal art.
7 “At each setting, place fall apples tied with leaf-shaped name tags, so children know where to sit,” the designer advises. “Set a coloring or puzzle book with crayons on top of each chair, tied with ribbon and a name tag.”
Invest a little time in Lilly’s decor ideas, and kids will be comforted, entertained and sated with snacks. And you’re now the best host ever, at least in the eyes of your tiny guests.
Debi Lilly is founder and “chief eventeur” of party-planning service A Perfect Event (3050 N Lincoln Ave, 773-244-9333).