The concept of a playdate is something that only really kicks in once you have a child who is capable of walking. The realisation just hits you. If you want to have even a few minutes of conversation with another mother, you need to provide distractions for your offspring, in a space that is confined and safe to the best of your knowledge.
Suddenly, what will initially seem like a ridiculous idea becomes the highlight of your week. Getting them right then becomes a bit of an art form with the objective being to maximise the fun and minimise unhealthy food and snack choices. Anyway, I've been working the playdate "beat" for about 3.5 years now and I’ve picked up some great ideas and tips along the way. Here are a few of my favourites:
Fabulous Fun with Fruit
Most kids love fruit so the provision of bowls of chopped melon or grapes is always a winner. What is even better though, is making it something else altogether.
- You can cut slices of watermelon into triangles, cutting a stalk into the outer skin and voila! You have a Christmas tree.
- Again with watermelon slices, cut into triangles, arrange in a circle, top with grapes, blueberries and grated apple and you have a fruit pizza – serve in a box for added thrills.
- Cut various fruit into shapes and serve on plates as a face or let them make their own "designs" from a chopped selection.
Dream up a Food Theme
The calendar will provide plenty of these; Valentine's, Easter, Halloween, etc. One of the best I’ve seen however was a "HUNGRY CATERPILLAR" theme whereby the fruit and food from the book were provided, complete with creative holes and bite marks cut out – all served on banana leaf plates. Genius. I’m still trying to better it.
Con Trick Ice Cream & Lollies
I think I might have arrived late to the clever idea that frozen bananas make ice cream! Who knew? Well, apparently everyone else! All you have to do is slice ripe bananas, freeze them, get them out five minutes before you need them and whizz in a blender or food processor. It’s quite magical. An investment in a nice cheap set of ice-lolly moulds will mean you can puree and freeze fruit into simple, no added sugar delights. No packaging waste, no preservatives. Just frozen fruit.
The Meal That Always Delivers
Over the years, my friends and I have tried all kinds of menus. There is only one that repeatedly gets eaten by all guests and that is simply pasta with a tomato-based, hidden vegetable sauce. The hidden veg is obviously pureed so you can add anything you like and it's very likely to be consumed. Notably any orange item, such as carrot or squash, tends to work miracles due to its natural sweetness. Serving the pasta with a big bowl of grated cheddar give the mini guests a chance to serve themselves which always goes down well. Other meals' success rates tend to range from 40% to 60% consumption. This dish is well into 90%. Believe it!
Cake & Biscuits with a Nutritious Kick
There are so many recipes around now for cookies, brownies, flapjacks etc. that are based around oats, bananas and even veg like sweet potato. I find it's always good to provide a plate of something like this. The kids love them, the mums will love you, sugar rushes are minimised and everyone is happy. See our PurelyB recipe for delicious peanut butter brownies.
A Few Other Little Tips for Fun and Frolics
If you've assembled a little posse of kid pals and you have some toys in your home, I've found that the novelty of company and new play fodder for the visitors are generally sufficient to amuse for an hour or two. The following however, are things I’ve found to work brilliantly.
Obviously this is basically serving food indoors on the floor. It adds a layer of fun to proceedings without gatecrashing mozzies and ants.
Popcorn and "Movies"
Individual bowls of popcorn and a short burst of an agreed bit of post-play and post-meal TV is always a great wind down trick. By this point the kids are likely to have played themselves out, filled themselves up and are positively in need of a chill. I had a blissful moment once whereby my sofa contained eight fed, watered, happy kids. It was poetry.
A Dress-Up Box
Whether you have one of these or not, it's likely your guests will find something to dress up in, hence a pre-arranged selection you are happy for them to use is a great idea. (Saves the Jimmy Choos and Manolos). If you have an Elsa dress, every kid will want to wear it, even the boys, so be prepared. But the box can contain anything from scarves and masks, to bits of fabric. There is no end to a kid’s imagination.
I confess this is more for me than for the kids, but a few selective tunes and a couple of little dance routines can go down a storm. A few mates and I have recently learned the Macarena from YouTube to impress our babies (They love it, honestly!). Other gems for your playlist: The Birdie Song by The Tweets, Shake it Off by Taylor Swift and the entire soundtrack from Frozen. So, enjoy your play dates, and remember, the time will come when your child will be old enough to go to another child’s home … without you. You can stay at home and practice your Macarena… ALONE!