Out of practice with entertaining since you became a mum? Get back on the hostess bandwagon with our guide to giving good parties...
If you're a mum of young children, the closest you've probably come to entertaining recently is boiling the kettle for an afternoon cuppa and opening the custard creams. But having friends over, even for an informal meal, can be a real social boost for you and your partner. And it's a chance to talk about something other than babies, reminding yourself that you're not just a mum - you're still you. Informal is trendy, so don't worry about tablecloths and elaborate place settings. Instead, make the focus of your evening the fact that you're spending time with your friends and enjoying some tasty food together. Here's how...
Of course you're all mums first now. But girlie meet-ups give you all your social identity back - even if it's just for a couple of hours.
"Impressing the other mums isn't about what you serve, but how you dress it up," says events expert Liz Taylor from Taylor Lynn Corporation (www.tlc-ltd.co.uk). "Make it quirky - individual shepherd's pies are simple but look trendy. Ramekins of chilli con carne are much more enticing than a big bowl of it on the table."
"Plan a brunch, and ask the other mums to arrange childcare for the morning, perhaps with a relative, so you can have a girls' morning," says Liz. "Two weeks is a good amount of time to expect them to sort it. Tell them they'll be home by 2pm for example, so they know it won't take up their whole day."
You'll probably plan to catch up, but the pitfall is that you all talk babies, but making this about you is easy. Set a dress code, such as 'no denim' or 'girly', so each mum has to dress up. You'll feel like you're somewhere special for the morning. Cut out celebrity gossip from a magazine and put one at each place setting to steer conversation.
Gone are the days of all-day cooking and ironing tablecloths. Dinner parties for new parents are about socialising as well as getting a meal. "Entertaining is a lot more casual than it used to be," says Liz Taylor. "It's OK to have everyone in the same room while you're cooking there rather than having a big table set up in the dining room."
Don't be afraid to cheat, especially with canapés, starters or dessert. "Ready-made nibbles from supermarkets are easy and tasty," says Liz. "Things like salmon wheels or individual crème brûlées." For your main course, don't try anything you haven't done before. "My signature dish is pasta, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. It works cold at lunch or hot at dinner and is easy to make," says Liz.
If you're worried about timing, make the menu flexible. A buffet, for example, means you're not serving up at a specific time.
The same risk applies at a dinner party as it did with your mum friends - men on one side talking about work, women on the other talking about post-baby bodies. "It's so important to have this time with your friends to socialise as adults rather than parents," says Liz. "Word or trivia games like Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit are a great way to keep the dinner group together and get your 'grown up' mind going again, too."
We don't get many opportunities for barbies in this country, but they're perfect for informal entertaining. Guests are always happy to mill around in the garden rather than sitting at a formal table. So, everyone's relaxed, including you!
"Everyone over-caters at barbecues," says Liz Taylor. "You really don't need two portions of every kind of food for each guest." To keep it simple, put everything on sticks. From lamb kofta-style kebabs to half-size corn on the cobs, chicken, halloumi cheese, and even fruit for dessert.
Barbecues tend to be an afternoon do, so you'll need to factor in nap times. Tell guests they can bring children's travel cots for a sleep upstairs. Keep hot food for the adults and prepare finger foods for little ones. If you'd prefer an adult-only evening, give guests enough notice to arrange child care.
If you've got an mp3 player, make a playlist that your guests can dance to later on. Garden games are also great fun . Try Jenga or Connect 4 in 'garden size'.
For some great recipe ideas try Come Dine With Me: How to throw the Perfect Dinner Party
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