Key Parenting Rule #87: If you want to socialize with friends who also have young children, it’s easiest to do so at one of your houses.
Fortunately, I love to cook and host, and having two kids hasn’t changed that, even if my menus have become a little less ambitious (no, I don’t make my own corned beef anymore). It’s a pleasure to have friends and their kids over for brunch, even with all the different dietary restrictions and preferences that come with it. You can imagine the scene: a three-year-old eating a truly astonishing amount of shredded cheddar cheese (admission: it’s my kid), a four-year-old who hasn’t eaten a vegetable in two years, a six-year-old who insists that she’s not hungry when she definitely is, adults who just want a decent meal in relative peace, and babies in various stages of eating (or not eating) solids.
Creating a set meal that works for everyone can be a challenge, so… I don’t. Instead, I choose deconstructed meals. Then each guest can build their own dish, and no one has to compromise.
Here are a few mildly chaotic brunches I’ve made for an ever-rotating group of one, two, or three other families. They can go from 1.5 hours (melting down happens, just like football games) to almost all day long (yes, there will be snacks too):
Idea 1: Make your own fancy toast
Buy some good bread, the kind you cut with a proper bread knife.
To make (or buy): pea pestoegg salad or chicken salad
Too easy to prepare: toasted bread, compound butter (or buy it), sliced tomatoes
How to place on the table/table: whole milk ricotta, jam, fresh herbs such as mint or basil, olive oil, flaked salt
Idea 2: DIY breakfast tacos or breakfast potato bowls
Although there are several things you do for this, they are all very straightforward. Everything can be made earlier that morning and kept warm except for the eggs – make them when the guests arrive.
To cook: roasted potatoes, just a little spicy ground turkey (a spoonful of chopped canned chipotles in adobo is the hero ingredient), scrambled eggs, caramelized onions
How to place on the table/table: shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, arugula, your favorite hot sauces, tortillas (optional)
Idea 3: Choose-your-own-adventure oatmeal
Make a large pot of oatmeal and leave it on the stove on low. Then it’s about the spices. Place savory ingredients on one side of your table/table and sweet ingredients on the other.
For salts: grated parm, seared mushrooms, chopped scallions, fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli crisp
For dessert: raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, honey, jam, chocolate chips, grated coconut
These are the kind of meals that are best eaten anywhere: on the sofa while holding your baby, standing up while telling your toddler to get off, or on the floor while creating a Play-Doh masterpiece. No one expects a sit-around-the-dining-room-table atmosphere. Just a decent meal seamlessly integrated with LEGOs, snippets of conversation, pillow forts, discussion of local politics because you care about council elections now, an intrepid search for the missing stuffed puffin named Mango, and asking if anyone has a dermatologist they will recommend , constant runny noses and someone trying to figure out what the heck that smell is and where it came from.
It’s delicious, messy, occasionally stressful and mostly wonderful.
What is your Mildly Chaotic Brunch theme? I want more!
(Illustration by Somali Roy for Cup of Jo.)