Caviar at the Kids’ Table

There is no reader question this week. Instead, Helena has a topic she’d like to discuss.

Having to make separate meals for picky children is usually a drag. But then there are the exceptions, when you’d rather not waste gourmet food on kids. Like at dinner parties, where the majority of your guests are adults. Is it rude to make mac ’n’ cheese for your young guests and deny them access to the shrimp cocktail? A Chowhound thread on this topic was so controversial, I felt I had to weigh in.

Many hosts feel it’s well within their rights to discourage their friends’ kids from eating what the grown-ups eat. “I don’t want to see [kids] waste (expensive) food that their doting mom or dad piles on their plates. Parents should give the child a taste first, before plating -- and be realistic in the amount plated,” writes Chowhound alkapal. I agree. Times are tough, and that wild-caught Alaskan salmon cost half your paycheck. Though it’s important to broaden kids’ culinary horizons, that’s the parents’ job, not yours.

However, you shouldn’t assume your younger guests won’t appreciate your hard-spent dollars. For some parents, bringing up a kid with a sophisticated palate is as important as rearing one with good manners. “You could not pay my kid to eat a chicken finger, and he loves caviar,” writes Chowhound Kater. Books on how to produce adventurous eaters, such as Hungry Monkey and My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus, are increasingly common. Kelly Q. Dietrich, director of the Kids Culinary Summer Camp of Vermont, says: “There are kids 10, 11, 12 who … show up with a firm grasp of the five mother sauces.” Many, says Dietrich, have a favorite celebrity chef. Some even post their own cooking shows on YouTube.

And with all the controversy surrounding factory farming, high-fructose corn syrup, and GMOs, your adult guests may view frozen chicken fingers or non-sustainably-raised hot dogs as unhealthy “junk food” that they don’t want their children to consume. And perhaps rightfully so!

The best approach is, prior to the gathering, to ask your guests who are parents what their children would prefer to eat for dinner, telling them what you’ll be serving the adults. Ask for a little direction if they expect you to prepare a separate meal. And don’t be put out if your guests think their children should eat the pricey stuff. You can always prevent the kids from guzzling caviar like peanut butter by saying, “This is very special, so we’re each just having a little.”

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.