How Do You Feed Kids at Events?

By Jenny Berg June 27, 2011, 8:45 AM EDT

Jamie Oliver at the Kohl's Fun and Fit as a Family Festival.

Photo: Seth Browarnik/

Kids can be downright fussy when it comes to food. Whether you’re planning a family-friendly corporate picnic or launching a children’s product, here are some ideas for keeping young guests satisfied—and satiated. 

As ticketing and event manager for the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Ashley Shapiro plans Kohl’s Fun and Fit as a Family Festival at Miami’s Jungle Island. “[It] aims to educate kids and their parents about healthy eating,” says Shapiro. Toward that end, she and her team developed the idea of food labs, which take place three times a day in an onstage demo kitchen.

During the labs, a well-known chef leads 75 kids, typically five to 13 years old, through the process of creating a nutritious dish. Each guest gets the required ingredients and tools to make the food. This year, participating chefs included Jamie Oliver, who had the kids help him create the world’s longest noodle. Standing at one end of the kitchen near the pasta machine, Oliver cranked out the dough while the children passed and stretched it to create a giant piece of pasta that wound all the way around the room. The interactive, game-like format was a “great way to get the kids engaged in healthy eating,” says Shapiro. For an actual meal, the kids made a second pasta dish with mozzarella and tomatoes.

This year’s Festival of Chocolate, which took over the Orlando Science Center in early March, included more kid-friendly activities—and snacks—than ever before. “We are big fans of encouraging children to get creative with their food,” says producer and creator Aileen Mand. “If you can make the creating experience as much fun as the eating experience, the food will be talked about long after the last bite.”

At one station, kids sat down to a buffet of colorful toppings such as Gummi Bears and jelly beans, and designed “Pint-Sized Picasso Pizzas” using crust-shaped chocolate as a base. “The concentration the kids have as they add items, arrange, and design the pizzas is a show in itself,” says Mand. “We ask if the pizzas are more fun to make or eat, but usually the kids’ mouths are too full of chocolate to answer.”

As director of global events for Discovery Communications, Maryland-based Betsy Clawson plans functions for audiences across the company’s 13 networks. “When planning a menu for kids, like at the launch for our new kid’s TV network the Hub, I always remember the senses,” she says. Among Clawson’s kid-friendly menu tenets: “For sight, select simple, colorful foods that are visually appealing; for touch, feature foods with straightforward textures; and for smell, avoid foods with a robust odor.”

Global Cuisine by Gary Arabia catered the Hub launch party, which took place at the Lot in Los Angeles and included a dessert area with stations for strawberry shortcakes, design-your-own sundaes, and mini crepes.

Elaina Vazquez, founder of Boutique Bites Catering in Chicago, updates childhood snacks with grown-up flavors and presentation. For a recent family-friendly retreat for Cardenas Marketing Network, Vazquez and her team aimed to “design a menu that the kids would enjoy as well as the adults,” she says. Snacks included shrimp tempura lollipops, parmesan-truffle popcorn in mini cones, and strawberry-rhubarb cotton candy. “The adults loved the unexpectedly whimsical nature of the dishes, and, most importantly, the fact that their kids were excited to eat.”

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