Key parenting rule #87: If you want to socialize with friends who also have young children, it’s easiest to do it at one of your houses.
Luckily, I love to cook and host, and having two kids hasn’t changed that, even if my menus have become slightly less ambitious (nope, not making my own corned beef anymore). It’s a joy to have friends and their children over for brunch, even with all the various dietary restrictions and preferences that come with it. You can imagine the scene: a three-year-old who eats a truly amazing amount of grated cheddar cheese (confession: that’s my child), a four-year-old who hasn’t eaten a vegetable in two years, a six-year-old who insists she isn’t hungry when she definitely is, adults who just want to have a decent meal in relative quiet, and babies in various phases of eating (or not eating) solids.
It can be a challenge to create a composed meal that works for everyone, so… I don’t. Instead, I opt for 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 thrown for an always-rotating group of one, two or three other families. They can go from 1.5 hours (meltdowns happen, as do soccer games) to almost all-day hangs (yes, there will be snacks too):
Idea 1: Make Your Own Fancy Toast
Buy some good bread, the kind you slice with a proper bread knife.
To make (or buy): pea pesto, egg salad, or chicken salad
To lightly prep: toasted bread, compound butter (or buy it), sliced tomatoes
To place on the counter/table: whole milk ricotta, jam, fresh herbs like mint or basil, olive oil, flaky salt
Idea 2: DIY Breakfast Tacos or Breakfast Potato Bowls
While there are several things that you cook for this, they are all very straightforward. Everything can be made earlier that morning and kept warm except for the eggs – make those once the guests arrive.
To cook: roast potatoes, just-slightly-spicy ground turkey (a spoonful of chopped up canned chipotles in adobo are the hero ingredient), scrambled eggs, caramelized onions
To place on the counter/table: grated cheddar, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, arugula, your favorite hot sauces, tortillas (optional)
Idea 3: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Oatmeal
Make a huge pot of oatmeal and leave it on the stove on low. Then, it’s all about the condiments. Place savory ingredients on one side of your counter/table and sweet ingredients on the other.
For savory: grated parm, seared mushrooms, chopped scallions, fish sauce, soy sauce, chile crisp
For sweet: raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, honey, jam, chocolate chips, shredded coconut
These are the kind of meals that are best eaten wherever: On the couch as you hold your baby, standing up as you tell your toddler to get down from there, or on the floor as you create a Play-Doh masterpiece. No one’s expecting a sitting-around-the-dining-room-table vibe. Just a decent meal that seamlessly integrates with LEGOs, snippets of conversations, pillow forts, discussion of local politics because you care about city council elections now, an intrepid search for the missing stuffed puffin named Mango, asking if anyone has a dermatologist they would recommend, constantly dripping 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’s your Mildly Chaotic Brunch theme? I want more!
Carey Polis is an editorial consultant and content strategist who lives in Washington, D.C., with her spouse and two sons. She also has a newsletter: Cheese, Book, Restaurant, Thing.
P.S. A genius Trader Joe’s breakfast hack and a very easy dinner party.
(Illustration by Somali Roy for Cup of Jo.)
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