The old adage about looking at the glass as half empty or half fullcan certainly be applied when entertaining with children. On one hand, it'soften difficult to host an adult-only dinner party when the children keep popping in, needing "one more thing." But, on the positive (glass-full) side, children love to serve as junior hosts and hostesses at adult gatherings.
So, instead of banishing them to their bedrooms while entertaining adult friends, give them a job - and lots of praise for doing it well. One way to involve the children is to let them help prepare part of the menu. This recipe for Hot Taco Dip is easy enough for most children to prepare themselves.
Browning the ground beef is the only step requiring any heat, so you can do that for them, or, for older children, let them do it with your supervision. While the taco beef browns, your child will love spreading refried beans in the bottom of a baking dish.
The taco beef is sprinkled over the beans then layered with shredded cheese and prepared taco sauce - both steps that can be easily accomplished by a child of any age. The dip can be made ahead and refrigerated, then baked in the oven before serving. (Save the recipe for family occasions, too! It's a huge hit with children.)
Serving drinks is another way your helpers can be involved, as is passing guests pickup hors d'oeuvres or offering a bowl of salted nuts. Having your children help also presents you with a wonderful teaching moment. Proper etiquette and social graces, including not interrupting adults or doing so by saying, "Excuse me. Would you like some nuts?" are life skills that should begin being taught when they're young.
Be sure to let your helpers know your expectations prior to the arrival of your guests. It's probably a good idea to feed them dinner before the guests arrive, and outline the rules of the evening - how long their "services" are needed before they are to head upstairs to watch a video or go to bed.
Lastly, pile on the praise for their exemplary behavior and help you "couldn't have gotten along without." Children love being helpful, and love being recognized for it!
Hot Taco Dip
1 pound extra lean ground beef
1 package taco seasoning
1/2 cup water
1 16-ounce can refried beans
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 bottle (approximately 8 ounces) taco sauce or mild salsa
1 bag tortilla or dip-style corn chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown the beef in a nonstick skillet until completely done. Drain and return to pan. Add taco seasoning and water and simmer over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until almost all liquid is cooked away. While the beef browns, spread the refried beans in a baking dish. When the taco beef is done, sprinkle over the top. Sprinkle with the cheese and spread on the taco sauce or salsa. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Makes 8 appetizer servings.
Karin Calloway writes a weekly food column for The Augusta Chronicle and Viking Range, and has a weekly food segment on WJBF-Channel 6. She has published two cookbooks, Quick Cooking and Quick Cooking II. She and her husband Bond live in Evans with their children Tripp, 12, and C.C., 10.