The Kids Are All Right

If you want kids to be a part of your Big Day, follow these tips to create a wedding that’s elegant and family friendly.

AS MY HUSBAND AND I ATTEMPTED TO leave our wedding reception to begin our honeymoon, my 10-year-old nephew rushed up to me, flushed and breathless, with a giant piece of pumpkin spice wedding cake in hand, and his mouth framed with maple-walnut frosting. “Auntie Kate, I think this is the best time I’ve ever had,” he said. And he wasn’t alone. In one corner of the dance floor a posse of youngsters was giggling and dancing up a storm, not to be outdone by their parents and the remainder of our adult guests swirling, twirling, jumping and grooving on the rest of the dance floor—proof that we had pulled off a fun wedding for all age groups.

If you’ve decided to invite kids to your wedding, fret not. Having pint-sized guests doesn’t mean your quest for an elegant wedding need be squelched. With just a few tips, you can have the wedding of your dreams while keeping the younger set, and their parents, happy.

Making the List

FOR ME, INVITING MY 11 NIECES and nephews to the wedding was a must—and my husband felt the same about his four nieces and nephews. But we also wanted to keep it a grown-up event. So we kept things simple by having all 15 kids (ranging in age from 3 to 16) walk into the church as a group right before the bridesmaids to get them excited about the wedding and feel as though they had a job. For the younger tykes, we had kids’ meals hand-delivered to tables so moms and dads didn’t have to navigate the buffet line with small ones in tow. And while adult guests were greeted by bottles of champagne and gourmet chocolate in their hotel rooms, kids were treated to goodie bags stuffed with games, stuffed animals and plenty of candy.

We wondered if it was inappropriate to invite kids from our immediate family and not those of our friends or extended family, but it turns out we were right on the money according to Elizabeth Boen, owner of Elizabeth Boen Events in Chestnut Hill. “There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to inviting kids to a wedding,” she says. “It is completely appropriate to invite kids who are related to you, but not the kids of friends—most people don’t have the room to accommodate those numbers.”

Letting guests know that kids are or are not invited doesn’t have to be awkward, and can be handled simply by how you address the invitations. “You don’t want to say ‘Adult Only Reception.’ It sets the wrong tone and gets you off on the wrong foot with your guests,” says Tricia Coughlin Shaw, owner of Attention to Detail Events in Boston and Newport. Instead, Shaw recommends addressing the invitation to the Smith Family if you intend to invite the kids. And if kids are not invited, address the invitation to the parents only.

The Kids’ Table

EXPERTS AGREE THAT IF YOU PLAN on having kids at the reception, designate a kids’ table, but not necessarily a separate kids’ room. “I haven’t seen too many separate rooms for the kids—most people want to keep the wedding as an adult affair without offering kids’ activities,” says Boen. “But separate tables are great because it frees up the parents.”

To keep kids interested, one of Boen’s clients who was married at a seaside location created a pirate theme at a table for her young guests, where eye patches and pirate flags decorated the table, along with a treasure chest filled with candies.

Nikki Wescott, director of weddings at the Seaport Hotel and Seaport World Trade Center Boston, and her staff also are more than happy to create kid-friendly tables to keep the tots entertained. In the past, she has decorated a table with an edible fruit centerpiece and given each young guest a champagne glass filled with sparkling cider topped with a maraschino cherry. “Brides can provide games for the kids, and we also have a few games and toys on hand,” she says.

Depending on the age range of the kids, a teenage cousin sitting at the table can keep an eye out for the younger ones, but a babysitter can also take over that role. “The number one thing you should do if you’re having kids at the wedding is hire a babysitter,” says Boen. “I don’t know any parent who wouldn’t love to sit through a few courses and the first dance without worrying about the kids.”

While babysitters aren’t on staff at Seaport, Wescott has a preferred list of babysitters she offers to brides. “We give suggestions for licensed sitting services,” says Wescott. “And we obviously have hotel rooms for the babysitter to be with the kids, stocked with movies—plus there are beds for naps, restrooms and room service.”

If your wedding venue doesn’t have babysitting references on hand, Boston Nanny Centre in Newton is ready to help. “Interested brides fill out an application and give us a rundown of how many kids need watching, the ages, where the venue is, and what duties you need, such as cooking,” says Brooke Leger, a placement counselor with the company.

All of the nannies are screened and must have at least one year of childcare experience along with three references. The agency also does criminal and driving background checks on each nanny.

Food, Glorious Food

WHEN IT COMES TO FEEDING THE small set, don’t expect the filet mignon and lobster you chose with such care for the rest of your guests to be greeted with much enthusiasm. “You can put out great food, but kids aren’t going to eat it,” says Greg Topham, culinary partner and manager of East Meets West Catering in South Boston. “You want to stimulate the kids with the right food so Mom can work the room.”

This culinary stimulation comes in the form of two-bite hamburgers on fresh-baked rolls, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters, edible garnishes such as carrots and zucchini cut into smiley faces, and macaroni and cheese baked to look like a cupcake. “It’s all the same stuff, but it’s how you present it that gets the kids excited—their eyes light up,” says Topham.

Creating a kids’ menu also can reduce your overall cost. “You can’t justify charging $100 for chicken fingers and fries,” he says. “And when you make it affordable, it is no longer a problem for the bride and groom, and parents don’t feel like they’re being a pain.”

But don’t forget the no-nos: “Stay away from nuts unless you’re sure there are no nut allergies, and don’t set out bowls of candy like M&M’s that kids can easily throw,” says Topham. “Never underestimate the power of a child.”