How to Plan an Interactive 5- Course Meal for 60 Adults & Kids for $157

Last Fall, I was sitting on my couch planning out theater workshops for the year, when my 6 year old son came up to me and asked what I was making for dinner.

Any parent knows, this is a loaded question that can cause a meltdown if my reply is not carefully crafted. If I say “cookies!”… (or anything he likes) there are smiles all around. (I never say cookies, BTW.) But if I say it’s something he does NOT like, then, more likely than not, I hear whining & complaining as I make dinner, while we eat dinner, and while we clean up dinner. (Blah) The mealtime routine…is major parenting at its core!

I’m now pressing START on the Classic Parent Catchphrase Recording: THE SOUNDS OF DINNER WITH YOUNG KIDS
  • “Eat your food.”
  • “Sit down on your chair.”
  • “Stop chewing with your mouth open.”
  • “Don’t put that in your milk.”
  • “I said, ‘Eat your food.’”
  • “Don’t wipe your hands on your clothes. Use a napkin.”
  • “Eat over your plate.”
  • “You’re not the parent.”
  • “Get out from under the table.”
  • “Sorry you bumped your head, but you wouldn’t get hurt if you obeyed.”
  • “No talking about poop at the table.”
  • “No toys at the table…you know this.”
  • “No whistling unless you’re alone in the woods.”
  • “Eat your FOOD! Please! Just eat it to survive. It doesn’t have to taste good every time.”)


This particular afternoon, I just told my son, “I don’t know yet. Why don’t you grab a yogurt or banana if you need a snack.”  (That’s how you buy time.)

As I fumbled through the pantry trying to come up with dinner ideas, I continued to brainstorm drama workshops between agonizing dinner emotions making ME feel like whining!

It was like a game of brain tennis:

DINNER THOUGHT (Serving the ball, hit,…grunt), ….bounce….

WORKSHOP IDEA ….(hit the ball back, grunt)…. bounce back….

        DINNER REALIZATION…(hit the ball, grunt)…. bounce… almost out bounds…

WORKSHOP …UREKA (hit the ball,…happy grunt)! …bounce, POINT!

My internal back and forth caused my focus to finally merge into an AWESOME solution for my nagging dinner dread AND gave me a new epic workshop idea!

My solution: plan an evening workshop (rather than after school-afternoon) where students would bring their parents to complete in theater inspired challenges over the course of a meal!

I figured most parents would be off work, thrilled to have one less meal to prepare, and could spend quality time with their child. Win, win, win!

The next day, I got to work…planning how to structure my pitch to the PTA. A week later, I was in front of the PTA pitching, and getting the YES I wanted.

From start to finish, it took about 4 months to plan the whole thing out–using the PTA’s budget (of the elementary school I was doing the workshop for). It could have been done in a shorter amount of time, but I wanted to take down the stress level for me. By the time it was over, parents and students were delighted & the PTA only had to pay $157 from its budget to feed 60 people & give them a memorable experience!

Theater Thinking Around the Dinner Table Poster
I want to share with YOU how you can plan an epic Interactive Workshop (with FOOD!)
It can be done for a:
  • family reunion,
  • date night,
  • adult dinner party,
  • company dinner,
  • birthday parties,
  • fundraiser dinners,
  • or even…in smaller doses…at home around you daily dinner table!

It does take planning, but I’ve made you a helpful checklist! Get my FREE PLANNING CHECKLIST. It’s 6 pages to help you plan quickly and efficiently and totally freeeee!

Psst! Enter your name and email below!

Download the Planning Checklist

Okay, let’s outline the issue to solve for people who attend the workshop that I hoped to solve:

Problem: People have boring mealtime routines. Basically, people eat…complain more than have a conversation (or don’t really speak at all)…& just leave the table in a bad mood. The meals feel more like a necessary chore! When people you eat with aren’t able to engage in conversation &/or entertain you…at least a little, parents can feel unappreciated and/or more tired.

Desire: A table packed with people who want to be there…and are enjoying each other’s company. They are in the moment…and not just “calling it in.” (being robotic)

Solution: Create new opportunities for everyone to enjoy dinner by engaging them in theater-inspired fun challenges to complete during each course of the meal. Basically, turn the experience of eating together into an epic event nobody wants to miss!

Listen up! There are 2 basic components to this Workshop’s success:

So, if you’re ever wondering where to focus your attention and effort…put it into these two things first. (If you need to cut back, do it on decorations or something else…but not these! Pretty pleeease!)

1. Quality FOOD
Quality food makes your body feel happy! That’s my story & I’m sticking to it! Don’t argue with me.

For example, if you attend a pizza party…with the cheapest pizza that can be ordered in town, it’s not going to make you feel special or welcome.

The food says, “Uh…maybe you should go buy something else…like away from here. Leave soon.” (Booooo….no good!)

BUT, if you have a pizza party where you arrive and step up to a table to watch talented pizza chefs create personalized artisan pizza for you with quality cheese (that’s not just made of grease) & fresh toppings…then you feel like sticking around, relaxing, and talking. You feel welcome and taken care of. (Yay!…soooo good!)

Never forget that if you wouldn’t eat it, your guests probably don’t want to either. Good food builds up anticipation and enthusiasm for the evening—before & during! When people know you put on a good event, they are going to make it to the next one & will bring their friends!

Wanting to have a 5 course meal that both adults & kids (and our budget) could enjoy, my volunteer chef & I planned the following menu:

Our Menu

Course 1: Appetizer

Simple crudites (veggies) with spinach dip & hummus

Course 2: Salad

Simple Dinner Salad with option of Ranch or Italian Dressing

Course 3: Salad

Tomato Bisque

Course 4: Entree’

Chicken Kiev with a veggie side
(Ended up changing last minute: Chicken Divan over egg noodles)

Course 5: Dessert

Salted Caramel Swirled throughout a Chocolate Brownie with a Pretzel Crust



I was lucky that the chef volunteered his time to order our food via his wholesaler & prep the meal. We did not pay for his time. His bill was very low because he knew we had a $500 budget.

The meal was made up of items that were able to be ordered and warmed in the venue kitchen’s convection ovens (entree) or that he could make with one of his recipes (dips, soup)–and we could but in the refrigerator or warmer until needed. He did order our pre-made dessert from a commercial wholesaler. It cut down on his time and it was still tasty!

I explain all this because I wanted you to know that there ARE QUALITY ITEMS that can be purchased pre-made that don’t take hours of work for you or your chef/caterer. Just consider the kitchen you’re working with before making any final decisions.

If you’re able to hire a caterer, you likely won’t have to worry too much about kitchen restrictions since they’ll have their own and have ways of making any space work.

2. DELIGHTFUL Theater-y Challenges
The Challenges are the MAGIC and point of the WHOLE EVENT!

They should be planned with a joyful mindset! Why? Well, during each course, attendees will complete a new challenge with their designated mealtime buddy (like parent & child).

You want attendees to feel safe being silly, to communicate, practice theater-life skills, & to show their creative genius!

They need to be taken on a theater skill journey…and warmed up appropriately. (Meaning: don’t make the 1st challenge so outrageous that attendees feel overwhelmed and won’t participate.)

The easiest way to explain the challenges are to give you examples of what I did.


Too often, drama classes are deemed a waste of time for “really serious students.”

Somehow, the effort & bravery needed for a young person to stand up in front of their peers (who will happily make fun of them), commit to character choices, take direction, give up personal time to attend rehearsals, and speak clearly with confidence…is dismissed because parents worry their student might LIKE IT…and want to be an actor for a living….or that it will take away from other more “academic pastimes.”

In reality, the skills translate over into every part of life. Drama classes and Theater Education is a safe place for students of all ages to rehearse and practice being human!

There are tons of people–maybe even you–who did a little theater in their youth and remember it fondly. Those who had more time to participate, walk into the adulthood ready to contribute to their community, family, and professions in more powerfully diverse and creative ways than those who may not have had the opportunity to get that practice at such a young age.

As you consider your challenges, make sure they serve your event’s purpose and educate participants on the message of the evening.

Challenge Name: THE 2-3 HEADED MONSTER
Clarification: Depending on how many parents/kids came together, decided whether it was a 2 (made of 2 people) or 3 headed (made of 3 people) monster

Instructions: Join Hands with your student or adult(s) and keep them together throughout the whole course! Even as you serve yourself–work together to retrieve food from platters, eat, and feed each other as needed, keep your hands clasped. You need to work together to make sure that all the monster heads get fed.

Please note that only the 2 free hands on the end of the monster are able to be used.

Theater Skill Correlation: Teamwork is number one! We’re not alone on the stage or in life. Learning how to work with one another harmoniously is a task worth conquering. What can you learn from the communication process? Prior to being an awesome ensemble, groups must learn how to exchange ideas clearly. Pay attention to how you react to others, communicate, and accept other people’s offers or ideas.

I created challenges for the 4th & 5th Courses too. (Yo!…If you are on my e-mail list…these other items might be (hint hint, wink!) coming your way in a bonus e-mail after you grab your checklist.)

From this, you can see that the challenges are designed to be enjoyable and outside the regular pattern of a meal. I wanted to make sure that the correlation to theater skills and life skills were made to parents who were attending with their young children.

Observation of Adult Behavior

Diligent Adults

One observation I thought was interesting was that parents who are completing challenges with their children, TEND TO BE MORE MOTIVATED to follow the rules of the challenges. I believe it’s because they’re wanting to set a good example for their kids.


Equally interesting, parents who were more loose-y goose-y with the challenge rules had children who mirrored their lax attitude for following rules in my regular (parent-free) workshops. 


(wicki-wicki-wahh!…that’s my breakdown the process music.)
Download the Planning Checklist

In the timeline, I’m going to speak to specifically about my experience with a School PTA, but don’t just think this is only for PTA’s. It’s the same basic process you could have for any organization doing a workshop like this. (Remember it could be done for a Company Dinner, Family Reunion, Fundraiser, etc.!)

Let’s get started!

Now, that I’ve explained the 2 most important parts of the evening—the food & challenges—let me give timeline rundown. If it’s organized, it won’t be too hard. Have a plan. Get help. You’ll be good.

WARNING: If you AREN’T organized and try to do everything by yourself, you’ll probably cry in every corner of your house.

Luckily, I’ve done outlined my steps and I really want to share them with you!–So, it’s a cry proof-plan.

Remember, I’ve created a checklist for you to download. It’s 6 pages long….so for those of you who love to write check-marks, you’ll have a grand old time with this list!

Psst…again…Click the button to grab it!

• Pitched the idea to my son’s PTA to Sponsor via the Drama Club

o They Gave me the thumbs up (“YES”)

 Note: If you’re doing this for a PTA organization, they likely won’t allow you to charge for admission for the event, but they CAN charge for food…as long as you clearly advertise what the money is for.

 I planned to offer PTA scholarships for families who needed it.

• Set a Date for the evening 4 months out–giving me time to plan & market.

• I reserved the school’s cafeteria & kitchen with the school office secretary.

• Filled out a School District Facilities Request Form to use Cafeteria & Kitchen.

• Created a Basic Budget- Depending on how many people would attend, how much to charge per person for food, and how much to ask PTA to supplement ($5 per student & $10 per adult = $450)

o Spoke to PTA about budget- and getting line of credit (meaning, the money would come out first, but lots more would be paid back as soon as people paid for food)

 Food Budget = $500, $175 for paper goods, decorations, & printing = Total $675…and put cushion in… $750–expecting to get money BACK to cover at least most of the food.

• I started looking for the best way to cater the evening. I didn’t WANT to cook all the food myself, knowing that I’d be busy orchestrating the whole thing and hosting the event.

o I looked online for catering basic costs. They were really high.

o I considered asking a parent of the school who owned a restaurant, but decided against it since they were often hit up by the school for donations.

o I finally decided to ask the company chef at my husband’s workplace if he’d be able to brainstorm a good meal plan for the night, and ask if he could order the ingredients for me via his professional wholesale channels. He happily agreed! (He ended up volunteering to do all the prep and most of the cooking, so, I actually didn’t even need to do ANY cooking.)

 Created a Menu via e-mail correspondence & got a quote for food costs from the Chef. (This informed my final decision of how much to charge attendees.)

• I made a workshop flyer advertising the year’s drama club workshops, and included the evening Workshop on the flyer. I noted that it could cost money to cover food, and that there would be more details to come. I put these flyers in all the teacher’s boxes at the school and had them sent home with all the students.

o Parent’s registered for the workshop by e-mailing me. I added them to a spreadsheet.


Out of 60 spots, there were a few no-shows and cancellations, which made the PTA have to supplement those lost meals, but this was to be expected and considered when making the budget.


Amount collected for food from Attendees = $435


Food = $466
Decorations/Paper Supplies/Printing = $126
Total = $592

Amount leftover for PTA to supplement= $157

For an event that served 60 people to eat a 5-Course high quality meal & entertainment….for only a loss of $157…it was a real winner!

Sure, it could have been cheaper if we’d gotten a few more attendees and if our dessert had been homemade, rather than purchased. In the end, people who attended left happy and more knowledgeable about theater’s ability to be integration into mealtimes.

Equally, it was easy on it’s the PTA’s wallet…and served their mission–to provide opportunities for its students to participate in the arts & create community!

I hope you can see that it is totally possible to create a fun event for lots of people–even on a tight budget!!! Just look for deals, for helpers, for trading services. While I didn’t do it this time, holding a silent auction is a popular way to get more money back and cover expenses…and make a little money for your organization. (That just takes MORE planning to collect donations.)

Remember to grab BOTH THINGS…your 6 page Planning Checklist AND Mealtime Ideas Poster if you haven’t grabbed them already by entering your name and email below.

Download the Planning Checklist

Download the Mealtime Ideas Poster

Please leave a comment and tell me what the best group activity YOU ever planned or participated in was. I look forward to hearing from you!