When you’re planning dinner for a group of young people, keep their age and level of sophistication in mind. A fancy meal served on your best dinnerware might go untouched or under-appreciated by this age group. Make it a casual affair where kids can relax and focus on the reason they’re together. Your best bet is creating a menu that appeals to a variety of tastes.
If you’re certain all of the members of the group like pizza, buy or make individual pizza crusts, slice pita bread in half, or use small corn or flour tortillas for the base. Set out toppings and cheeses. Be imaginative if you’re not on a budget -- black olives, sliced red onion, grilled vegetables and fruit extend the selections beyond pepperoni, mushrooms and mozzarella. Make calzones for the kids who don’t want to make their own pizza by rolling out fresh pizza dough and covering them almost to the edges with sauce. Add your favorite toppings and roll it up. Pinch the edges so the sauce doesn’t ooze out, and bake them.
One of the easiest ways to feed a group of teens is to create a "fixings" bar. All you have to do is set out the ingredients and stand back. For a sandwich bar, prepare several kinds of bread, condiments like mayo and mustard, a variety of meats and cheeses, lettuce, pickles and sliced tomatoes. Add a bowl of chips or a cold salad. Tacos are usually a hit; brown ground beef in taco seasonings, grate cheese or buy it packaged, chop onions, chilies, and tomato, and set out sour cream and taco shells. A baked potato bar might include chili, grated cheese, crumbled bacon and sour cream.
If the kids in the youth group are just getting to know each other, a family-style sit-down dinner is a good way to encourage interaction. Make a platter of fried or baked chicken, a casserole of enchiladas, and a bowl of meatballs with a choice of sauces on the side -- tomato sauce, beef broth or Swedish-style. Pass mashed potatoes and a couple of pasta dishes, steamed vegetables and salad. Or keep it simple with hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, Sloppy Joe mix, and corn on the cob. If you go the hamburger route, pick up a package of vegetarian hamburgers for non-meat eaters.
For the Vegetarians
Incorporate vegetarian options in any youth group dinner menu by offering an array of cold salads, but go beyond a simple green salad. Combine pinto, garbanzo and kidney beans with sliced red onion and toss with vinaigrette. Chop fresh vegetables like carrots, bell peppers and cucumber, toss with cooked quinoa, fresh herbs and sunflower seeds or pine nuts. Top with a light dressing. Make a bowl of chili without meat, a casserole of macaroni and cheese or a platter of deviled eggs. Keep in mind that vegans don’t eat dairy, eggs and honey, so prepare at least one dish that will also be enjoyed by non-vegans, such as roasted vegetables.