How to have a Romantic Valentine’s Dinner with Kids – Say What?

I never go out on Valentine’s Day. It’s impossible to get a reservation, the menus are always limited, and I hate to insult my babysitters by asking if they are available that evening. Instead, we have created a Valentine’s tradition of enjoying a romantic family dinner at home. The kids are way more into the holiday than my husband and I are anyway, so why not celebrate with them?

Yes, I know that “romantic family dinner” is an oxymoron, but I’m trying to make some lemonade with my lemons here.  In other words, if life hands you three spunky kids, make them into wait staff.

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My girls love to transform our house into a “fancy restaurant” and play waitress. They write out a menu, set the table for a candle-lit dinner, don aprons, tuck a pencil behind their ears, take our orders, serve our dinners, and refill our wine glasses.  They might not provide the best service, but they sure are the cutest waitresses I’ve ever encountered, and you can tip them in chocolate.

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Here are some easy steps on how to create a romantic family Valentine’s Day:

1. Tidy up the place a bit. Don’t go crazy or anything - there is nothing romantic about cleaning up - but get your kids to help you shove all the toys in a corner and throw everything on the counters into the sink to create the illusion of a clean home. Don’t worry about chiseling off the dried oatmeal and syrup from your table; just throw a tablecloth on top of the mess – it hides the stains and adds to the classy atmosphere. Win-win.

2. Get the kids to decorate. My girls love to cut out red and pink construction paper hearts and put them on the dining room table or tape them to the walls. This also keeps them busy while I finish assembling dinner. Unfortunately, crafting is messy work so you can either pretend that the red and pink paper scraps on the floor are part of the Valentine’s décor, or you can sweep them under the rug or table just before dinner.

3. Prepare meal. Ideally make a meal that you can prepare ahead of time while the kids are at school or napping, because anything can happen when you try to cook while your kids are around. It also has to be something the whole family enjoys - there is no romance in force-feeding your children or listening to them complain your food tastes disgusting. For us, lasagna is the best bet for a make-ahead crowd-pleaser.

4. Clean yourself up. If you haven’t had a chance to shower all week, today’s the day to do it. But just because you showered earlier in the day doesn’t mean you will be clean by dinnertime – let’s face it, parenting is a messy job. Depending on the age of your children, inspect your hair for dried spit-up, chewed-up Cheerios, or peanut butter streaks. Find some clothes that don’t have your child’s dried snot wiped across the thighs or shoulder. Put some concealer on to hide the dark black circles under your eyes caused by years of sleep deprivation. If you’re feeling extra fancy, put on some lipstick too. It’s Valentine’s Day, why not?

5. Put on some mood music. Find a soothing Pandora station and play some nice background music. This will help mask any complaints the kids still try to make about their favorite dinner.

Now you are ready for the main event:

6. Valentine’s Dinner. Let the kids have fun taking your order and bringing the food to the table. Our eight-year-old is the sommelier, six-year-old pours the water, and the three-year-old is bus girl.  Sometimes they fight over who gets to do what, but we tell them fighting takes away from their tip, and nothing motivates my girls more than chocolate.

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7. Don’t forget the wine. You will need plenty of wine to help you pretend you are really at a romantic restaurant and not your dirty dining room or kitchen. It’s kind of like beer-goggles, but for messy houses. I call it “Wine Glasses.” When I have my Wine Glasses on, I don’t notice fingerprints on the walls or the new nick on the hardwood floor; instead, everything is rosy and clean, like a page out of House Beautiful. I love my Wine Glasses.

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8. Dessert. This is what Valentine’s Day is all about, right? Chocolate.  Hopefully your husband brought home not only a gorgeous bouquet of flowers for each of his girls, but also a big box of chocolates for each. You might want to be prepared with a back-up box just in case he forgets, or worse, he buys a box of crème-filled chocolates. There are few greater disappointments in life than biting into a delicious-looking chocolate and discovering it is filled with a nasty, goopy, artificial raspberry liqueur. 

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