Several years ago, while my husband was in graduate school, I saved up money to make him a special Valentine's Day dinner. Going out to eat at a nice restaurant wasn't in our budget, and finding a babysitter on a weeknight was difficult. I set the table with flowers and candles, cooked a wonderful meal, fed our two children early, then sent them to the playroom to entertain themselves while we ate.

They lasted just a few minutes in the playroom before they came to see what we were up to. Before I knew it they both clambered up on our laps and invited themselves to join us. That's when I had my aha moment. Why fight the inevitable? That night, a new family tradition was born.

Each year since, I have planned a special dinner with my valentines - my four children and my husband. The menu remains much what it was that first year:

  • Pan-seared filet mignon with brown butter herb sauce

  • Fettuccine Alfredo

  • Dinner rolls and homemade jam

  • Green beans

  • Fruit salad

  • Fancy salad for adults

  • Sparkling juice

Executing this dinner is a family affair. I do most of the cooking, with my husband as sous chef. We put on fun music and get to work. My oldest daughter loves to set the table. We use doilies and Valentine's decorations to make it special. Candles are a must. We also place a few candies or chocolates at everyone's place, and make place cards to designate where everyone will be seated. During the meal we talk about what we love about each person in our family, making everyone feel special. My gift to my family is doing the dishes by myself. Usually someone volunteers to help.

You can make your own family Valentine's Day dinner special by personalizing it to your family's style. It can be as simple or elaborate as you'd like. Send out invitations and print out the menu to put at each place setting. Use special dishes or printed ones easily found at many stores. Use fancy cups for your drinks. Decorate with conversation hearts, doilies, confetti, flowers, or construction paper hearts. If you need decorating or recipe inspiration, check out websites like, Pinterest,, or

Dessert can be part of the fun as well. Make a heart-shaped cake (red velvet or chocolate fits the theme) or have cupcakes with pink and red sprinkles. Each family member could decorate his or her own. Have an ice cream sundae bar or cheesecake with berry toppings, if chocolate isn't your favorite.

If your kids are like mine, and have had plenty of sugar earlier in the day, skip the family dessert and make something for you and your spouse to enjoy after the kids go to bed. I make molten chocolate cakes with raspberry puree and whipped cream. This dessert is delicious and the batter can be made ahead of time.

My family looks forward to this tradition each February. As a bonus, this fancier dinner gives the children a chance to use their best table manners, appreciate each other and express love. If you've been looking for a new Valentine's Day tradition, the romantic family dinner might work for your family too.

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