It’s almost time for our annual Valentine’s Mystery Dinner. Holidays are a huge part of our home. I believe fun family traditions help build strong families. Time spent together is well spent. I also believe in showing my kids that you can have fun and enjoy life in small, simple, beautiful ways. My husband and I go on a lot of dates and focus on each other a lot, but we spend holidays as a family. We never go out to dinner for Valentine’s or to a party for New Year’s Eve. We plan fun family parties that everyone can do together.
So here’s what our Valentine’s Mystery Dinner usually looks like:
The table’s all set! Lots of pink this year for sure. My girls made the table runner as an art project. It’s sprinkled with conversation hearts. The flowers in the vase were a Valentine’s surprise from my husband.
Each plate has a menu on it with a crayon. I also left each person a little box of chocolates for Valentine’s. On their straws there’s a little love note from me in the shape of a heart.
Each of the kids then goes around the table and leaves the sweet little homemade Valentines they’ve been making on each others’ plates.
It’s a little plateful of LOVE. Next, it’s time to get to the Valentine’s mystery dinner. Everyone has a 3 course menu. The items are things like “Cupid’s Arrow,” “Warm Cuddles,” and “Romeo and Juliet.” I make up new names and plan a new menu every year to keep them guessing!
They mark three items for course one and then hand me their menus. I learned long ago to make sure each menu has a name on it so I can keep track of each person’s order. I have the prepared food all ready and fill each plate according to their order. Then we all sit and enjoy course one.
As in every good mystery dinner, you’d better be careful what you order. You may get noodles, but no sauce; butter, but no roll; or your dessert first. And watch out, because you don’t want your drink to arrive last! When course one is over, we move on to course 2 and then course 3. At the end everyone tries to guess which item was which.
My family has gotten pretty good at guessing. They almost always guess right by the end.
A Few Valentine’s Mystery Dinner Tips
- Begin by just planning a menu. Don’t worry about the names. Just think of a normal menu, like fettucini noodles, alfredo sauce, breadsticks, dipping sauce, and a salad. That’s five items. Now add five more – green beans, carrot sticks, parmesan cheese ( as a topping for the pasta), salad dressing, and apple slices. The last two items to round out the twelve will be a drink and a dessert.
- Once you have your menu, just come up with some fun names to go along with each item. “Green with envy” was green beans. “Sweethearts, Anne and Gilbert” came from one of our favorite book series – Anne of Green Gables. In the story Gilbert insults Anne by calling her Carrots because of her red hair; later they fall in love. So that menu item was heart shaped carrot slices.
- Put all of your prepared food items in order alongside a key to the menu so you’ll be quick at filling plates. That way you can get back to eating with your family.
- Make each course separate. Everyone finishes their course before the next round of ordering happens.
- If you get dressing without salad, etc., we just let it sit on the plate until the salad gets ordered. We don’t make people eat everything.
- I prepare as much as I can in little dishes so it’s easy for me to serve. For example, the salad dressing would be served in those little restaurant cups, which I would’ve prepared ahead of time. The more prep work I get done ahead of time, the more fun I have during the dinner because I’m not working through the whole thing.
Our Valentine’s Mystery Dinner has become a favorite tradition. My family is pretty sure they have my menus all figured out after 6 or 7 years of doing this, so I might just have to switch things up and make them really hard this year. Hope you try it and have fun with it. So much better than a long wait at a fancy restaurant and paying the babysitter!