9 Tiny Ways to Make Your Weeknight Dinner Feel Special

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Andrea D’Agosto)

Weeknight dinners are my jam. I love gathering with my little family around the table and talking about our days. I also have a 6-year-old who is obsessed with eating out and at least once a week asks, “Can we have a [dinner] date out, please?” The answer is routinely no, but that doesn’t mean I don’t indulge her in making Wednesday night dinner feel special to cure her craving.

Thankfully it doesn’t take a ton of effort to make weeknight dinners feel special. Some things are obvious, like actually using a tablecloth or wine glasses, but here are nine of my favorite ways to make a weeknight dinner feel special for every diner at your table.

1. Dress the table.

With two preschool-aged kids, I rarely cover the table with either a tablecloth or placemat, because it often feels easier to just wipe down the table and not worry about washing any extra linens, but a tablecloth or placemats go a long way in setting a tone for dinner. It immediately warms the dining room to say “Hello, this is a special dinner.”

Other Ideas for Dressing the Table

  • Fresh flowers: From the front yard or the bodega — no need to get too fancy.
  • Place cards: The kids can make and decorate these.
  • Candles: Instant ambiance.

2. Or eat outside.

When the weather is nice, eating outside makes any meal feel special. We have a table we keep in our yard now, but we used to lay out a favorite picnic blanket to make Tuesday night’s macaroni and cheese instantly tastier.

3. Use the good dishes and napkins.

For special weeknight dinners, we leave the plastic kid plates in the cupboard and give the kids have their very own “grown-up” plates (read: salad plate), which is very exciting if you are under 5. As adults, using the good dishes can be as simple as using a proper wine glass where you might typically use a tumbler instead. As editor Sheela says, “I opt for my nice wine glasses rather than the stemless to make weeknights special.”

4. Turn on some music.

Admittedly, I use the TV as a distraction for the kids to get dinner done some nights. The result is often listening to Paw Patrol from the other room while we eat dinner. On the nights when we are trying to make dinner feel special, the TV is always off and my husband and daughter choose a record to play while we set the table and cook dinner.

5. Make an appetizer.

Here’s the beauty of an appetizer: Something as simple as one choice cheese served before dinner slows down the entire dining experience. Everyone’s hunger is satiated enough to have a conversation and enjoy a drink. Those few extra moments mean less hustling to get dinner on the table before everyone is too tired and cranky.

6. Cook together.

Make cooking dinner an event and not a chore by doing it together. This might mean that dinner takes longer to cook, especially if kids are helping, but it also helps us connect to each other and have fun in the kitchen.

7. Have a special drink.

Open that bottle of wine you are saving for a special occasion, stir up a signature cocktail, or make a pitcher of lemonade.

8. Share dessert.

Dessert in our house is a weekend/we-have-guests special event, so weeknights with dessert are a boon for kids and adults alike. Rarely is it something homemade — a nice bar of chocolate or a pint of good ice cream can be shared and savored by everyone without much effort or expense.

9. Post-dinner drinks.

When we go out to a really nice dinner we linger over dessert with a cup of tea or coffee (or the occasional brandy) — a habit my husband and I love to use at home to extend special weeknight dinners. After dinner is cleared and the kids are in bed, we can tuck into a glass or mug of something and enjoy each other’s company instead of plopping down in front of the TV.

How do you make weeknight dinners special?