Family meals are an important part of the day in any culture, but with today’s busy lifestyles, we are more often grabbing things on the go and rushing to finish the meal with the minimum of dishes to wash up afterward. But it is more important than ever to make mealtimes an event, since they are often the only time we see our family members during the day. But how can you take something as plain as a Wednesday night dinner and make it into something elegant? Here are a few easy tips.
Set a time in advance
If people know exactly when dinner will be taking place, they can coordinate their schedules around it and make sure they are available. However, everyone’s schedules are different and that means that you won’t be able to choose one time that will fit everyone every day. It’s a good idea to get a whiteboard or a decorated schedule poster and set a dinner time for every day of the week that suits everyone. This way, it’s not just a meal to fill your stomach, but an event where you gather with your family. You can have some extra rules, for example that everyone needs to be dressed properly, as if you were going out to eat.
Up your plating game
Any professional chef will tell you: plating is half of the dish. If what you are serving looks unappetizing, you don’t stand much chance in getting people to like it. Look at references in magazines and online, then try to replicate their plating. Just drizzling some sauce on top or smearing the mash on the plate can be what the dish is lacking to be taken to a whole new level. This also means that everything is pre-plated, which can take away from the family-style dinner, but you can compensate by starting with a soup that everyone pours from a large bowl in the middle of the table, or by plating on a large platter and letting people take what they like from there.
Invest in dinnerware
The Mickey Mouse printed plates just won’t cut it for a stylish dinner. When people are eating from good looking plates, they will feel like the dinner is a lot more elevated. If you can’t afford to splurge on designer plates, stick with something monochrome. Just plain, white circular plates can look amazing if combined with the right accessories. Make sure that all of your silverware is from a matching set, and if you really want to take it to a new level, learn a few napkin folding techniques and decorate the table with them. Don’t forget about your serving dishes: a cake served on an elegant Robert Gordon cake stand will always look better than if it were served on a plain cake board.
Elevate the family favorites
If you have some dishes that your family loves, but are a bit too rustic to look good, try toying with them and finding a way to make them look like they came out of a five-star kitchen. This can mean trying new spices, serving it differently, or reinventing the recipe completely. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time – all chefs do a hundred test-recipes until they get the perfect one. And if you want to make something new that will wow the family, you can consider beef Wellington, baked Alaska, lamb lollipops or a refreshing scallop salad.
Have a theme on the table
A table that looks unified will always look elegant. Even if you have to put two tables together to seat your large family, you can tie them together with a theme. That can be as extravagant as choosing a space theme and decorating everything with stars and serving everything in balls to represent planets, or it can be as minimal as picking a color that will match the candles with the napkins. Adding details like flower arrangement, candles, print-outs with the menu for the evening or other decorations will bring a tone of elegance as well as help start a conversation.
If you can’t manage to dine in style every night, you can try setting a few days of the week to do it, and if you enjoy it, expand to the other days as well. Make sure that everyone is lending a helping hand in preparing the dinner, so that all responsibility doesn’t land on a single person.