by Jaclyn Levy

Life is a bit hectic at this stage of my life as a mother of 2 young sons aged 2.5 years and 10 months. As much as my husband and I try to keep a fulfilling social life, it can be difficult. To get out of the house for a double date means we’d need to line up a sitter, have cash on hand for said sitter, pick up the house, prepare everything the boys would potentially need when we are away, then obsessively check our phone when out to make sure everything was OK. Enter a creative alternative: hosting a “Date Night In” dinner party at home. Planning a dinner party saves money and is certainly doable when you have kids, especially when you let them join in the fun.

My husband and I recently invited an adorably pregnant Ashley Gilday and her husband Shaun over for dinner. Since Shaun and Ashley didn’t have kids at the time of our dinner party, I was nervous about our family making a good impression and making a meal that our guests would enjoy. Since living a mostly plant-based lifestyle since 2011, I was eager to make a big dinner full of mouth-watering, plant-based food for like-minded friends. I made a plan to help calm my nerves and get me ready for our Date Night In. Read on for my tips for creating a low-stress, casual get-together and know that yes, with some creativity, you can still enjoy a thriving social life as parents!

1. Prep what you can ahead of time + get guests involved in the cooking! Prepping in advance means it won’t take hours to put food on the table after your guests arrive.  I already had my ingredients measured out and most of the veggies chopped up. However, leaving some prep work for when guests arrive is a good idea so they can get in on the action and save you some time! Ashley sliced tomatoes and basil for our caprese salad and Shaun chopped up the walnuts that went into our roasted red pepper dish. Don’t forget to involve the kids, too. My oldest son loves pushing buttons so we got him to use the food processor that chopped up our pesto. As an added bonus, busy hands makes it easier for conversation to flow.

DSC_0718 2. Serve food family style. Our dining table is a bit small, but there is something fun and comforting about having all the food squished together on the table among plates, forks, drinks and napkins. It also kept the atmosphere informal and intimate, which is what I wanted.

vegan salad

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3.Keep things simple. I wanted to serve something easy, fast and refreshing after a heavy meal so I picked out my favorite lemon popsicles from the grocery store. We smiled like little kids as we each enjoyed our refreshing treat, perfect for a warm summer night. Plus there was no extra clean up! Not every menu item needs to be homemade, especially when there are more clean-labeled products on the shelves now than ever before. Don’t believe dessert can be clean? Check out this list for ideas of clean, allergen friendly desserts to serve your guests in the future!

4. Keep the party going after dinner. I grew up playing games after dinner and wanted to share this tradition with our guests. I made up a quirky, get-to-know-you game based on an interview I read with Alton Brown. Before our guests arrived my husband and I came up with a list of personal questions that could be answered with a picture. Since this is Date Night In and I knew Ashley and Shaun are foodies, we geared questions toward food and relationships. To play, I handed each person a notebook and sharpie. Everyone had 1 minute to draw or use 5 words or less to answer the posed question. Ex: What is your favorite kitchen utensil? Then we all revealed our drawings to each other. It was fun to see each person’s creativity in answering the questions and learning all the backstories behind them. This is a great way to uncover interesting stories about each person and build relationships.

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All in all we had a great time getting to know each other better over delicious food, new recipes, and a silly game. With these ideas in hand I hope you are inspired to boldly plan a date night in with friends (and kiddos)!

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Jaclyn Levy

Jaclyn Levy is a mom of a toddler and baby in the Chicago burbs filling her days with cars, Legos, cartoons and outdoor play in her attempt to raise 2 awesome human beings. However, “mom” isn’t her only title. Jaclyn has a fierce grasp on maintaining her individuality and is an avid reader, amateur gardener, deep thinker and kitchen experimenter. Last year she launched a resume writing and job search coaching business based on her previous HR experience and has her own blog, Rebellious Mom. Find Jaclyn’s articles here.

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