Progressive Dinners

We had four children, age 6 and under. And the calendar said the birth of our 5th child was just a few weeks away. Tom had been putting in some long hours on a fix-n-flip project. And I felt like our family needed to do something a little “extra” special.

Mid-August weather was steamy with humidity. In my condition, I wanted to stay inside with the air-conditioning.

So, I thought and I thought. And I decided upon a progressive dinner. A progressive dinner party meets at one location for appetizers, heads to another location for a salad or soup, then onto another location for the next course of the meal and so it progresses throughout the evening until all courses have been completed. They can be done at restaurants, and they can be done in homes among a party of friends.

For our progressive dinner, only our immediate family would participate, and we would stay at home…progressing through our home for different parts of the meal. I decided on the menu and decided on a “special night out” theme.

A formal invitation was slipped into Tom’s lunch sack that day. It informed him what time to be home and which door he should enter the house. (Later he’d find instructions sending him to the shower with clean clothes laid out for the evening.) A call came in at lunch time with a very surprised and delighted sounding voice on the line assuring me that the invitation was accepted.

When afternoon nap-time was over, I told the kids about the party. They were delighted! They eagerly helped me set up make shift tables in one of their bedrooms and place little foot stools around for their seats. We also set the coffee table in the living room, and the kitchen table, with napkins and silverware.

At the appointed time, we had all changed to “special occasion” attire. We exchanged giggles as we gathered in the boys’ room for appetizers. Crackers topped with cream cheese and a slice of cucumber, lightly sprinkled with dill, were served. (I didn’t remember what I had served, but the other day my then 4-year-old son rattled it off. He remembered what was served for what he thought at the time were “apple-tizers”.

Next, we went to my daughter’s room where the make shift tables sat two kids each. Tom and I sat on chairs nearby. This course was a salad and something to drink. Every time I recall this course, I think of my almost 2-year-old son who arose to this occasion, acting so grown up as he closed his eyes and chewed his salad.

With our salads finished, the older two children removed the foot stools from the room and put them around the coffee table in the living room. Then we joined them around the table for cups of soup. And for our final course we ate spaghetti at the kitchen table.

Our progressive dinner party was a success. Not only did we have an entertaining and enjoyable time together, but we made some wonderful and lasting memories together…as the then 4-year-old can tell you!

Little did we know that within less than 48 hours of that dinner party our world would be turned upside down for the next 10 months. It wasn’t anything with the baby, although the baby would be born during that time. Having that special experience with our family and the memories to look back on during those challenging times was something we treasured.

Having a progressive dinner was so much fun that we’ve done it several times over the years, but none was like that first one. If you’ve never done one, I would encourage you to plan and have one this week!

Here are some ideas you might consider:

  1. If you have older children, assign specific courses to their preparation. Or have them partner with a sibling or parent.
  2. Younger children can assist with parts of meal prep, with table setting or to be the escort to the next room.
  3. You may want a themed dinner, such as Italian cuisine.
  4. You may want to pick a dress theme. Do they need to dress up? Dress down? Wear a costume?
  5. Remember table settings, center-pieces, music and candlelight.
  6. Have a plan for working together to break down the set-ups and get dishes cleaned up quickly when done. In fact, dishes being done might come before the dessert course appears.
  7. Consider using some paper products (cups, plates and cutlery) for some of the courses to ease with clean-up.

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