We are not a big Valentines Day family. We give each other cards, candy and kisses, but since we live in Portland, and we've got the highest number of restaurants per capita of any city in the US, dinner out for us is more common than it is a holiday treat. So this Valentines Day, we dialed things back and had a family "carpet party," a theme I learned from a fellow PR person and mom. It's a regularly occurring tradition in their house, and I think it will be in ours too, as this year's carpet party served to do what I had been trying to achieve for what seems like years at the dinner table; We all relaxed.
A carpet party is easy to set up, and it takes the concept of the ho-hum and sometimes competitive environment of the dinner table and puts it in a leisurely spot where everyone is literally on the same level--the floor. The carpet party is also more inclusive than the formal dinner; You can invite stuffed animals, Star Wars action figures, Barbies, My Little Ponies, and we even had a small garbage truck at ours. A tea set makes for perfect plates to accommodate all non-human guests.
Here's how you pull off a carpet party. Kids love the change of pace, being involved in the planning and easy clean up:
1. Shop for finger food dinner items such as things you'd buy for a picnic. Things like turkey and salami slices, good cheese, good bread, edamame, portable fruit like strawberries and blueberries, mini corn dogs, whatever. Make sure to represent all the food groups, slide a new food in there, and include an old favorite. Don't forget a special dessert.
2. Get the kids to help you set up by having them invite their favorite lovey(s) to the carpet party, and set them a place. While they're at it, have the kids set everyone's place.
3. Limit the invites to family (and loveys) the first few times rather than bringing outsiders in, as the concept could go sideways, or the specialness derailed. This is your family's carpet party so dial it in the way you want it first.
4. Pick a clean carpet, lay down a tablecloth or placemats and put all the food on plates, trays and cutting boards in the middle of the carpet.
5. Everyone remove their shoes and dig in.
You may find that your family lingers a little longer while eating. Conversation topics may be a little different with everyone at the same level, sitting criss cross applesauce. I noticed we actually made it through a meal with no time-outs.
Maybe your family doesn't like it--that's OK, it's worth a try. Family mealtimes are so important that people write entire books on the subject, like Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals. Sitting down to a meal together "encloses us and, for a brief time, strengthens the bonds that connect us with other members of our self-defined clan, shutting out the rest of the world," she says on the website Power of Family Meals.