My husband and I will be celebrating Valentine’s Day at home this year, as we have done every year. In fact, most of our date nights are at home, partly, because the cost of nice meal at home is less than eating out.
Our typical date on the town includes dinner and a concert or show. By the end of the evening, we probably spend $100-250. Restaurant meals, including drinks and dessert, can easily cost $50-100. Affordable tickets to a local music joints range in price from the cost of a couple of beers at a local pub to $30 per person for a concert or theater show.
After we plan our date, we need to a hire a babysitter … if we can find one. We know many mature, kid-loving teenagers, but these fun-loving ladies are frequently busy on Friday nights. On an average date night, we might pay our babysitters $50. Occasionally, I ask my parents or some family friends to watch the children, but I hate imposing on them.
Going out can be a major hassle and expense. At home dates have the advantage of being ridiculously cheap, no wasted travel time, and very spontaneous. A very nice meal at home, including a bottle of wine, may cost up to $30-40, and usually yields enough leftovers for tomorrow’s dinner.
Occasionally, I use at-home-date nights as a reward for surviving days when the kids are especially grouchy because they missed naps. Their tiredness works in our favor. We feed and put the children to bed earlier than usual. Then we prepare our meal.
My favorite part of eating out being served by someone else. But if I select meals that can be prepared ahead of time or have little preparation, I can pretend that I am being waited on.
I stock my freezer with quick and easy foods that can quickly be transformed into date-night quality meals. The best menu for these impromptu in-house date nights are quick, simple and satisfying. Steaks cook quickly on the grill with minimal clean up. Potatoes can be baked in the oven while you brush the children’s teeth. Shrimp and fish also cook quickly and make fabulous date-night-in meals.
For special occasions, I enjoy planning more elaborate, experimental meals. Last Valentine’s Day, I served braised beef short ribs, which taste best prepared a day in advance. I also prepared creme brulee, which is made in advance and chilled. My husband loves creme brulee for its rich, silky texture, and because he can use the blow torch to caramelize the sugar.
This winter, our freezer is home to a lamb, loving raised by my mother-in-law, so I am planning to roast a rack of lamb ribs. I will serve it with a minty salad and roasted root vegetables. The lamb and the salad will be made during nap time, and the vegetables will roast while we put the boys to bed. My husband will once again have the pleasure of using a blow torch on his food.
Good food deserves a beautiful setting, and date night only feels extravagant if we treat it as special. We dress as if we were eating at a fine restaurant … or more saucily than we would in public. We set the dinning room table with fine china and candles, and we play music.
At the end of the meal, we wipe clean the dishes and put away the food, but we don’t spend much time cleaning. It can wait. If there is still time at the end of the evening, we may play games or dance.
My husband’s cousin (my cousin-in-law?) has a fun variation to this tradition. She and her husband take a virtual vacation. They select a country they long to visit, and cook food from that country. They play traditional music, read guide books, and discuss what they would do and see there. So far, they have “traveled” to Japan and England without leaving their house.
Do you have any other ideas for cheap dates?