Food & Drink

How to make an easy meal special

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plate of chocolate cookies
Sometimes just a pretty plate will make food feel special
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Learn how to make an easy meal special as a celebration with a few extra touches

With our busy lives, it can be hard to find the time to create a brunch or dinner that feels special. Honestly, after work and kids and school, just getting food on the table often feels like enough of a challenge.

But with a few tips, you can make an easy meal special without spending hours cooking or a fortune on extras. And the result will be well worth it when you see your kids' or partner's face as they sit down. Just try one or two of these tips to elevate anything from breakfast to supper to a meal worth remembering. 

1) Add one special food -- or condiment

Just one out-of-the-ordinary ingredient can make an ordinary meal into something extra special. If you typically serve cereal, toast and coffee for breakfast, replace the grocery store grape jelly with handcrafted fruit preserves in unexpected flavors like Blueberry Mango or Chunky Apple. 

Transform a plain meat and potatoes dinner by replacing plain white potatoes with buttery Yukon Golds. Or add a savory steak rub before you put the meat under the broiler or on the grill. Those small changes can wake up your taste buds and make an easy meal special and delicious.

2) Bring out the pretty dishes

Sometimes you don't have to change the food to change the meal. Serving the same lunch or dinner on fine china makes everyday foods feel luxurious. Homemade macaroni and cheese or a tuna sandwich can feel like a luncheon party when served on a gorgeous plate! 

3) Decorate the table

Even a meal served on paper plates can feel elegant if the table is decorated. Bring out your best table cloth and break out the cloth napkins. Create a quick centerpiece with a glass vase filled with fresh fruit, pine cones or flowers from your yard submerged in clear water (anchor the stems with rocks to keep them under water!)  

Adding these details will only take a few minutes, but the impact will far outweigh the time you spend preparing. 

4) Make it fun

Who says meal time can't be fun. (Yeah, mom probably told you not to play with your food, but she didn't say you couldn't play around it!)  Cover the table with brown wrapping paper, white paper or even a couple of layers of newspaper, put out piles of crayons or markers and let everyone draw while they dine. You can even draw "placemats" and "placecards" right on the paper to create a dinner party feel before everyone sits down. 

You can also bring fun to the table with a game. Travel versions of "Would You Rather" can have everyone giggling while they munch. Or look for some "getting to know you" prompts online for questions that can elicit everything from revelations to laughter. 

5) Turn up the tunes

Music is a wonderful way to set the mood for any meal, and to turn it from ordinary to something special. That's why so many fine restaurants have music playing while you dine. 

Bring that feel to your home with a selection of music for each meal. Match the music to the time of day for the right pairing. For instance, Vivaldi is a perfect choice for Sunday brunch, while sultry, smokey jazz complements a late night supper. Go for ethnic music to match an ethnic meal...consider a mariachi band to accompany tacos, classic Italian crooners with spaghetti or J-pop with bowls of ramen

6) Focus on favorites

Sometimes all you need to make an easy meal special is to fix someone's favorite dish. A grilled cheese sandwich can be special if it's a favorite comfort food served after a hard day at work or school. Jello can be a much-appreciated choice for dessert for someone who associates it with childhood. A pile of pancakes dripping with real maple syrup can feel like a treat for breakfast or supper. 

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