How to make dinner for a date, according to a food and relationship expert

Lindsey Metselaar, host of millennial dating podcast "We Met At Acme" and creator of @dontexpectsalads.
Courtesy Lindsey Metselaar

Cooking for a date instead of going to a restaurant can be a recipe for romance.

"It's less expensive and more thoughtful. Anyone can take you out to dinner, but not everyone can make something you enjoy," says Lindsey Metselaar, creator and host of the dating podcast "We Met At Acme." She's also the foodie behind the Instagram account @dontexpectsalads and the CEO of Lindsey's Lunchbox, a social media management company with clients like DeKalb Market Hall and Paragon Sports.

If you stick to a few ground rules, it's more likely your meal will be a success, says Metselaar. Here are some tips for making a date-night dinner that's sure to impress.

Stick to what you know

Date night is not the time to experiment in the kitchen. "You have to stick to a recipe you've already mastered. It's going to be obvious if you're stressed out," Metselaar says.

Making a family recipe is one way to take your date to the next level, she says. "You're making a recipe that's personal and means something to you. That's a really good bonding experience."

Metselaar suggests waiting more than four dates to prepare a meal for your partner. That's because cooking and eating at home together is much more intimate than going to a restaurant. And you don't want to make a grand gesture for just anyone, especially since cooking takes time and energy: "It's more romantic to cook because it's a real labor of love, and cooking for someone can make you more emotionally attached."

Keep it simple

"You want everything to seem effortless," Metselaar says. Make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare by giving your date a set time to arrive.

It also helps to plan ahead. You can make certain dishes the night before, like a salad that you wait to dress until right before serving, she says.

You're making a recipe that's personal and means something to you. That's a really good bonding experience.
Lindsey Metselaar
creator and host of the dating podcast 'We Met At Acme'

While you should serve the recipes you feel comfortable making well, remember that some dishes have drawbacks: "Fish is weird to make, your whole apartment is going to smell like fish. That's not a sexy vibe," she says. Steer clear of extra spicy dishes, she suggests, as well as meals with a ton of garlic, or anything reliant on ingredients that some people have a natural aversion to, like cilantro or cumin.

In general, go for something light, Metselaar says: "Stay away from anything that's superdecadent, like a casserole, or a really sweet dessert. You don't want to be sitting there feeling full and gross."

Making something simple and light can help you keep your meal cost-effective, too, she says, since you won't be buying lots of high-priced ingredients you'll never use again.

Combining courses is cost-effective

Making all-in-one dishes is another way to ensure culinary success — and save time and money.

Try a pasta dish that includes vegetables and a protein like chicken, says Metselaar. Stir-fry is another way to keep it simple and cheap, because when you combine your protein with a grain, you can stretch the serving size, so you get more bang for your buck. And, since a stir-fry is packed with flavor, you'll still showcase your culinary skills.

If your sweetheart invites you over for a romantic dinner, there are also a few things to keep in mind, Metselaar says: "If you didn't cook, you should always offer to do the dishes, and you should never come empty-handed. Bring a bottle of wine, or pick up a dessert."

Below, Metselaar shares a fast, cheap, and easy recipe inspired by the first dinner she made for her current boyfriend: chicken Parmesan with a side of sauteed cauliflower with dried cranberries.

Cooking for a date can be very rewarding, not only for the guest, but also for the chef, Metselaar says: "It's really gratifying to see someone enjoy something that you've made from scratch."