An RD's Menu for a Date Night In

An RD's Menu for a Date Night In

Brierley Horton, M.S., RD is a dietitian nutritionist, content creator and strategist, and avid mental health advocate. She is co-host and co-creator of the Happy Eating podcast, which breaks down the connection between food and mental wellness.

If you’re like me, cooking for people is how you express your love and gratitude for those you care about. For the record, while I cook for my kids every day, they don’t fall into this category. I’m talking about a partner, spouse, or a really good friend. There’s a lot to be said for nourishing someone through food. The joy—for me—starts at the menu planning stage. More on that in a minute.

Now, I realize not everyone is like me. Maybe you just want to cook to impress, especially if it’s someone you’re newly dating. Or someone you want to take it to the next level with. You’ve seen those recipe names, right? Marry Me Chicken. Engagement Chicken. And now there are variations on it—Marry Me Beans, Engagement Pasta. Before you get too excited, we’re not claiming that any of these recipes, or the suggested menu, will yield an engagement.

Now that I got that out of the way, whichever persona resonates with you, I’ve got you covered. Here’s how to put together a killer date night dinner at home.  

Build a menu based on your cooking style. 

In my kitchen, I prefer to go all out with my side dishes and stick with a tried-and-true, simple protein. I find side dishes are more creative and also more flexible—aka harder to screw up. Would I like to get creative and cook a standing rib roast? Sure. But a side that dazzles and delights is more unexpected, and that’s what I’m aiming for. So when I build out my menu, I lean heavily into the side dishes. If your style, however, is to go big with whatever is at the center of the plate (ahem, that standing rib roast), then keep your sides simple and streamlined.   

Make a grocery list and build in a back up plan. 

I’m a diehard grocery list person. All those choices at the grocery store set my senses on fire and I very quickly forget what I actually need. Plus, the last thing I want to have to do is excuse myself from my dinner date to run over to the neighbor’s or the store for a forgotten ingredient. While I’m at it, I also build in a couple back-up options—like a pre-made dessert and a yummy cheese with a fancier cracker. This way if I run out of time (or energy!) to make an appetizer or a dessert, I have something on hand that's easy to serve. 

Dress accordingly, relax, and have fun. 

Now, for that menu! 

Starters: Despite my best efforts, I almost always put a date night dinner on the table later than originally planned, so having an appetizer set out has become a must for me. 

Garden Veggie and Pita Board 
I love this board because it’s something I can assemble ahead of time, it’s not too filling, and it’s colorful and pretty. 

Pimento Cheese 
If I’m feeling extra ambitious and want another dipper, I’ll add this cheese to the board. Or if you don’t have our Garden Veggie Cream Cheese near you and need a substitute, this is what I recommend. 

The Main Dish: Remember, I’m a sides gal. These two side dishes leave plenty of room for interpretation, but will definitely delight your dinner date. 

Cheesy Smashed PotatoesThis is essentially a 4-ingredient side with a super-simple preparation. But boy do those potatoes shine! And don’t skip the rosemary!

Antipasto Broccoli SaladThis is a broccoli salad that will surprise and impress your dinner date—it’s not mayonnaise-based and has a creative flavor twist thanks to salami and pepperoncini. 

But if you prefer simple sides and a more complex main protein, here’s what I recommend. Pair it with a side of black beans or a simple green salad: 

Skillet Pepper Jack Chicken with Avocado Salsa

Dessert: A quick and easy sweet ending.

Oven Cheddar S’MoresThis s’mores recipe is just fun! And I love the addition of sharp, tangy cheddar cheese to get that salty-sweet combo that everyone loves. 

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Cheese As You Please

Our naturally-aged cheddars have 0g of lactose per serving! So go ahead, dig in.

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