Looking for a special night in? Don’t want to spend a lot of money? These fancy dinner ideas will help you serve a fancy meal on a budget.
Yes! Food presentation can make the simplest, cheap meals seem like very fancy dinners. Pork tenderloin, the poor man’s steak dresses up really well! Learn how to prep a special date night dinner without breaking the bank. And be sure to include a Cherry Cheesecake!
While few of us have unlimited grocery budgets, it’s not that hard or expensive to serve a special or romantic dinner at home. A fancy dinner all depends on how you present it!
Oh sure, you can spend a small fortune on groceries and prepping fancy dinner recipes, but the cost isn’t really what puts a dish’s best food forward. Even the simplest meals can dress to impress.
These fancy dinner ideas will set you up nicely!
Years ago I worked in a catering kitchen, assembling deli and cheese trays, preparing sandwiches, and arranging pretty fruit platters. Except for the hair net and the ugly apron, I enjoyed the job immensely — especially since I love food and I love feeding people.
One of the mantras that my manager repeated to me often was, “Presentation is everything.”
What he meant was, it doesn’t matter how good it tastes if it looks bad. And in the same vein, if the food’s not up to par, we’ll make up for it by making it pretty.
While those theories certainly breakdown at some point in home cooking, they’re helpful to think about. Even if we’re eating on a budget, I can still serve a fancy dinner.
A fancy dinner makes one feel rich! Even if you aren’t.
They say that you eat with your eyes first. If a dish is colorful, fresh-looking, and appealing to your eyes, it’s already tempted you and made you want to taste it. It gets you ready for the act of eating and enjoying the food. That’s what makes for the best fancy dinners!
Tips for Success
Here are some fancy dinner ideas to make your plates and your food presentation in general a little more inviting:
Use the freshest ingredients.
Fresh ingredients make for a prettier food presentation. No one wants wilted lettuce! So be sure to buy the freshest available.
Talk to the produce attendant and ask him or her to teach you how to select ripe produce. Alternatively, you can also request that he or she help you select the best items. If you have a plan for when you’ll serve it, that will help determine the right stage of ripeness.
The closer you can buy your product to the source (ie, from the butcher, the dairy, or the farm) the fresher it should be. Your mileage may vary depending on where you live.
Fresh ingredients will take your fancy dinner ideas over the top!
Pay attention to color.
For some reason brown, white, yellow, and orange foods don’t really tempt our senses. Reds and greens liven up a plate immensely.
Add diced tomato to a salad, chopped red pepper to a pizza, or a cherry atop the sundae.
Even a sprinkle of chopped parsley, basil, or cilantro over the top of a savory recipe can make a difference in the food presentation. People will be more likely to want to eat your food. That’s always a good thing!
Choose pretty serving dishes and linens.
Pretty serving dishes and linens make a big difference in the food presentation, even though they aren’t edible. Food stands out nicely on white dishes, so don’t think you need to invest in fancy decorated dishes.
You also don’t have to spend a ton on new serving ware, just keep your eyes open at garage sales and thrift stores. Pretty is as pretty does, not how much pretty costs.
Your dishes don’t even need to be fancy for the food to feel special. Whenever anyone sees my lunches served in these meal prep containers, they always ask about the containers. There’s just something about the presentation of the simple salad in a black box that makes it more attractive.
How you dress up your fancy dinner ideas matters!
Make friends with ramekins.
Ramekins are little glass dishes often used in baking or for serving individual portions. They also make great serving vessels for condiments and side salads. Buy them whenever you see a good deal and use them often.
Again, a stroll through a thrift store may garner you a decent collection for just a few pennies.
Transfer condiments to serving dishes.
While this may make more work for the dishwasher, it makes a huge difference to the table you set and to your food presentation in general.
Serving condiments in dishes takes the focus away from the brand of sour cream and the advertising plastered across its packaging and allows you to think more about the food and the company. It also prevents cross contamination of a larger container.
A little thought into your food presentation can make a huge difference in how those at your table feel about the meal. It attracts all their senses and gets them ready to enjoy what you’ve prepared, even if it’s budget fare.
A garnish is something added to a prepared dish to make it more appealing, to add color, texture, or a contrasting flavor. Think of lemon slices, chopped herbs, or sliced avocado as something that will make the plate pretty and add some color. All these things add to a prettier food presentation.
Yes. Anything that you add to a plate should, in theory, be edible. It would be unsafe to assume that your guests know not to eat the decorations you’ve put on their plate, so be sure to serve only garnishes that are edible.
Fancy Dinner Ideas
Looking for some fancy dinner recipes? Check out this round-up of Good Cheap Eats’ special meals to make your supper super!
This post was originally published on September 9, 2014. It has been updated for content and clarity.