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15 Romantic Dinner Ideas on a Budget

You’ve probably been tempted to splurge on date night before—especially if you’re celebrating something special, like an anniversary or birthday. But you guys, a celebration is no excuse to blow your budget. You’ve just got to get creative with romantic dinner ideas you can cook up at home. And if you’re not a professional chef, that’s totally okay. There are a million ideas out there for meals that will help you celebrate a romantic night without tanking the budget.

I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite romantic dinner recipes to help you plan the perfect date night at home, on a budget. These recipes are also perfect for birthday or anniversary dinner ideas. So get excited, because you can make them for about $20 or less. (Talk about eating well and staying in your budget!)

What are you waiting for? Give these dinner ideas a try and find out for yourself how affordable and romantic your date nights at home can be.

Jump to your favorite romantic dinner recipe:

  1. Sausage and Tortellini Soup
  2. Sheet Pan Meatballs and Roasted Vegetables
  3. Pesto Pasta
  4. Stuffed Peppers
  5. Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
  6. Homemade Pizza
  7. Four-Ingredient Chicken Roast
  8. Chicken Parmesan
  9. Chicken Taquitos
  10. Stuffed Shells

Romantic Dinner Recipes 

Now, the thing you’ve all been waiting for . . . the recipes. To make my list, these romantic dinner ideas had to be easy to meal plan, quick to make, and most of all, affordable. And by affordable, I mean each serving costs much less than what you’d pay in a restaurant for a single entrée.

Here are 10 of my favorites:

tortellini soup

1. Sausage and Tortellini Soup 

So many of my friends love Olive Garden. If that sounds like you, you’ll love this play on their Zuppa Toscana recipe. It’s just Italian sausage, chicken broth, kale, cheese tortellini and heavy cream. I like that you can control the spice level by choosing different types of sausage.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost Per Serving: $3.48

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Italian ground sausage
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bunch kale, destemmed and finely chopped
  • 10 ounces cheese tortellini
  • 1 cup heavy cream  

Directions:

  1. In a deep pot over medium-high heat, brown the sausage. Once cooked, place the browned sausage on a paper towel to drain excess fat.
  2. Return the pot to the heat and add chicken broth and kale. Simmer until wilted, about 15 minutes.
  3. Return the sausage to the pot and add the tortellini. Cook until tortellini is done according to package instructions.
  4. Stir in the heavy cream.
  5. Enjoy! That’s amore.

2. Sheet Pan Meatballs and Roasted Vegetables

Sometimes I want to whip up a romantic dinner idea like spaghetti and meatballs that costs less and uses lighter ingredients than what you get at a restaurant. That’s where turkey meatballs and roasted vegetables save the day. You can top them with marinara sauce if you want and still get the savory flavor of a romantic Italian dinner.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4

Cost Per Serving: $3.98

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • Vegetables of your choosing (I like broccoli or zucchini)
  • Olive oil

Toppings (optional):

  • Marinara sauce
  • Parsley
  • Basil

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, Italian seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  3. Add 1 pound of ground turkey and 1 egg to the bowl with the breadcrumb mixture. Use your hands to combine everything—but don’t overmix.
  4. Divide and shape the turkey mixture into 16 evenly sized meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Chop your vegetables and drizzle with olive oil. Add to a second baking sheet.
  6. Bake the meatballs and vegetables at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
  7. Top with your favorite sauce or spices (I like marinara!) and enjoy.

pesto pasta

3. Pesto Pasta 

When you think of this recipe, I want you to think of one thing: easy. Romantic dinner ideas don’t have to be complicated—and they don’t have to require a ton of dishes either. You’ll roast some veggies in the oven, but then the rest of the cooking will happen in one big pot. It’s delicious and easy to clean up. And it pairs perfectly with that little secret in the back of the freezer—I’m looking at you, store-brand ice cream.

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Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4

Cost Per Serving: $2.51

Ingredients:

  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 1/2 cups rigatoni (or whatever pasta you have in your pantry)
  • 2 cups sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup pesto
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut the head of broccoli into individual florets, coat in olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Place the broccoli on a sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes.
  3. In a large pot, cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until al dente, about 10 minutes (but check with the directions on your package). Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
  4. Pour the pasta and the reserved pasta water back in the pot and place over low heat.
  5. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, roasted broccoli, pesto and Parmesan. Stir until combined and the cheese has melted.

4. Stuffed Peppers

Okay, these stuffed peppers are super simple to make and fun to eat. If you want to save money on the filling, cut down on the ground beef and bulk them up with rice and black beans (you’ll still get tons of flavor). Top them with your favorite taco toppings, like sour cream, guacamole or salsa, if you want to give them a little something extra.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 45–50 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost Per Serving: $3.81

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup cooked white rice
  • 1 can black beans
  • 6 bell peppers
  • Olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Taco seasoning
  • Shredded Mexican cheese

Toppings (optional):

  • Sour cream
  • Cilantro
  • Hot sauce
  • Black olives
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a saucepan or small pot, prepare the rice according to the instructions.
  3. Wash and cut off the tops of the peppers and remove the seeds inside. Place them in a baking dish cut side up and drizzle with oil, then set the dish aside.
  4. In a large skillet over medium, heat a teaspoon of olive oil and cook the chopped onion, stirring occasionally (about 7 minutes). Mix in garlic powder and tomato paste, then add ground beef and brown until the meat is no longer pink. Drain the excess fat.
  5. In the large skillet, stir in the cooked rice, black beans and diced tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper and taco seasoning to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
  6. Grab the prepared baking dish and spoon the beef mixture into each pepper. Top them with cheese and cover the dish with foil.
  7. Bake the peppers until they’re soft—about 45 minutes. Then uncover and continue cooking about 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.
  8. Before serving, add your favorite toppings.

roasted sweet potato

5. Stuffed Sweet Potatoes 

Sweet, salty and saucy—three reasons this sweet potato recipe has become a favorite. You could change up the sauce and make it Tex-Mex, ranch or any other flavor combo your heart desires.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 40–50 minutes

Serves: 2

Cost Per Serving: $6.11

Ingredients:

  • 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1/3 cup barbecue sauce, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Remove two of the breasts (or thighs, if preferred) from the rotisserie chicken. Chop into small pieces and set aside.
  3. Poke holes all over the sweet potatoes using a fork and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 40–50 minutes on the prepared baking sheet until tender.
  4. When just a few minutes remain on the sweet potatoes, add the cabbage to a medium skillet over medium heat. Add barbecue sauce and sauté for about 3 minutes, until soft.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and mix the chicken into the cabbage.
  6. Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, slice in half lengthwise and scoop out some of the flesh with a spoon until only a small layer remains.
  7. Add the chicken and cabbage filling to the sweet potatoes, drizzle more barbecue sauce on top, and top with green onions.

6. Homemade Pizza

You know what I love even more than takeout pizza? Homemade pizza. Yeah, there’s nothing as fun as decorating your very own pie with your loved one. Put on an Italian dinner playlist and get cooking with your significant other. And you don’t need a fancy pizza oven—your kitchen oven will do just fine.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15–20 minutes

Serves: 2–4

Cost Per Serving: $2.97–5.93

Ingredients:

  • 2 packs ready-to-bake pizza dough
  • 1 jar marinara sauce
  • 1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese

Toppings (optional):

  • Pepperoni
  • Sausage
  • Canadian bacon
  • Mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Basil
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Pineapple
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Garlic

Directions:

  1. Thaw the pizza dough according to the directions on the package, then roll it out on a baking sheet. Preheat your oven according to the instructions on the pizza dough’s package.
  2. Pop open your jar of marinara sauce and gently scoop it onto the rolled-out dough. There’s no measurement, so add as much or little as you’d like.
  3. Top the sauce with mozzarella cheese and as many of your favorite toppings as you want.
  4. Bake according to the directions—until the crust is fully cooked and the cheese is bubbly.

roasted chicken

7. Four-Ingredient Chicken Roast

This romantic dinner idea is so simple because it’s a one-sheet meal. You roast the chicken and potatoes in the oven together, and voilà. Serve it up with some crusty French bread and a glass of white wine.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost Per Serving: $2.80

Ingredients:

  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped sage, separated
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, cubed small
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Set chicken out for 20 minutes while the oven preheats.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the butter and 1 tablespoon of the sage. Spread the butter both under and over the chicken skin.
  3. In a bowl, toss remaining sage with potatoes, oil and salt.
  4. Spread potatoes on a baking sheet. Lay the chicken on top of the potatoes. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
  5. Place sheet with chicken and potatoes in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove and toss the potatoes. Increase the heat to 450 degrees F and cook again for another 15 minutes, until the chicken skin is crisp and golden brown.

8. Chicken Parmesan

There’s just something about chicken Parmesan (or parmigiana, if you want to get fancy) that says “romantic dinner.” This dish is a classic, and it’s super simple to make yourself. And you can easily add a side salad or pasta to round out the dish. Would it be nice to order chicken parm in a restaurant with a name you can’t pronounce? Sure. But you can save a ton of money making it at home for your own romantic date night. (And there’s nothing stopping you from serving it with an accent. Molto bene!)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4

Cost Per Serving: $4.64

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar marinara sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 package breadcrumbs
  • 2 pounds chicken breasts
  • Olive oil
  • 1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Dried parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Spread 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Set it aside.
  3. In one bowl, whisk two eggs. In a second bowl, add breadcrumbs.
  4. Pound the chicken breasts until they’re 1/2 inch thick. Coat each chicken breast in the egg wash and then cover each side in breadcrumbs.
  5. Fill a large skillet with 1/2 inch of olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add breaded chicken and lightly brown until crispy—about 2 minutes on each side.
  6. Lay the crispy chicken breasts on top of the sauce in the prepared baking dish.
  7. Top each piece of chicken with 2 tablespoons of marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, dried parsley, and salt and pepper to your liking.
  8. Bake at 425 degrees F for 20­–25 minutes and serve with a side salad or your favorite pasta.

chicken taquitos

9. Chicken Taquitos 

Mexican recipes will always make it into my list of romantic dinner ideas. Winston knows when he whips up anything Mexican, it makes me so happy. And this recipe hits the spot. You just put a little bit of each ingredient in the tortillas, roll ’em up, and bake or fry them. That's it.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 5­­

Cost Per Serving: $1.50–3.11

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
  • 1–2 minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 12 7-inch flour or corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
  • Vegetable or olive oil, for brushing

Toppings (optional):

  • Pico de gallo
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Sliced avocado or guacamole
  • Unflavored Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • Fresh cilantro

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the chicken and minced chipotle peppers.
  3. Lay the tortillas flat and fill the bottom third of each tortilla with 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture and 1/4 cup of shredded cheese. Roll tightly and secure with a toothpick.
  4. Place the tortillas on the prepared baking sheet and lightly brush the filled tortillas with oil.
  5. Bake for 12–15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
  6. Remove the toothpicks and serve with your favorite toppings.

Quick tip: These recipes have you buying some ingredients you won’t use up. Don’t let the extra go to waste! Make the meal again or use those groceries in a different recipe that same week.

10. Stuffed Shells

I love stuffed shells as a romantic dinner idea for two. First, the pasta is pretty. Second, they’re simply delicious. Third, they’re super easy to make. Take the stress out of your date night at home with this go-to dish. Pair it with a side salad for extra color and flavor.

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4–6

Cost Per Serving: $3.33

Ingredients:

  • 1 package jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 jar marinara sauce
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toppings (optional):

  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Basil

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and grease a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Cook the pasta shells according to the package instructions.
  3. Spread 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce in an even layer in the bottom of the pan.
  4. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella, Parmesan and egg. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Fill each cooked shell with a scoop of the cheese mixture and then place the filled shells in the baking dish.
  6. Spoon the rest of the marinara sauce over the shells and sprinkle remaining cheese on top (about 1 1/2 cups).
  7. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Uncover the pan and bake for another 10 minutes—or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.
  8. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with your herb of choice (I pick parsley), and serve.

Romantic Dinner Ideas

Romantic dinner ideas don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Neither do celebrations, like anniversary dinners. Sure, it’s easy to think a steak restaurant and fancy jewelry are the only ways to go . . . but your budget might disagree, and that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes, you’ve got to dig deep to figure out how to keep your date nights fresh while still being affordable. Good news: You can try plenty of romantic dinner ideas at home for two—on a budget. Here are some ideas to help you get started so you can celebrate the night away:

1. Go on a picnic. 

This is a classic date idea—and you can make it as budget-friendly as you want. A picnic can be as casual as a blanket in the backyard or as upscale as wine and cheese with a city view. You can plan your picnic around a favorite nature trail or park bench in the city. Picnics are cheaper than a restaurant, they’re secluded, and you can enjoy getting away from it all. Just picture the sunset, you, your loved one . . . and a plate of chicken taquitos. Enough said.

2. Dream together. 

In a study done by Ramsey Solutions, we found that couples in healthy marriages are twice as likely to discuss money dreams together.1 And couples who set money goals together are generally closer. Why? Because they tend to trust each other more.

So, cook one of your favorite meals, look deep into each other’s eyes, and ask, “What are our biggest money dreams?” That’s a romantic dinner you won’t forget anytime soon.

3. Be tourists in your own town.

Have you lived in your city for a while and still never been to its most famous spots? A staycation is a fun way to get reacquainted with the place you call home. You can go take pictures with cheesy murals, explore new neighborhoods, or dive into your town’s history.

And to top it all off, you can end the day at one of the city’s popular restaurants. One of the best ways to try the menu (and keep it in the budget) is to share a meal. Pick an entrée to share and don’t forget the dessert.

4. Relive your first date. 

I’m not going to pat myself on the back over here, but this date idea can be so much fun. Remember what you did on your first date? Or how you felt? Maybe you were super nervous, or maybe you played it cool. Either way, it’s so fun to relive those sweet (or hysterical) moments together (now that you’re officially official). Recreate that first date together at home—complete with music, food and plenty of laughs. 

Need ideas for fun get-to-know-you questions? Grab a deck of Questions for Humans for some great couple conversation starters.

5. Rewatch your wedding highlights.

For a romantic anniversary dinner idea, there’s nothing more classic than dinner and a show . . . especially when that show is your wedding highlights. Throw some chicken on the grill, add some baked potatoes, and you’ve got a perfect anniversary date.

But seriously, when was the last time you looked at your wedding pictures and thought about your big day? Dust off that album, watch your wedding video, or scroll all the way back on your phone. This is a great chance to think about how far you’ve come and all of the things you’ve learned about each other (like your love language or Enneagram number).

The Best Way to Get Started With Romantic Dinner Ideas

Now that you’ve got some romantic dinner ideas, anniversary ideas and recipes, it’s time to put date night on the calendar—and in the budget. Winston and I budget every single month because it sets us up to win today, tomorrow and in the future.

The best way to do that is with EveryDollar. It’s free, easy to use, and lets you track your expenses right in the app. Download EveryDollar today and start winning with your budget (and date night!).

Key Takeaways

  • You don’t have to bust your budget on a fancy dinner to celebrate your relationship or anniversary.
  • There are plenty of romantic dinner ideas for two that you can make at home—and they’ll save you money compared to restaurant prices.
  • Get creative with your romantic date nights. Take advantage of free events and sights in your city to celebrate special occasions.
  • Check out the EveryDollar app to start budgeting for your date nights and dinner ingredients.

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Rachel Cruze

About the author

Rachel Cruze

Rachel Cruze is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, financial expert, host of The Rachel Cruze Show, and co-host of Smart Money Happy Hour. Rachel writes and speaks on personal finance, budgeting, investing and money trends. As a co-host of The Ramsey Show, America’s second-largest talk radio show, Rachel reaches millions of weekly listeners with her personal finance advice. She’s appeared on Good Morning America and Fox News and been featured in TIME, REAL SIMPLE and Women’s Health, among others. Through her shows, books, syndicated columns and speaking events, Rachel shares fun, practical ways to take control of your money and create a life you love. Learn More.

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