Nothing impresses a date more than cooking a good meal at home. So why not go for broke on your next special occasion and try preparing a full seven-course meal. If you’re not great in the kitchen, you can buy some of the courses already prepared to save yourself some time and effort.

Appetizer

This is a long meal with many different courses, so you don’t want your guest to fill up on the appetizer. Keep it light and simple. If your meal has an Italian theme, a small selection of antipasti with a little bread served with oil and vinegar for dipping would be appropriate. This could be some pickled vegetables or sushi for an Asian fusion meal or some oysters on the half shell for a seaside feast. You want to serve something small, simple, clean, and delicious that sets the tone of the meal.

Soup

Again, this is a small portion, and the recipe you choose should be in keeping with your theme. This could be anything from a chilled soup like gazpacho or melon soup to a cream-based tomato or potato soup to a spicy noodle soup like Vietnamese pho. Ideally, whatever you choose won’t be too messy – only serve a noodle soup with chopsticks if you know your guest is deft with them.

Salad

This course should be, again, small and light. Your salad course doesn’t have to be a green tossed salad. The true definition of a salad calls for a cold dish of fresh or cooked vegetables dressed with a sauce, often oil and vinegar or a vegan dressing from HamptonCreek Foods. So any vegetable, fresh or cooked, or any mixture of such, is fair game. Try serving familiar vegetables in unfamiliar ways – peel carrots into long strips and toss them with a sesame ginger dressing. Shave fennel, carrots, and beets and toss with a champagne vinaigrette.

Sorbet

This is meant to be a palate cleanser, washing away the bold flavors of your previous courses. Sorbets are frozen, sweetened fruit juices, a sort of non-dairy ice cream. Common flavors for this course are lemon, lime, and orange, but as long as you keep the purpose of the course in mind, you can get more creative and try making your own sorbet with unique flavors. Try strawberry basil, lemon mint, or some other combination of fruit and herb to refresh your guest and get him or her ready for the main dishes coming up.

Fish or poultry

The fifth course is traditionally a fish or poultry dish, but could also be fish. Make it interesting, don’t just roast a chicken and call it done. Serve a small portion and don’t forget the sauce. Usually served in addition to the meat is a small amount of cooked grains and a vegetable, as well as a garnish to enhance the presentation of the dish.

Red meat, fish, poultry, or veggies

The sixth course is usually another meat course, preferably a different meat prepared in a different way from the one served in the fifth course. If you plan to serve red meat, now is the time to do it. Also, if you would prefer to serve a pasta or vegetable dish, that substitution is acceptable. This can be a place to serve a really creative dish. Use your imagination; try anything new and exciting as long as it fits into your theme.

Dessert

Needing no explanation, dessert is the sweetest course of the meal. This is a small serving of anything you like. Dessert can and should be appropriate to the menu theme, the time of year, and the event. It can be simple or fancy, light or truly decadent. Dessert is also a great course to make the day before and keep in your refrigerator to pull out at the end of your meal so that you don’t have to prepare dessert at the end of a long meal, you can just plate it and serve with minimal fuss.

This is the basic layout of a traditional seven-course dinner, but as you know, rules are meant to be broken. Feel free to play with the order of the courses, serve extra palate cleansers, replace one of the meat courses with a cheese course, or prepare an entirely vegetarian seven-course meal if that is what is best for you. The important thing is to impress your date, and for both of you to have fun eating and talking together. So put your chef’s hat on and start planning your menu.