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Ten Romantic Meals Under $20

by Kim Danger, Family Savings Expert for Coupons.com

When cooking a romantic meal for two, it isn't hard to save money. Food prepared at home often costs less than a third of what it would in a restaurant, allowing you to splurge a little and still come in under $20 per meal. Create additional savings for yourself by using printable coupons when you shop for supplies and by checking the recipe section of Coupons.com for menu ideas, where the ingredients lists contain links to coupons.

But keep in mind that your success doesn't lie within the money you spend or the food you serve - it's in the memories you create. Setting the mood and doing something special outside of your normal routine is key. Romance doesn't have to wait for Valentine's Day. Here are some ideas for February 14th as well as throughout the year.

Picnic under the Stars

Setting the Scene: Throw a picnic blanket on the floor and enjoy an evening under the (faux) stars.
Menu: Pack a basket of finger foods such as specialty cheeses, crackers and fresh fruits. If you have a heartier appetite try these Lunchbasket Pita sandwiches paired with Picnic Potato Salad.
Special Touches: CD sounds of crickets chirping as well as glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling help bring the outside indoors - hopefully without the ants.

An Evening in Paris

Setting the Scene: Bring Parisian romance under the Eiffel Tower to your own home for an upscale, romantic experience.
Menu: Try a classic French meal such as Coq a Vin or Boeuf Bourguignon followed by a rich, decadent dessert like French Chocolate Mousse.
Special Touches: Get out the candles, fine china and tablecloth (if you don't have one, a flat bed sheet works just as well). Dress as if you were at a fancy restaurant -- no slippers or sweats allowed! Put on some soft romantic music.

Lobster Lovers

Setting the Scene: Seafood lovers will enjoy creating an oceanside eatery in their own dining room.
Menu: Even with grocery prices on the rise, Maine lobster may be the best deal out there for frugal foodies. A drop in demand, combined with an above-average supply, has resulted in terrific prices. With lobster prices as low as $6.99 a pound, you'll be able to afford great sides like steamed broccoli and a baked potato.
Special Touches: Look for a CD of ocean sounds at your local Dollar Store or public library. Wear napkins around your necks for bibs, have dipping butter on hand, and laugh at the mess you make cracking lobster.

Going Green

Setting the Scene: Earthy flavors help put a green spin on Valentine's Day.
Menu: The Portobello Mushroom is a grownup version of the smaller Cremini. Because of its size and earthy flavor, it makes a great steak alternative for a romantic vegetarian meal. An Artichoke Risotto makes a flavorful side dish.
Special Touches: Even in the winter, evergreen branches make an attractive centerpiece when placed in a glass vase or wooden bowl. Look no further than the shrubs in your own yard!

Beach Getaway

Setting the Scene: A casual meal on the beach (or a beach feeling in your home) can create warm feelings on a cold winter night.
Menu: Try Grilled Fish Tacos or a shrimp cocktail and some fresh fruit with a blended margarita (don't forget the umbrella stirrers) to get your tropical groove on.
Special Touches: Try Pandora.com for some free Latin beats. Add shells, sand, and candles to your table. If you're indoors, put on an ocean documentary DVD from the library, turn up the heat and dress in beach wear.

Ski Lodge

Setting the Scene: Snuggle up on a warm, fluffy blanket while you watch the snowflakes drift to the ground.
Menu: Comfort foods like Beef Stew or Chili paired with hot, homemade crusty bread is sure to add to the cozy vibe. Finish it off with a warm nightcap such as hot buttered rum, Mulled Wine or Hot Cider.
Special Touches: Even if you don't have a fireplace, you can create a lodge atmosphere for free. Simply search "virtual fireplace" on YouTube and play one of the many videos on your computer screen.

Camp In

Setting the Scene: Light a fire in the fireplace as you "camp out" indoors!
Menu: Steaks, hamburgers or hotdogs on the grill paired with ice cold beer and S'mores for dessert.
Special Touches: Hit your public library for CD sounds of wolves howling and the Dollar Store for evergreen-scented candles to remind you of the great outdoors.

Italian Feast

Setting the Scene: Turn your home into a cozy Italian bistro with the sounds of Pavarotti and great smells emanating from the kitchen.
Menu: Fettucine with Marinara Sauce is an inexpensive dinner option. Because it's a meatless main dish you'll have money left over for Breadsticks, fresh Parmesan cheese, and a bottle of wine.
Special Touches: Perfect the art of plating the meal for maximum visual impact. Wipe sauce spots off around the rim of the plates and garnish the meal with parsley or fresh basil.

Dinner and a Movie

Setting the Scene: Dim the lights and draw the curtains to create the atmosphere of an old-fashioned cinema right in your own home. Pick a romantic classic from your library's DVD collection to watch with your meal, or use coupons from Coupons.com to save on DVDs of When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride and more.
Menu: Plan your dinner around the movie's theme. For example, try pairing the movie Titanic with lamb and mint sauce - straight from the ill-fated ship's actual menu.
Special Touches: Don't forget the popcorn and cinema candy classics like Good & Plenty® and Junior Mints®.

Retro Romance

Setting the Scene: A 1970s retro theme is perfect for a fun, casual dinner.
Menu: Fondue is definitely a departure from the normal cooking routine. Try dipping Bread Cubes in your choice of cheeses: Gruyère, or Swiss. Or dip fruits like apples, bananas or pears in a rich Chocolate or Butterscotch sauce.
Special Touches: Place the dinner table in a different location in your home so you feel like you're breaking from routine. Wear polyester from the thrift store, and put on your favorite disco music.

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