Cheap Weekly: Valentine's dinners on the cheap

While there’s nothing like enjoying the ambiance of a fancy restaurant, there’s also nothing quite like the pain of the enormous bill either. Instead of living on ramen noodles for months in order to afford one night out, stay in and let your pocketbook relax.

That’s exactly what my new husband and I will be doing this Valentine’s Day. Between tuition, groceries and rent, we can’t afford a fancy Valentine’s Day dinner out. But just because we’ll be doing the cooking and clean up doesn’t mean dinner has to be ordinary.

Crockpot shredded chicken

One of my favorite, super simple and super satisfying meals is crockpot shredded chicken. Throw a couple of frozen chicken breasts and a bottle of barbecue sauce — Famous Dave’s Rich and Sassy is my favorite — into the crockpot on low for a couple of hours. Once the pink is cooked out of the center, fish out the breasts and shred them using two forks, one for each hand. Once the chicken is sufficiently shredded, drop a couple of spoonfuls of the juice from the crockpot over the meat and mix it. Add more juice if the meat seems too dry.

The great thing about this recipe is you don’t have to babysit a hot pan and the meat is versatile. Personally, I enjoy shredded chicken on a hoagie bun, but it’s also great over rice or in a tortilla. Depending on how big your crockpot is, you could cook several pounds of chicken so you can eat some now and save some for later.

Frozen skillet dinners

I know it’s not the most romantic thing, but they’re actually good and not so bad on the wallet. In many different flavors and price ranges, frozen skillet dinners can be a simple way to have a delicious Valentine’s Day dinner without breaking the bank. Most just need to be thrown into a hot pan with a little liquid and be stirred occasionally. Within 20 minutes, a gourmet-tasting entrée is ready to be served.

My favorite brand is Voila! from Birds Eye. While I’m a fan of the teriyaki chicken, my husband goes weak at the knees for the garlic shrimp. Walmart sells both these flavors and many other flavors for about $3 a bag. Usually one bag is plenty to satisfy my husband and I, but at such a reasonable price, we often buy extras to have on hand.

Nutella croissants

What dinner is complete without dessert? Nutella croissants are perfect for an on-a-budget Valentine’s Day dinner. Buy a package of Pillsbury pop-able croissant dough, lay it out flat, lay a spoonful of hazelnut-chocolate-deliciousness down on the center of the widest part, roll it up and cook at the prescribed temperature.

If you really want to get fancy, dissolve a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into an egg white and water mixture and paint it onto uncooked, rolled-up croissants with a pastry brush. The egg white will give the croissant a beautiful color and the sugar will make the surface shiny.

The only thing to remember about these croissants is that they can’t be filled too full or the Nutella will spill out the edges. Speaking from experience, cooked-on Nutella doesn’t come off of cookie sheets very well, nor does it taste as good as the Nutella inside the croissants.