It’s easy to plan a romantic dinner for a special occasion such as an anniversary or Valentine’s Day, or even if you are planning a menu for “just because.” Keep the following tips in mind and you will create a fantastic menu that will showcase your love and appreciation for your loved one over a romantic dinner.

For dinners revolving around an anniversary or Valentine’s Day, you can use the following parts of a five course menu. Mix and match courses according to how fancy you want your dinner to be.

Appetizer: Utilize small bites of ingredients that you don’t eat very often, or are usually reserved for special occasions, including shrimp cocktails; thin slices of smoked salmon over crackers and sliced cucumbers; or prosciutto wrapped around thin crackers and sliced aged Swiss cheese. If you choose to incorporate an appetizer in your menu, make small portions so that it is an introduction to your meal.

Soup: A soup course precedes a salad course, in general. A light soup will do if you are following this course with a salad course. There are so many soups to choose from (sweet or savory?) that you won’t have trouble finding the right soup for your particular menu. Butternut squash soup and clear vegetable soup are light, while leek and potato soup and chowder are heavy and filling.

Salad: Choose a salad that your loved one enjoys, and have the dressing handy. Mixed micro-green salad with blue cheese dressing is a fairly elegant choice.

Main course: This course can be considered the most important of them all, but do think about how it will tie in to the other parts of the menu. Making your sweetheart’s favorite dish can be very romantic and will show him or her that you have put a lot of thought into the making of the menu.

Dessert: This last course might be the most romantic part of the menu. A velvety chocolate cheesecake, a homemade mini cherry pie or tart, or a classy crème brûlée can be the perfect ending to a lovely meal, or perhaps the perfect beginning to a love-filled night.

Here is an example of a three-course meal:

Appetizer: Bite-sized water crackers topped with sliced apples and smoked salmon

Main course: Homemade pasta sauce with whole wheat pasta and real Parmesan cheese

Dessert: Homemade chocolate molten “lava” cupcakes, topped with fresh whipped cream

Serve dessert with a dessert or sweet wine, such as porto or Riesling.

The following is another example of a three-course meal that can be easily adapted to become a four course meal (with the addition of a salad course):

Appetizer: Bite-sized toasted corn tortillas topped with salad and chopped walnuts (This appetizer takes care of two courses: appetizer and salad)

Main course: Pan-seared New York strip steak with homemade smashed potatoes and real butter

Dessert: Homemade individual raspberry cheesecake, drizzled with raspberry syrup

Serve dessert with a chardonnay or any type of champagne you choose.