“Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying.” ~ Fran Lebowitz
During the January Money Diet we take a break from nonessential spending. Since meals are considered essential, however, we do get to spend money on groceries. But lest we get carried away, this month we’ll challenge ourselves to eat really well while also spending much less. One of the best ways to trim the food budget is to create a meal plan.
I’ll be honest; a typical month in our household usually includes several restaurant meals and the occasional Chinese take-out dinner. Cooking every meal at home is usually a significant area of savings for us during the January Money Diet, especially if we plan carefully, cook low-cost meals and watch for savings on seasonal items at the store.
If you participated in yesterday’s “Shop At Home” challenge, you likely unearthed some pantry items that you can utilize for meals this month. Take a few minutes to make an inventory of your other basic ingredients so you can use up food from the freezer and refrigerator this month. I find it easiest to plan a week at a time, and if you’re a list-maker like I am you may want to access one of these handy meal planning worksheets from our friends at Unclutterer.
It’s far more economical to plan meals using the grocery store circular for inspiration, so you can choose meals that utilize seasonal, lower-priced ingredients. I also keep a running list in a small notebook of meals my family especially likes; then, when I’m low on inspiration I can review the list and get some ideas for sure-to-please meals.
You may want to rely on some easy favorites and plug them into certain nights of the week. For instance, Sunday night is homemade pizza night here during the month of January. (Here’s my homemade pizza recipe, including detailed instructions and photos.) If you make a big batch of pizza dough early in the month and freeze the extra rounds of dough, you’ll have an easy, economical meal half-prepared with very little work or expense.
Soup is another great choice in January, as are slow-cooker meals. To keep things simple, you could, for instance, designate Mondays as casserole night, Tuesdays as stir-fry night, Wednesdays as soup night, Thursdays as pasta night, Fridays as Crock-Pot night, Saturdays as Cook-on-the-grill night and Sundays as pizza night – or whatever fits you and your family.
I won’t get into couponing and online grocery games, because we all have varying amounts of time that we can devote to shopping and cooking; if you’re a whiz at saving coupons, that’s all the better! Just try to figure out the meals you want to prepare and serve for the next week, take advantage of seasonal foods and specials, stay within your budget, and purchase the groceries. You’ll be way ahead in the challenge to spend less and eat well this month.
If you could use a little recipe inspiration, check out Taste of Home for reader-tested recipes and comfort food, the food section of the Pioneer Woman’s blog for hearty, easy meals, and my friend Michele Morris’s blog Cooking With Michele for more upscale offerings.
Homework assignment #2: Plan every meal for the next 7 days, utilizing what you already have on hand and taking advantage of any good deals at the grocery store. Share a few of the meals you plan to cook in the comments section below.
I’m so glad we’re in this together, and I hope your new year is off to a very good start.
Hugs to all of you brave dieters,
P.S. If you’ve joined us, today is Day 2 of the January Money Diet — a 31-day challenge to take a break from nonessential spending. Care to join us? Just jump right in and start saving! I’ll also be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences.