January Money Diet Day 3 – Plan Your Meals

Fresh pizza recipe at Happy Simple Living blog

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 non-diet 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 incorporate in 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. For inspiration, you might enjoy checking out the oddly-named but helpful site Recipe Puppy. You simply plug in the ingredients you have on hand, and Recipe Puppy provides recipes that match those ingredients. Woof woof!?

It’s usually more economical to plan meals using the grocery store circular for inspiration, so that you can choose meals utilizing seasonal, lower-priced ingredients. If you don’t receive one in the newspaper or mail, your local store probably posts it online.

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.

To further streamline meals this month, you may want to schedule some of your favorites for 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, two crust recipes, a homemade sauce recipe, dozens of topping ideas and lots of 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.

For breakfast, I like to make a big batch of breakfast burritos and put them in the freezer. We also like homemade Greek yogurt (the recipe happens to be Happy Simple Living’s #1 post of all time) and fresh-baked granola.

Some people save money with coupons and online grocery games, while others don’t think the time justifies the payoff. If you’re a whiz at saving with 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.

Today’s homework assignment: Plan every meal for at least 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, and if you find some amazing deals at the store we want to hear about those, too!

I hope your new year is off to a very good start, and I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Hugs to all of you,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

10 comments to January Money Diet Day 3 – Plan Your Meals

  • That picture of pizza just got me hungry :)

    Planning ahead with meals can be a good way to save money. I find that it’s when I don’t plan that I may have a propensity to pick up food from outside.
    Squirrelers recently posted..Carnival of Financial Planning

  • Very good point, and I’m glad the pizza photo worked on you! :-)

  • Heather

    This was a great exercise and one I need to make a regular habit… I have the week planned, a small grocery list written and ready AND most of the week’s meals allow me to then put the leftovers into my lunch the next day (very cost effective)…

    Plus I found several recepies to put a few cans of those BEANS in my pantry to use and the frozen chicken in my freezer that is just taking up room.

  • I love doing this, especially after taking a more complete inventory of what was still in my freezer. It keeps us on track with our eating and out of the drive through.

  • Mea Johnson

    I love meal planning and wish that I took more time to do it!! As I mentioned in a post for the 2nd, I have already begun, but did not put it in a plan!! This is so fun. I am thankful that we are able to get a winter CSA,(farm share), so we will be getting a ton of yummy veggies tomorrow. I have some green juice planned, butternut squash chili, beet burgers and vegan mac and cheese…but I love the pizza idea and having designated nights! We are out at least twice a week and at meetings that often have food, so I have to be careful to not make too much..as we are a two person family! I recently learned of a sight that folks can share cooked meals on..anyone else know about this?

  • Carole

    I made my menu for the week, and it doesn’t look like I need to shop for ingredients for any of that – have it all on hand. However, I do want to get the parchment paper and necessary ingredients to make the Breakfast Burritos. Looking forward to trying that idea out, as well as the dough for the pizza makins! Nice to have on hand. We buy the frozen pizzas, and I know they aren’t that good for you :( as well as even on special $5/pizza, I know they can probably be made for much less! I look forward to checking into this site when I can to see what everyone is doing to make things more cost effective!

  • Sara

    Thinking about every single meal for a whole week felt a bit overwhelming, so I decided on three dishes, that will utilize some of the ingredients I have at home.Since I am living solo, they should sustain me for a good part of the week.

    I am planning to make vegetarian lasagne, oven-baked chicken with roasted vegetables and an asian stew

  • So, this morning, hubby said – ‘great article in the paper – you’ll agree – about a Jan. Money diet’! I could proudly say that, ‘yes, I read her blog and that meal you loved last night? I ‘shopped my pantry’ re Eliza’s advice last week’ – that southwestern beansoup mix with some leftover turkey from freezer, some made-from-scratch cornbread and a salad – YUMMY on a cold night!

  • Mary Abel

    Yesterday, for the first time in a very, very long time, I planned out this week’s meals and went to the grocery store with a list–and stuck to it! As empty-nesters and restaurant junkies, we eat out A LOT. But we’ve decided to try to go the month of January without one restaurant visit or delivery order. Thanks so much, Eliza, and congrats on your Denver Post article! xoxo

  • Mea Johnson

    Well, I just wanted to share a report back…I made a menu for the week but it got altered as things changed, I still used food I already had and made a menu for next week. It really saved me today, when I packed left overs to eat after my class that got out at 1pm and I was starving!!! Thanks Eliza!! I would normally just buy my lunch and spend a bunch, especially since I was so hungry!

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