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,