January Money Diet Day #4 – Figure Out What to Eat

Save money on food and drink by eating at home

Oh my goodness, I’ve been enjoying your comments from Day #2’s Scavenger Hunt exercise. From craft kits to scented soaps to organic catnip, you’ve been finding some amazing things in your closets and shelves. I especially enjoy hearing about the products you’re using up to pamper yourselves…bravo!

Some of you wrote wondering if you missed a post yesterday, but you didn’t. You’ll receive 4 to 5 e-mails a week during the January Money Diet, and never on Sundays because that’s when I take an online break.

You may remember that we’ll be tackling 5 money challenges this month. Challenge #1 was to give 31 gifts, and Challenge #2 will be in tomorrow’s e-mail — so watch for it.

Let’s Eat!

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.

Let’s challenge ourselves to eat really delicious food this month, while also spending less. One of the best ways to trim the food budget is to do a bit of planning ahead.

A typical month in our household usually includes a couple of restaurant meals and the occasional Chinese take-out dinner. Cooking every meal at home is 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 produce at the store.

A Mini Challenge

Let’s figure out our meals for the next 7 days, shall we? By planning and purchasing the ingredients, we’ll save time and stress. We’ll avoid multiple trips to the store, and reduce the temptation to purchase impulse items.

If you participated in Friday’s Home Scavenger Hunt, 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 also keep a running list in a small notebook of meals my family especially likes; when I’m low on inspiration, I can review the list and get some ideas for sure-to-please meals.

Are you more of a seat-of-the-pantser than a planner? Either strategy will work this month. Eco Cat Lady wrote a fun post last week about how she cooks from the pantry rather than by a pre-set meal plan. You may prefer to focus on stocking staples like pasta, rice and beans and filling in with fresh produce and protein; it’s totally up to you.

Simplify Even More

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. Just take the dough out of the freezer the night before and leave it in the refrigerator. The next night, it will be all thawed and ready to shape and bake…SO easy.

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 enjoy making our own homemade Greek yogurt and fresh-baked granola.

I don’t use many coupons or online grocery games, but 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.

Need a little recipe inspiration? I enjoy Taste of Home for reader-tested recipes and comfort food, and the food section of the Pioneer Woman’s blog for hearty, easy meals. I’ve also found some great, easy recipes on Pinterest which I keep on my Happy Simple Suppers board.

Share Your Plan, Win a Cookbook

101 Things To Do With BeansOnce you’ve figured out your meal plan for the next 7 days, will you share your ideas in the comments section on this page? Just for fun, I’ll give away a signed copy of my new cookbook 101 Things To Do With Beans to one random commenter. This book is full of delicious, economical recipes using lovely legumes.

You’ll hear from me again tomorrow with Challenge #2, and it’s a good one! Until then, stay strong… and keep letting your wallet gather dust.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

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

28 comments to January Money Diet Day #4 – Figure Out What to Eat

  • Colette

    There are so many good tips here! We are empty nesters and I only have the 2 of us to plan for. Since my husband is a gym rat, I never know when he’s going to just have a protein shake for a meal. We love the soups that I make from scratch, and I plan to start freezing individual portions for when it’s just me that I cook for. Soups and salads are a favorite for both of us.

  • Mila

    Oh brother! This hits me hard. I have raised six kids and was meticulous about meal planning. They all grew up and moved away, except one (Aspergers) who lives with us. I have just let the whole thing slide and I mostly wing it.
    I am going to go back to what I used to do and start planning, using what I have first and saving money on food again!

  • Joy

    I started this last year and have been making my own yogurt and granola from your recipe ever since. the other thing I did last year and am doing again this year is no credit card use during January. I learned most of my credit card use was for impulse buying anyway. One other thing my husband I started many years ago when our Christmas spending got out of hand and the holiday became no longer fun because of debt. We put $20.00 in an envelope every week and by Christmas we have nearly $2,000 to spend. Well, that was an eye-opener because we would not spend that much money on gifts! So we started only giving gifts that you could eat, drink, read, or bathe in! We usually have $500-700 left over each year and then we start January 1 with a new envelope and a new $20.00 bill. thanks for this blog.

  • Sara

    For the week ahead I picked up chicken stew, sausages, lots of fruits and veggies and ingredients to make a fritata and some items to pimp up my smoothies. All in all this weeks trip to the grocery store was quite expensive but hopefully all this healthy lovely ingredients will last the whole week.

  • Last year I starting planning meals by the month (and decreasing my shopping to once/month for dry goods and 2x/mo for fruits/veges.) We are still on that plan, though this year I went back to last year’s plan and saved myself an hour of planning, and no one around here was the wiser.

  • Betty

    I found this to be an easy challenge since this is my way of living. My husband fishes, hunts and has a huge garden in the summer. We can and freeze and always seem to have more on hand than we can use on a timely basis. At the beginning of each week – I check the freezer and panty and make a plan for meals so that we have variety and also so that food doesn’t get ignored and then get too old to safely eat. Our meals each week consist of venison – cooked in a variety of ways – fish – boiled, in salads, stir-fried, and/or made into a casserole. We usually have 1 meal of chicken, especially if we have guests who often don’t care for venison or fish. I haven’t bought beef for a long time. I used this challenge to just stay out of the grocery store until I absolutely have to – with the stock I have on hand – it shouldn’t be difficult. My husband has a harder time with what essential foods are – he stated if we run out of peanut butter, I’ll have to go shopping – I may have to distract him with something else.

  • Stephanie

    For our 7 meals we have planned with my 4 kids a different home made salad and dressing each night. From pear, gorgonzola and walnut to spinach, strawberry and poppy seed dressing, and many other fresh ideas. We have paired this with breaded pork chops, pecan crusted salmon, rotisserie chicken, Asian grilled chicken, roast, hamburgers and my meatloaf. Kicking the new year off healthy and trying new dishes.
    Thank you for the fun challenge!!!

  • Jessica

    We always plan our meals for the week and create our shopping list. We typically prep a few staples to keep in the freezer for those days that do not quite go as planned. These freezer items help us avoid eating out as there is always a good, healthy meal readily available. Great homemade freezer staples include meatballs, steel cut oatmeal, crock pot ready chili or chicken fajitas, taco soup.

    To sane on groceries, there are many strategies, but we combine a few to maximize savings. 1. Target red card (debit) to get 5% off all purchases plus 2. Target cartwheel app for 5-20% additional off selected items plus 3. Ibotta app for digital manufacturers coupons from $0.50-$3.00 off selected items.

    If you are new to cartwheel or ibotta, here are a few helpful hints. Both can be downloaded from your App Store.

    Cartwheel allows you to select the items you plan to purchase and provides a barcode for the cashier to scan. Discounts are taken immediately at the register and are applied in addition to your redcard 5%. The more you use the app, the more items you can select.

    Ibotta allows you to select manufacturers type coupons, either brand specific or product specific. For example: there may be a rebate for Bertolli pasta sauce or one for pasta sauce – any brand. This app is great because it consistently has rebates for staple items most of us likely buy every week (milk, bread, bananas, etc.). Use is easy, you scan the barcode of the product you have purchased, then scan a copy of your receipt and cash is rebated directly to you through the method you selected during account set-up (PayPal, venmeo, gift card). There are routinely bonus dollars as well as you use the app.

    You can set up an ibotta account and get a bonus by going to https://ibotta.com/r/rhkndnx.

    • Betty

      Jessica,. Just when I thought I knew just about every frugal idea about shopping for groceries – you have given me some valuable information – Thanks! Currently, I spend $40. A week for groceries – there is just 2 of us but we have several children and grandchildren that we have over for meals and we have 2 homes so the staples are double.

  • Libby

    Breakfasts: large pot of steel cut oats with flax seeds. Made with 25% CREAM (yum!) and 75% water. This should last 4-5 days combined with frozen fruit. Other days will either be eggs and toast or something else if I bake.

    Lunches: leftovers and soups.

    Dinners: chili and brown rice with broccoli on the side, split pea with ham soup, open face sandwiches with smoked salmon and a salad, homemade pizza and salad, cheese souffle and probably broccoli again, pork roast with rosemary potatoes and some green veg.

  • Nancy

    This is a HUGE challenge for me! I know it makes a huge difference in my life but actually organizing my brain, stomach and pantry is overwhelming. I have yet to figure out a week for this challenge but I’d really like to try! Thanks for your challenges!

  • Kim

    I keep a list of what is avaiable in my freezer. I plan meals around the sale flyer and once a month it is 15% off . So I stock up on the sale items & also get the extra 15 % off. This seems to work well as we get a variety of different meals. Also have eggs once a week instead of meat. Lots of homemade soups for lunch. Fish n chips on Fridays. I am going to add in a pizza night and try your recipe for pizza dough that can be frozen.

  • Terri

    I’m trying to return to more meal planning. I was much better at it when we had our kids at home. This weekend I went through my freezer and used up a lot of the older vegies and beans to make vegetable soup. I pressure canned it in pints for quick grab-and-go lunches and quarts for those evil take-out pizza temptation nights.

  • Sarah

    Wow! Everyone has a lot of great comments and ideas to share! As for me, my grandma (who I think was the original Budget Betty) and I used to play a “game” when I was just starting out on my own. We would go to the grocery store and the rules were you could only buy items on sale. Then, we’d go back to her house and create a meal from our purchases. It was great fun (not to mention scrumptious eating) and to this day, I still plan my meals around what’s on sale for that week. My rule of thumb for buying meat: never pay more than $2.99/lb, except of course, for that occasional treat.

  • Julee

    What I like to do is prepare my meals for the week on Saturday. This week I did ground meat crumbles, burgers,and a meatloaf. Also prepped chicken breasts, for chicken and noodles and shredded chicken sandwhiches. With the ground meat I make tacos or taco salad depending on whats available, spaghetti with homemade garlic toast. I make my noodles for the chicken noodles if I don’t have any in the pantry( these are done two days before so they are dry). And Sunday I get my Power Pressure cooker out and do up a pot roast with vegies and gravy which takes me about 20 minutes to cook. Each week I change it up, depending on what is on hand and the sales for that week. Sunday is always Pot Roast though.

  • I do a rough meal plan each week. Generally I only plan 2-4 meals as my health doesn’t allow me to cook every night without some payback and with most the ones I make there are plenty of leftovers.

    This week we’ll be having:

    – TexMex (made last night, will have another meal or two out of it and freeze the rest for when I’m not up to cooking)

    – Lentil burgers (makes enough for 2-3 dinners plus 2-3 lunches)

    – mushroom and spinach stuffed chicken breast with mashed potato and greens (no leftovers with this one)

    -Leftover sausages from earlier this week

  • If I didn’t menu plan we would eat out 3 to 5 times a week . Here is this weeks plan

  • Dreabelle

    Hi everyone I have planned lots of meals for this month from my freezer and store cupboard today I made meatballs one batch for eating tomorrow with pasta and one batch for freezing.
    I had lots of oranges &lemons leftover from Christmas so I made them into marmalade so won’t need to buy any for a while.

  • Anja

    I used to meal plan but now with the boys so young I can’t get the hang of meal planning because things do come up. So I just plan a big picture now like Wednesday is soup, Friday is pasta, Monday is left over from Sunday etc. For this month I decided to try to make meals with what I have and avoid buying food if possible. I have a freezer full with fruits and vegetables from the garden that need to be used, as well as meat. So I did actually sit down and have planned in advance and hope I can stick with it. Biggest problem is to remember to take something out of the freezer the day before…

  • Ha! Well, as you know, I never meal plan. Thanks so much for posting a link to my silly little post, BTW. So yesterday, since I was, ahem, a tad bit focused on football (Go Broncos!) it was the perfect day to make the “anything skillet” for dinner.

    I went easy & used frozen veggies. I heated up the cast iron skillet with some olive oil, tossed in some chicken breasts. While they were cooking I defrosted a package of frozen veggies. The package was called “Mexican mix” though it had broccoli and cauliflower which I’ve never actually seen used in traditional Mexican cuisine, but I decided to go that direction anyhow, I tossed the veggies into the skillet, added some lime juice, smoked paprika and liquid smoke, then sprinkled some grated cheese on top with a dollop of Greek yogurt & a fresh tomato and voila, easy peasy dinner to go with a Broncos win!

  • Lisa

    I have been meal planning for years, and buy only what we need each week, so my pantry and freezer have very little at the end of the week. I am really good at checking the freezer, but things tend to hide in the pantry. For this week’s meals, I made sure to check the pantry knowing I was starting the money diet this month! The only exception to this is when my husband or son bring home deer meat, which they did this year. So our meals this week include both venison steaks made into cheesesteak sandwiches, and ground venison made into chili. We are also having salads with salmon, chicken and rice, quesadias, pork with cheesy hashbrowns and hamburgers with potato salad. I have four weeks of menus that I repeat each month, but I am always looking for new ideas. Pinterest seems to be my go-to for those.

  • Lynn Louise

    Wow it sounds like Mary Ann and Katy are doing a great job with this challenge! I went through the freezers (we have 3 of them) and actually have enough meat/veggies to get us through months. We have our own beef and chicken and I also freeze corn, broccoli, peas, green beans, tomatoes, and even applesauce. I did find some packages of pepperoni so tonight will be a casserole. I made some chicken and hamburger yesterday so we will also have Chicken Alfredo with Broccoli (my son loves this dish)as well as Taco’s and Chicken Pot Pie. We had some sliced ham left over from a party a few months past so that is thawing so we can use that for another dinner this week. I froze quite a few bags of Zucchini this fall and am going to make some zucchini bread today. I do need to purchase some wheat bread and bananas but the grocery trip will be very quick and painless this time.

  • Mary Ann

    I went through my freezer and pantry listing all protein sources. Since I want all meals to have a quality protein, I easily know how many meals I have on hand. Then I made a “focus” checklist of things that need to be used up before they expire. I went a little crazy buying 25 pounds of both oats and popcorn. My husband is a farmer and he gave me about five pounds of sorghum (which is high protein and gluten free but has a shorter shelf life than the wheat he brings me). So I know my side dishes and desserts will be based on the focus foods. My goal is to use each focus item four times this month. So I’ll be making carmel popcorn from Cooking Light magazine, homemade granola, “quinoa” salad recipes with sorghum as a substitute, and oatmeal cookies. Finally, I always throw my fruits and veggies into the freezer if they are about to go bad. I have some jars of persimmon pulp from last year and a huge box of spinach. I will pull out the Omega juicer and juice the spinach. I’ll add chia seeds ( from an untouched bag I bought on a whim) to the fruit and veggies to make smoothies. With luck I’ll only need one more small produce trip this month.

  • Katy Emanuel

    We always meal plan to help cut down on waste and save money. To make this more of a challenge for us this month we are trying to see how long we can eat well without going to the grocery store in an attempt to clear some things out of our cupboards and freezer. We have not been to the grocery store since Dec 23 and planned all of our meals & snacks for the week with food we have on hand. (I do tend to stock up heavily on fruits and vegetables during the farmer’s market season and growing season in our own yard which we freeze or can to sustain us in the winter so that helps)

    We have planned the following meals which will be shared between dinner and lunch some days. Pulled chicken with homemade buns made with cashews and homemade coleslaw, shepherd’s pie, broiled salmon with pea risotto and salad, beef & butternut squash stew, skillet child, homemade lasagna, quiche & salad, meatballs and turmeric potatoes.

  • Marlyn

    I always meal plan because I cook for 12 people every night and need leftovers for lunch. We eat one soup a week, one vegetarian meal, and the rest from items in the pantry or freezer.

  • Elaine

    Hello Eliza,

    One of my favorite sources for inexpensive recipes is Budget Bytes. (budgetbytes.com) I just wanted to share that with you in case you are interested in checking it out.

    Enjoying your money diet again this year!

    Thank you for your support in this endeavor!

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