Day 2 of the January Money Diet – Plan Your Meals

Play your meals at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Brian Zim

“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.

For breakfast, I like to make a big batch of breakfast burritos and put them in the freezer. We also like homemade Greek yogurt and fresh-baked granola.

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.

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.

Day 2 of the January Money Diet – Plan Your Meals

  • Dina

    I only received day 1 and 2 emails… I have not gotten anymore… would you know why?

    Thank you!


  • Melissa

    Planned meals for the week. Will make grocery list and shop tomorrow. Plan to have breakfast for dinner tomorrow. One of the kids’ favorites.

  • Anja

    This is a great way to save money. I am doing meal plans for a little over a year and I have saved quite a bit of money by doing so. I usually plan for a month in advance and then stick to it and it works great for me. After the plan I usually check was is there and what is needed and then buy accoding to that list. I the winter month I usually have soup at least once a week, often I make enough to last a second day which is great and much loved with fresh bread.
    For this week the plan is lentil/carrot/potato soup, Shephards pie, spanish omplette, rice/chicken and peppers, today I made self-made chicken nuggets with left over potato salad. I am lucky as I have a big garden, so a lot of the potato, peppers and carrots are still from last years harvest.

    One of the things I usually forget is that I have lot’s of canned pears and cherries still piled up, so one resolution for me is to have some with each meal and also use them as snack in between.

  • Menu planning is one of my New Year’s resolutions. Did my first one for this week. Have had to be flexible though. Not my best trait. 🙂

  • Mariah O.

    A couple of the meals we plan to cook are brown rice, chicken sausage, and broccoli, then another meal: potatoes, fish, and asparagus.

  • Andy

    We love menu planning. My husband and I sit down on Friday nights every two weeks and create our meal plan. Then, we check the pantry shelves and fridge or freezer to see what we have on hand. Finally, I make a list of items to purchase and which store to buy them at. I don’t coupon per se, but I do have certain stores where things we regularly purchase are lower cost or better quality. This week’s menu includes grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, split pea soup, pizza night, shepherd’s pie, and spaghetti. In each meal plan, we always plan a leftover night and anything remaining after dinner is discarded, either to our chickens or the trash.

  • Martha

    Weekly menus based on sale items can be tough for those of us who try to cook with very little meat and like mostly unprocessed, local foods. Cottage cheese is on sale so apple cheese pancakes (think savory dinner type dish), maybe salmon (a little with lots of broccoli), and there it goes downhill again as there are no (few) other options. Back to beans and tortillas!

  • Deborah Gore

    I have been doing a weekly menu for a couple of years now. It helps me know that on a busy day at work, I don’t have to worry about dinner when I walk in the door. With the homework from yesterday, I used my finds to plan this weeks menu and hope to only have to buy milk! Saving money already! I love it!

  • Congratulations to everyone planning menus this week, and thanks to all of you who shared details in your comments. You inspire us all!

  • Bobbie

    I started doing this task several months ago and have been amazed at the savings in both money (I only buy what is on my list and don’t eat out as much) and time (when it is planned I come home and get to it instead of trying to decide and then determining if I have all of the ingredients!) I’ve also found if I really spend the time to organize the menu and then see exactly what I have and what I need, I can usually cut my trips to the grocery store from every 5-7 days to every 10 days. Bonus!

  • melissa

    This is a task that we have done for years. Purchasing a vaccuum sealer has been very helpful and we have gone through 3 in 16 years. We do large batches of cooking and then divide and seal. We also opted to purchase a smaller refrigerator a few years back and it’s amazing how much less you purchase.

  • This is a huge goal for me, not just for January but forever. I tend to buy groceries as though I’m going to cook all week only to end up eating out several times, resulting in an expanding waistline, shrinking wallet and an embarrassing amount of wasted produce. No more!

    Thanks, Eliza, for your inspirational posts and thanks to all these comments: lots of great ideas!

  • This was pretty easy for me to incorporate this month, I’m really bad at meal planning for the most part. I buy what I like to eat, have plenty of fruits and veggies on hand and usually eat what is convenient from the fridge. Being winter, I live by my slow cooker. So I have soups planned for each dinner this week, fruits for lunch and hot cereal and fruit for breakfast.

  • Sara Marie

    I just finished with inventorying my freezers and pantry. I not only created a menu for the rest of the week, but also figured out what meals I could make with what I have on hand. I then made a quick menu (similar to a restaurant menu) with categories: pasta, chicken, pork, venison, other. I put the meal ideas under the appropriate category. Now, when I want to make a menu for future weeks, I can look on there! I made similar restaurant menus for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I posted them on my fridge for all to see (and to try to fend off the “Mom, what can I eat???” from my teens! It didn’t take me long and I feel so organized! I did not type and print my menus. I hand wrote them on cute paper pads my mom bought me for Christmas. I am trying to use what I have this month!!!

  • I try plan meals on a regular basis, and I often do a month at a time. While I don’t always follow a month’s worth to the letter, it gives me a great starting point.

    This week: Ham Hocks, Collard Greens and Black-eyed Peas for the New Year; Venison Parmesan; Burgers Night; Homemade Pizza; Baked Pork Tacos; Sour Mash Venison; and a night of misc. leftovers.

  • ElainieMay

    Ever since the economic crash of 2008, I have become an expert at saving money on meals (and everything else). From the treasures I excavated from my freezer & pantry yesterday, some of our main meals this week are:

    Green chile chicken posole, Tuna fish casserole, curried shrimp & veggies, Bangers & Mash with carmelized onions, a big pot of pinto beans, from dried beans.

  • Janis

    I have been doing this for years and I can’t tell you how less stressful it is to already know what I plan to have for dinner. I love the idea of the “favorites” list. I also need to do a better job of looking at the circulars. I printed off a recipe from Pioneer Woman (LOVE HER) and planned to make brocolli cheese soup this week and the grocery store just happened to have large bunches of brocolli on sale. I will use all of the cheese I have left over from Christmas Eve.

  • Christina

    Ive started doing this very thing. You can also cook a chicken or two,depending on your families size for one meal,then use it to make two other meals such as king casserolle,and then chicken soup. Very economical.

  • Jerrie harp

    I just found out about this today. It’s is something I can get excited about. This will help me to become debt free. (One of my goals). Thanks for the links and the inspiration.

  • Sara Marie

    I am so excited! This is what was on my to do list today anyway! Also, I talked to my hubby yesterday and suggested to not spend money on extras this month and he is all for it! Thanks for guiding us down this path this month!

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