How To Save Money on Food During the January Money Diet

Save money on food and drink by eating at home

Welcome to Day #2 of the January Money Diet.

During this no-spend month, we take a break from nonessential spending. Since meals are considered essential, however, we do get to buy groceries.

I believe that we deserve to eat really well during the January Money Diet. Cooking at home is a wonderful way to save significant dollars, and with a little planning it doesn’t need to be a lot more work.

If you participated in yesterday’s “Shop At Home” challenge, you likely unearthed some pantry items that you can incorporate in meals this month. You may wish 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.

It’s usually more economical — and healthful — to plan meals using seasonal, regionally-grown produce. You might want to consult your grocery store’s weekly sale circular to plan meals based on what’s available at a reasonable price. Your store probably posts this information online.

I also keep a running list in a small notebook of dishes 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. I’ve also gathered some recipes my family enjoys on a Pinterest board — Happy Simple Suppers.

Pizza, Please

One dinner my family seems to consistently love is pizza. Back in the olden days I used to call for pizza delivery on a regular basis, but now I prepare a a big batch of pizza dough early in the month and freeze the extra rounds of dough. I remove the dough from the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before pizza night, and after that it’s really easy to press the dough in a pan, add the toppings and bake. I can make a wonderful pizza with organic ingredients for less than $2.00 using this method.

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 don’t have a pizza pan you can simply use a cookie sheet for the pizza, and it’s so easy and delicious you may never call for delivery again.

Soup-er Meals

Soup is another great choice in January. I remember how my mom always carefully saved and froze leftover meat and the cooking water from vegetables for homemade broth. Her soups always have the most incredible flavor, and I follow her example now.

If you have a slow cooker, you can prepare a meal in the morning and enjoy an easy dinner that night. A slow cooker is great for less expensive cuts of meat, which become nice and tender after cooking at low heat all day.

For easy planning, you may want to assign days to meals during January. For example, you could designate Mondays as casserole night, Tuesdays as stir-fry night, Wednesdays as Crock-Pot night, Thursdays as pasta night, Fridays as pizza night, Saturdays as cook-on-the-grill night and Sundays as soup 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 this month, take advantage of seasonal foods and specials, and stay within your budget. You’ll be way ahead in the challenge to spend less and eat well this month.

Your Challenge: Plan a Week’s Worth of Meals

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.

Bonus challenge:  Plan to cook a double batch of at least one of your meals, and freeze half.

If you’re so inclined, share a few of the meals you plan to cook in the comments section below.

I hope your new year is off to a very good start, and I’m so glad we’re supporting each other during this spending break.

Hugs to all of you,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet.  The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

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.

21 comments to How To Save Money on Food During the January Money Diet

  • I used to plan only dinners but find that a little thinking about lunch and breakfast for the week (or month) helps me use up leftovers and spend less $ each week.

  • Jennifer

    I plan on making lots and lots of soup this week. It is snowing like crazy outside so soup sounds wonderful right now anyway! I can use all the gluten free pasta I found in my pantry and add leftover frozen vegetables that aren’t enough for another meal to make all sorts of concoctions!

  • My latest lunch plan is to whip up a batch of refritos (which I define broadly as any bean, prepared with whatever seasoning you like, sauteed with onion, pepper or whatever you have on hand, and pureed into a nice spread.) I usually make a big batch and freeze it in smaller containers.

    To use it, I take about 2 tablespoons of the refritos, spread them on a whole grain tortilla or flatbread (either homemade or not) sprinkle a little bit of nutritional yeast & cheese (optional) on it, pop it in the microwave for a minute, roll it up, and voila! Lunch is served! I usually have it with a cup of soup, or a small salad, or some leftover veggies – whatever I have on hand. It’s ridiculously cheap and makes lunch soooo easy!

  • Georgina Bowie

    I usually plan my dinner and just have porridge for breakfast, but have decided to include lunch into this months planning as this is where I find I waste money. This week I’ll be using up the cous cous and rice I have in the cupboard for my lunch meals. Will make a batch of veggie sausages, veg and tomato sauce to go with it. Now I’ll have no excuse to spend money on unhealthy, pricey lunches. 🙂

  • Lynn Louise

    I have the next 7 day menu set to go. I tried to use a different protein each day. I love beans but my husband is not as excited about them. He does love a good salad though and we have 2 big heads of lettuce that he bought last week. They need to be used. I add vegies, chicken, sunflower seeds, peas, hard boiled egg, cheese, croutons, and you have a wonderful meal! We raise our own meat chickens so I have several in the freezer. They make wonderful homemade chicken noodle soup! Carrots from my garden that I have stored but will have to buy some celery. Used a FREE REDBOX coupon for a movie last night so the credit card so far for January is unused.

  • Laura

    I am planning to make pulled pork in the slow cooker with a pork loin sitting in my freezer. Also on the docket: a big pan of homemade granola bars with the oats, dried cranberries, and nuts in my pantry. I regularly check my store’s weekly sales to make my grocery list. Meal planning for the week: check.

  • Kelli Tolstoy

    I am loving these challenges. It is opening my eyes and really making me think about how we are living our lives. For day 2 challenge I continued the shopping at home and have come up with 5 dinners that I already have the ingredients at home. The final meal this week will be the pot of beans and ham I mentioned in day 1. Great thing is that this one meal will actually make 3 to 4 meals!

  • Thank you for sharing all of these great comments! I’ve gotten some terrific meal ideas from all of you. Thanks to Lynn Louise, I remembered I had a Redbox promo code which my daughter and I used last night to enjoy a free movie at home. (Check your e-mail if you receive notices from Redbox. My code was valid through 1/4/15, and although it was a 2-for-1 code I was able to use it for just one movie.) Thank you again for generously sharing your thoughts and suggestions. It’s great dieting with all of you. xo

  • Lyn

    Eliza – We love your pizza recipe. When we first tried it two years ago, I fumbled a bit, made too many at once for a party and burned them all! Now, two years later, I regularly triple the dough recipe and freeze it in meal size portions. Every Wednesday is now pizza night at our house. It is a routine we all enjoy and if we have leftovers, we reheat for lunch the next day. Our favorite pizza is arugula – we put the cheese and sauce ‘base’ in the oven until it is almost done, then we take it out and put a big mound of olive-oil and salted arugula (without the olive oil, the arugula gets dry and burns) on with a sprinkling of pizza cheese. 5 minutes later we have our new family favorite. Thank you for the inspiration! Cheers from New Hampshire.

    • Jennifer

      Sounds delicious! Great tip on keeping the arugula from drying and burning. I can’t wait to try it next month (we are trying to eat up everything in our freezer and pantry this month without buying any groceries but if I fall off my plan, it will be to try this pizza! )

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Lyn

    Just planned meals for the week. Such fun to realize how much we already have in the freezer and frig. Tonight we are going to try to make home made roasted ‘french fries’ – Cut potatoes into french fry shape, coat with olive oil and some herbs and bake in the oven – I am going to try 325 for however long it takes. Any suggestions on time and temperature? I tend to be an experimenter, but would love to have them actually be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside…

  • Thank you for sharing this fun opportunity. I have a couple of my clients joining in as well.
    My biggest finds were a lot of grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc.), beans, and frozen veggies. I knew they were there, but they had become a vague blur. I could probably eat for a couple weeks with what I have. I also found some vegan pea protein that can mix things up a bit.
    Thank you ECOCATLADY for the refritos idea. I will definitely be using that one.

  • Catherine Godfrey

    Food is one of our biggest budget busters. It’s only my husband & I no kids, but we spend like we are feeding an army. Eating out is an issue also. We are going to limit eating out to once or twice a month instead of once or twice a week. My husband loves pizza. I was so glad to see the homemade pizza article. I’m going to start making pizza homemade. It’ll be much better for us since I can monitor ingredients. I’ll keep u posted on no eating out.

  • Lisa

    I regularly plan a week’s worth of meals, using up the meat we have in our freezer; but I always forget to check the pantry to try and use those items as well. After reading this post, I will try to do a better job at that. One of this week’s meal is one I am trying to perfect – baked fajitas. When I tried it last month I thinly sliced pork, chicken breasts, onion and peppers, then added the marinade and baked them. While they were good, the meat didn’t hold the flavor, so this time I am going to marinade the meat the night before hoping it is more flavorful after baking them.

  • Tricia

    I have a lot of food allergies, so I have very limited food options. I have found that eating whole food is more time intensive to prepare, but less expensive overall. I also have 4 different apps that give you rebates when certain foods are purchased and clip coupons and hit store sales when I can.

  • Cindy

    I planned my meals for the week based on what I had on hand at home, plus what was on sale at the store and what I had coupons for. I’m making breakfast burritos to freeze, orange bread (using up the orange peel), banana bread (using the too-ripe bananas), and lots of main courses. I made a big pot of Armenian Lentil Stew and will freeze most of it to eat later in the month.

  • I have made a plan whit leftovers every seccond day, that saves a lot of time. We are almost self-sufficient with vegstable s and meat, so we will try only to bye things we cant produce like sugar, nuts and fruits. I make bread once a week and freze some of it then vi will always have fress bread. (Sorry for my spelling iam danis and my english isnt so good)

  • Lisa F

    I have a small spiral notebook with a pocket in the front, to hold recipe cards. I plan out my meals, place recipe cards in the pocket, then plan my grocery list. I usually check my supplies, as I plan my 2 week menu, so my grocery list isnt too big.
    Tonight will be cheesy zucchini soup made with frozen home grown zucchini. I found day old rolls in the freezer to go with the soup. Nothing better on a Colorado winters night!

  • Katya

    We are empty nesters who eat out too often, simply because it is much easier after a long day at work. But it is too expensive, and honestly we’re tired of it. We’ve started planning a week’s worth of meals, including lunches, and made the resolution to limit meals out. Last night, taco salad was on the menu but we realized we had forgotten the taco seasoning when we shopped. We googled a recipe, and by shopping in our own pantry, we had every ingredient. Not only was it tasty, but it was all natural – no unrecognizable chemicals in the ingredient list. It had never occurred to me to make my own spice packets. Your Money Diet inspired me. Thank you.

  • Tracy Revalee

    We, too, are empty nesters. I’m retired and my husband works a few hours from home each day. My big issue is cooking gluten free for myself and regular food for him. Also, he won’t eat leftovers. BUT, on the Plus side, he kills and we eat at least one deer and one wild turkey per year. When we get home (we’re vacationing) I’ll inventory and plan. I’m sure We’ll have deer roast, tacos (I make glutenfree shells and prepackaged my own spice mix), bone broth -based vegetable soup, and spaghetti for starters. I’ll double up on the taco meat as my sneaky leftover meal. I’ll let my pantry inspire me when we get home.

  • pablo

    Now, two years later, I regularly triple the dough recipe and freeze it in meal size portions. Every Wednesday is now pizza night at our house. It is a routine we all enjoy and if we have leftovers, we reheat for lunch the next day. Our favorite pizza is arugula

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