This Week's Menu: The Budget Edition

Happy New Year! We started 2018 by going on a spending diet. It's easy to get carried away by the holidays, and even though we try and keep Christmas low key, a bloated credit card bill tells us that we missed the mark on our intentions there. 

I  trimmed up our monthly spending budget by about 10% across the board for categories where we're flexible. And now the hard part: staying focused on the goal to save a big chunk of change this month that would otherwise be spent on outings, wine, gas, random shit, new clothes, meals out, and fancy groceries. That means strategic and infrequent wine-drinking, fewer long car trips, wearing the same clothes a little more often, and tightening up the kitchen ship: careful planning, more cooking, no waste. 

To that end, here's this week's menu plan with some thrifty tips woven in along with the usual "getting my kids to eat food that's not white or brown" theme. 

  Freeze celery and fennel trimmings and add them to the bean pot for a little extra flava. 

Freeze celery and fennel trimmings and add them to the bean pot for a little extra flava. 

Monday: Stir-fry - one of the ways I get my boys to eat more vegetables is to serve them either raw or unadorned if cooked. That means on a night when I'm making stir-fry, I separate out two bowls of plain rice with plain steamed broccoli. Quincy will eat a half-pound of broccoli this way; if I tried to serve it tossed in sauce, he'd skip it. 

So for me and Galen I fry shallots and ginger and garlic, add some soy and honey and simmer until it cooks into a thick sauce. I chop up some steamed broccoli and toss it in, swirling and stirring until heated through. Last night I added a shredded chicken thigh left over from last night's dinner. A bowl of chopped cashews and another of cilantro leaves on the table, some hot sauce -and we're good.

One way I keep a lid on weekly grocery expenses is to make note of what we already have in the fridge and pantry and build the menu around those items - this week brown rice, potatoes, pinto beans, red lentils, polenta, and pizza dough are holding down a thrifty, tasty week of dinners (and lunches - having Galen bring instead of buy lunch during the workday definitely helps savings add up). I made a mild, lemony dal with the lentils - they've been in the pantry too long so it's a little lackluster, but with enough lemon juice, toasted coconut, and chopped cilantro, it'll work for lunch. 

Tuesday: I cooked some pintos Monday so those will be central to taco night, along with some lime-doused cabbage, cilantro and nice ripe avocado. I also have a surfeit of purple potatoes AND garlic so I'll roast both with lots of olive oil and smoked paprika and smash them together a little. I love potatoes as a taco filling. 

Wednesday is veggie burgers made mostly of pinto beans. Pan-fried in bacon fat AMA. A big pile of sliced raw carrots, celery, and fennel goes alongside, maybe some aioli and hardboiled eggs too. Nothing to see here. Except for the fact that a pound of dried beans costs $3 and you get the protein for about 8 to 10 servings of meals (2 dinners for 4) out of it. I just get such a kick out of that. 

On Thursday I continue my polenta campaign - it's ongoing, with mixed results. One night it spawned the founding of the GBD (Get Better Dinners) Club and a hunger strike. Another night it got gulped down in bulk. Who knows, but really, I just want other people share my love for polenta so I can eat it more often. Also making eggs, bacon, greens, and cauliflower so people can choose the parts of the meal they want. Give them power, they're hungry for it. 

Friday it's pizza, and slaw made with celeriac - I'm rich in this particular root veg right now. Slaw is winter's salad, and a good way to make sure all soft herbs like parsley and cilantro get used up - but more on that later in the week. 

So we're eating pretty well for people on a belt-tightening scheme, but it takes some commitment to cooking a lot, being okay with a little less variety in the diet, and using up the leftovers (ok I never have that problem). And not giving in to the inevitable midweek plea to get Mexican takeout for dinner around the corner from the boys' school. I'd love to get through January without that.