Our January meal plan has gone pretty well, so now it’s time to come up with one for February! I have really enjoyed having the whole month planned out – it freed up my Saturdays to do other things just for fun. It also made grocery shopping a little more efficient. There are a few things I’d like to tighten up a bit more, so here we go with the frugal February meal plan!
Continue to eat breakfast and lunch at home. We did pretty well with this, but I definitely picked up fast food lunches on days when we were out of the house all afternoon. Wednesdays are particularly challenging, since we also have commitments in the morning. I’m going to try to make stacks of sandwiches the night before to take in the car with us. I anticipate much preschooler screaming about this. I wonder if I can make him believe that Sonic sells PB&J?
At any rate, on days at home, we did pretty well. Lunch has always been a sticking point for me. A friend said of herself that she’s “kind of a princess about food,” and honestly, I am too. There’s a whole long backstory about food insecurity, anxiety, and wanting to control and enjoy just this one thing but that’s for another post, I think. So I’m proud of myself for being willing to eat basic, cheap food for lunch.
Repeat meals more often. If you look at the January meal plan, you’ll see that there wasn’t a lot of repetition. We do have Wednesday designated as leftover day, because we get home late and nobody wants to really cook. This also helps with using up food and not wasting it because it got forgotten in the back of the fridge.
I want to specifically focus on a limited recipe base, though. I think I get a little carried away with finding fun recipes, and I found I was buying limited-use ingredients most weeks. My goal this month is to make sure we use everything more than once. This should help the budget and food waste and also continue to pare down the pantry.
…but still have a couple of special meals. After all, Valentine’s Day is coming, and I already bought a pack of USDA Prime sirloin at Costco. (Amazing deal, by the way, and we like sirloin just fine.) Plus, when you are a former foodie, I think it’s important to have meals you can look forward to. I thought I’d want to have them more often but it turns out I’m OK just eating kind of whatever most days as long as I can anticipate something really delicious every week or two. Time passes more quickly than I’d like so I’m never really waiting that long, eh?
Implement family coffee/tea time in the afternoon. My husband has a major sweet tooth, and of course my son does, because what three-year-old is going to turn down cake? I’ve found that we end up with a lot of junky storebought sugary snacks and I am not a fan. Also, I enjoy baking and I’ve been doing a lot of it. In Classic German Baking, Luisa Weiss mentions coffee hour midafternoon, with a lovely sweet snack and coffee and conversation. Teatime, of course, is another great tradition.
Also, by 2pm, everyone needs a reset. I am grumpy, burned out, and tired of being shrieked at; it’s not quite toddler naptime, since she’s still on two naps, and I just want to be done. I think sitting down together and enjoying a treat will be a nice break. Plus it’ll hopefully ruin the kids for storebought junk food forever. Ha.
Start baking homemade bread regularly. I got a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I just made our first batch of dough this week. Our kitchen actually isn’t climate controlled so it’s basically cold enough to keep the dough out on the breakfast nook table (which tells you it’s too cold to really eat in there…).
Click to see the meal plan and my notes!
I’m going to be repeating breakfasts all month again. It makes it really easy and hugely reduces morning stress and food waste. I’m going to use mostly home-baked bread for toast and bread. I’m curious to see if I can keep up with it and what the relative cost vs. quality might be. This month, our options are:
- Baked oatmeal (probably with blueberries, since we all like that, and can sing “Oatmeal with blueberries!” a la Daniel Tiger);
- Scrambled or fried eggs with toast.
Always available to choose:
- Cold cereal – somehow we always end up with enough cold cereal to feed a small army;
- Cheese and/or peanut butter and/or butter and jam and/or cream cheese – and bread. We have all of these things on hand, usually. Looking at it all written out, this seems like an abundance of choice!
Again, I’m hoping to stick to a few options. This one is tricky because my preschooler refuses to eat basically everything. I’ve found that limiting choices helps him to some extent, but it still helps to have things he actually enjoys on the menu. I’m trying to go with inexpensive options that still provide protein and halfway decent nutrition.
I plan to use home-baked bread for the sandwiches; we’ve been enjoying the Soft American-Style White Bread from The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (affiliate link). I like crustier bread sometimes but it doesn’t go over well for kids’ sandwiches here!
- Egg salad on toast;
- Deli meat or cheese sandwiches;
- Mac and cheese (sometimes with tuna and peas);
- Hot dogs;
- Chicken nuggets (sigh);
- Sides: Carrot sticks; pickles; apples or oranges; broccoli or cauliflower (roasted ahead of time); chips.
Kids need snacks. I don’t do many proper snack foods; my preschooler has trouble limiting himself with them and he’s too smart to tell that we’re all out when we aren’t. When snack options are limited, my (stubborn) guy is more willing to eat actual food. I have these options available at any time:
- Hummus and crackers or vegetable sticks;
- Peanut butter on a spoon or on bread;
- Cottage cheese with fruit;
- Cheese and crackers.
Other snack foods and sweets will be limited to the family tea/coffee time as mentioned above. I’ve eliminated buying fruit leathers, granola bars, etc. because it just results in a lot of crying while I worry about sugar intake.
Ah, the “tricky” part! February is a short month, so I felt like I ran out of days before I ran out of recipes I wanted to make this month. We’ll be doing Valentine’s Day at home; I have less than no interest in dealing with crowded restaurants and overworked staff on the holiday! It’s still winter and finally cold – sort of, some days – so there’s still lots of hearty stuff here. I imagine by next month I’ll be ready to eat salad almost every day!
- Wednesday 1: Leftovers. Starting the month off with a bang, I know. But Wednesdays are our very busy days, so it’s also the day I designate to eat all leftovers.
We should be heading into the month with some leftover soup, chicken, and pizza from January’s meal plan.
- Thursday 2: Jerk pork roast from I Breathe I’m Hungry, served with rice and sauteed cabbage.
This is an Instant Pot meal (that’s my Amazon affiliate link) – that means it’ll be ready fast. We got an amazing deal on a whole pork loin at Costco over Christmas, and still have some in the freezer.
- Friday 3: Refried beans and rice bowls, with red enchilada sauce, chopped onions, and cheese. Some of the leftover jerk pork may get eaten with these!
Another Instant Pot recipe! It’s so, so useful, guys.
- Saturday 4: Stuffed cabbage soup (recipe coming soon!), homemade bread; I plan to make enough soup to freeze 2 meals’ worth.
Yet another in the Instant Pot… all of these can be made by other methods; the IP is just faster and in some cases better for flavor and texture.
- Sunday 5: Chicken wings and white queso dip. Not together. Since the fryer will be up and running I’ll make fresh tortilla chips for the queso.
I’ll probably do a BBQ sauce and a honey mustard-Black Magic seasoning sauce. Maybe Old Bay and butter. Except there are only 2.5 people here who eat wings, so that’s kind of ridiculous. But it’s the Super Bowl – even if the Steelers aren’t playing. Gotta have something snacky while we watch ads.
- Monday 6: Best-Ever Chili with cornbread and any leftover tortilla chips. We already have some in the freezer from January – this recipe freezes so well.
*cough* Instant Pot *cough*
- Tuesday 7: Chicken fajitas with extra onions and peppers; corn tortillas, refried beans (from Saturday’s batch), and avocado on the side. I’ll share our fajita-making method soon, but it’s pretty easy; slice the chicken breasts while still a little frozen; put them in a bag with fajita seasoning to marinate for the afternoon. Saute over fairly high heat with onions and peppers. Grate cheddar cheese (because we like that) and fold into corn tortillas. Mmmm.
Aldi sells avocados for an excellent price – usually under $1 – and my stores, at least, have better avocados than any other grocery store I visit regularly.
- Wednesday 8: Leftovers. Well, it is a Wednesday. I anticipate some leftover chili and fajitas, so we may do a sheet tray of baked nachos – half chili, half chicken fajita. And guacamole with any leftover avocado!
- Thursday 9: Ham and biscuits. Green beans on the side, cooked with bacon and onions. Alternately, I might make peanut soup. I felt like you all might enjoy a biscuit tutorial, which meant I had to fit this into the menu somewhere. Oh, what a chore, to make and eat delicious biscuits. I’ll link the recipe and tutorial once they’re finished! We have some of the Christmas ham in the freezer to use up.
- Friday 10: Split pea soup made with the bone from the ham aforementioned. I plan to serve this with a soft loaf of home-baked bread. I find that something really buttery with a fine, soft crumb makes split pea soup irresistable. We shall see if my husband agrees. He probably doesn’t.
- Saturday 11: Beef and cabbage stir fry, with rice. We make this using the Budget Bytes method I’ve linked, but use the General Tso’s sauce from Omnivore’s Cookbook.
I also prefer to use extra cabbage and a little less beef. We buy cheaper, less-lean ground beef, because you can drain after browning to remove much of the fat – it still saves money when you do the price math. I’ll show you the calculations sometime. I know, you probably can’t wait. Tenterhooks.
- Sunday 12: Chinese pork dumplings – we may try these with millet congee as she suggests, although I’m keeping rice on hand as a backup since I know we all like rice. I’d also like to have some pickled vegetables. This meal just sounds amazing as I’m writing this meal plan and I want to put it on about 8 days. Ha.
I plan to make extra dumplings and freeze them, to use as potstickers later in the month. My three-year-old really enjoys helping to fill and pleat the dumplings. They’re not perfect, but they do just fine and it’s a really fun family activity for us.
- Monday 13: Stuffed cabbage soup from the freezer, along with homemade bread, of the crusty French variety.
- Tuesday 14, Valentine’s Day: Sirloin steak with blue cheese sauce, waffle fries (gaufrettes if you feel fancy), salad, and a special dessert. I’ll be posting a step-by-step steak recipe in a few days! I’m leaning towards a Nutella tart for dessert – I’ll keep you posted.
- Wednesday 15: Leftovers. With any luck, we’ll have some extra steak to use on nachos or on cheese steak sandwiches! Depends on how hungry everyone is.
- Thursday 16: French onion soup with, bien sûr, croutons and melted cheese.
- Friday 17: Loubia bzeit with pita bread. This is something I’ve always wanted to try. I’ll serve hummus, too, to add protein and make sure there’s something G will eat.
- Saturday 18: Leftover onion soup and loubia bzeit, served either with drop dumplings (see recipe at the bottom of the post) or bread. If needed we can saute a chicken breast to accompany this.
- Sunday 19: Chicken stir fry with General Tso’s sauce and any veggies we need to use up. I plan to use orange peel and chiles, too. Served with rice. We really like rice.
- Monday 20: Potstickers from dumplings made and frozen on the 12th; rice, either steamed or fried (I feel like steamed rice goes better with dumplings); maybe pickles.
- Tuesday 21: Chicken fajitas with lots of veggies – I may try adding mushrooms this time! Corn and flour tortillas, refried beans from the freezer.
- Wednesday 22: Leftovers. Fajita leftovers make excellent quesadillas, by the way. You can also combine with refried beans and make burritos. Or throw them on top of tortilla chips and bake with cheese for amazing nachos.
- Thursday 23: Stuffed Pepper Explosion Casserole from Who Needs a Cape? Any leftovers will likely be frozen since the menu is pretty full through the remainder of the month, and our usual leftover day is Ash Wednesday (so, for us, a day of fasting and abstention from meat).
- Friday 24: Split pea soup from the freezer, and soft buttery bread. Sorry, husband.
- Saturday 25: Rotisserie chicken from a planned Costco trip; we have tons of Stove Top in the pantry, so we’ll have mini-Thanksgiving with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and gravy.
- Sunday 26: Takeout Chinese from a favorite restaurant – I’m looking forward to five flavor chicken with eggplant. Chinese is always a great option for us because everyone can find something they like, even Mr. Picky Preschool Pants.
- Monday 27: Chicken and dumplings from leftover rotisserie chicken. The recipe for the dumplings is at the bottom of this post! I just make stock from the chicken carcass in the Instant Pot, and pick and add any remaining meat to the chicken and dumplings. Yum yum.
- Tuesday 28, Mardi Gras: I’m leaving this day open and budgeting for something rich and delicious because Lent begins on March 1 this year! What’s your favorite Mardi Gras/Carnival/Fastnacht/Masopust/whatever your tradition is food? Let me know in the comments or come chat about it in our Facebook group!
Easy Drop Dumplings
These are a sort of Czech soup dumpling; they're an easy way to make brothy soups more filling. I especially like them with chicken broth but
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder preferably aluminum-free
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp butter cold, cut into cubes
- 3/4 cups milk you may need a bit more in very dry weather
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl (just use a fork to stir them together).
Add the cubed, cold butter and work it into the flour using either your fingers, a pastry blender, or two knives. I just use my fingers since I like to feel when it's done - it will look and feel somewhat like wet sand.
(You can also do this in a food processor. I just never feel like hauling one out for something this simple!)
Add the milk and stir gently until everything is just combined. Don't overmix! If you do, the dumplings can become tough. The dough should be fairly thick and stiff. If there's flour that won't combine, add a little extra milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it just comes together.
Use the dough right away. Drop it by the spoonful (I use big soup spoons) on top of any simmering soup or stew. My favorite is chicken stock with shredded chicken meat.
Cook for 10 minutes at a simmer, uncovered.
Put a lid on the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes; you'll need to turn the heat down to keep it at a simmer.