We made it through week 1! The beginning was a challenge, but so far I feel like I can keep this up all month. The biggest lesson I learned this week is the importance of investing— nope, not in a 401k. I spent way less than I expected this week because I’ve spent the past six months creating a kitchen I love to work in and that has everything I need. For starters, in the past week I hardly spent a dime on spices or basic ingredients (think: oils, vinegars, sauces, cheese, etc.). Plus, I already had kitchen tools that make cooking less of a hassle— and that help me avoid the urge to eat out after a long day.

If you’re not sure how to start stocking your kitchen, or if you’re all-around new to cooking, I recommend this book. It covers all the basic kitchen tools and how to do everything from “braise” to cut an avocado. If you haven’t invested in filling out your spice rack and having the right tools, I strongly encourage you to. If eating healthy is a long-term goal, you won’t regret this first step.

Now, on to the good stuff: what I spent and where I splurged. Last Friday I hit up the Union Square Greenmarket for some farm-fresh dairy, meat, bread, and produce that totaled $34. Some of the items I bought were more expensive than the grocery store alternative, but it was worth it to get them fresh and local (and support New York state farmers— search here for a market near you). Sunday it was on to Stop & Shop for the rest of my ingredients— about half produce, half grocery items. That came out to another $33. However, I forgot last weekend that I’d have guests visiting this weekend, which meant an unexpected trip to Trader Joe’s on Wednesday. That tacked on an additional $17.42— $3.69 of which was the sushi I enjoyed for lunch. Most of the money went toward ingredients for weekend meals, but I’m including it anyway (weekends don’t technically count), because I’ll probably chow on the leftovers next week.

In all, I spent $81 on groceries (divided by two, for me and my boyfriend), plus $3.69 on one lunch out. That’s a grand total of $44, $16 under budget! Which brings me to the matter of REWARDS. They’re just about the only way I can stick to a resolution, and as long as I stay under budget, I’ll be rewarding myself— with kitchen tools. That’s $16 in the bank for a Home Goods splurge later this month.

So, how did you do this week? Respond in the comments with your personal highs and lows! Keep following along on our team blog and on Twitter. Use the hashtag #greatistchallenge when posting to Twitter.

Here’s this week’s dinner menu and grocery list— I’m thinking it may come in even cheaper than last week’s groceries. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll be eating each day, but these groceries are enough for five weeknight meals (with leftovers for lunch!). Last week I cut out pasta entirely just to prove I could. (I’m a carb addict!) This week I’m adding it back in, and as a result unintentionally cut back on meat. If you’re a serious carnivore, you may want to add meat to these recipes.

Pasta, Beans, and Tomatoes

Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce

Lentils with Wine-Glazed Winter Vegetables

Butternut Squash and Parsnip Baked Pasta

Everything But the Kitchen Sink Frittata (aka use up leftovers)

Produce

1 large head of cauliflower

Flat-leaf parsley

2 plum tomatoes

1 celeriac (celery root)

1 large parsnip

1 small butternut squash

Dairy

1% milk

Grocery

1 lb. whole wheat penne

1 can tomatoes

1 can cannellini beans

3 sun-dried tomatoes

I Have/You May Need

Garlic

Olive oil

Basil

½ cup black olives

Salt and pepper

1½ cups dried lentils

1 bay leaf

2 onions

3 carrots

Dried tarragon

Tomato paste

2/3 cup dry red wine

Dijon mustard

Butter

Crushed red pepper

Dried or fresh sage

Ground nutmeg

Ground allspice

Parmesan

Cooking spray

Flour

Snacks/Lunches/Breakfasts

Cold cereal

Amy’s Organic canned soups

Fruit (whatever looks good!)

Eggs

Frozen waffles

Photo by Kelly Fitzpatrick

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