We’re halfway through! This week was all about keeping up the momentum. I kicked it off feeling great about my menu plan and budgeting, but by the end of the week I was struggling for creative snacks and lunches. Here’s a quick recap:

I spent $77.19 on groceries for me and Alex (my boyfriend), which included recipe necessities as well as some ingredients I needed to restock (especially grains, canned tomatoes, and pasta). I added one indulgent lunch out for $3.99 and a $6.10 mid-week run to the store for extra milk and eggs. That comes to a total of $45.64 ($41.65 for my half of the groceries + $3.99 for lunch solo), which means another $14 bucks in the bank for kitchen gadgets at the end of the month!

Now I’d like to give you guys a sneak peak into how I choose these recipes each week:

  • In real life, I brainstorm meals I can make from the items I already have, but I’ve avoided that lately because of the Challenge. I want to keep things fair for anyone following along, so I’ve been making the meals basically from scratch (whereas I usually freeze leftovers and reheat them later).
  • Then I think seasonally. Eating in-season is almost always cheaper, and when I really need something else, I try to buy the frozen version. Fortunately, many sites (read on for my favorites) allow you to search for recipes by season, as well as by preparation time and budget.
  • I browse for recipes based on various criteria— sometimes it’s an ingredient I want to use up and sometimes it’ll just be a type of meal (vegetarian or slow-cooker, for example). I like Cooking Light, Rachael Ray, and Real Simple best for recipes.
  • Then I plan around my schedule for the week (based on when I’m busy, how long food will last from the purchase date, and how much prep I can do in advance). I typically don’t bother with that before sharing the menu plan on Greatist since you all presumably have your own schedules to consider, but this week I did, just to give you an idea of how it works.
  • I make my shopping list, which after the previous steps is pretty short. After investing in a well-stocked spice cabinet, I rarely have to buy much more than produce, dairy items, and meat.

Monday: Blackened Tilapia with Kale-Walnut Pesto Pasta (I’ll want to use the fish ASAP in case I buy it fresh, plus I can use the kale before it has a chance to wilt.)

Tuesday: Herb and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Spinach and Kale-Walnut Pesto Pasta (I’m hoping last week’s parsley will still be edible so I don’t have to buy more, plus I want to cook the chicken while it’s fresh.)

Wednesday: Eating out— probably something quick and under $10, like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods’ prepared entrees. (I’m hitting up the NY Health and Fitness Tech Meetup, so I won’t be home for dinner.)

Thursday: Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya (I need one cup of shredded chicken left over from the goat cheese stuffed chicken, and everything else should keep pretty well.)

Friday: Slow-Cooked Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes (I’m usually at Greatist HQ during the day and I don’t have time to prepare a slow-cooker meal, so I have to make this one on a day I work from home. Plus it’s all canned foods and one potato, which won’t go bad in a week.)


1 large or 2 small green bell peppers

½ bunch kale

1 sweet potato


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

6 ounces smoked chicken sausage or other low-fat sausage

10 ounces tilapia (or your fish of choice for blackening)— fresh or frozen

Dairy 4-ounce package goat cheese

Freezer 10 oz. box frozen spinach


Long grain rice

Blackening seasoning

28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1 can black beans

1 can kidney beans

I Have/You May Need Basil

Fresh parsley

1 lb. whole grain penne

¼ cup panko breadcrumbs

¼ cup walnuts

Crushed red pepper

1 onion

1 stalk celery

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

Dried thyme

Chili powder

Ground cumin

Cocoa powder

Ground cinnamon

Low sodium chicken broth

Parmesan cheese


Olive oil

Canola oil

Salt and pepper

Optional: sour cream, sliced scallions, and tortilla chips