Frugal Dinner Challenge

February 14, 2011

We’ve done a pretty good job these last few years of planning meals, cooking at home, and stocking up on food when it’s on sale at the grocery store. But tonight I feel like we’ve hit a tipping point. Here’s why.

Tonight my husband did the grocery shopping. When he got home, and I was finishing unloading and putting away the groceries, I realized we had no more room in the freezer. Literally. I had to squish the last few things in there.

And we have two freezers that we use.

From the free Thanksgiving turkey we got using supermarket points last November to leftover batches of chicken soup I’d made two weeks ago when I was sick and which I’d frozen for later use, we have enough food in the freezer to make at least a month’s worth of dinners. At least that’s what I think.

So here’s the deal my husband and I made tonight. We’re going to embark on a frugal dinner challenge between now and the Ides of March.

We’ve done the no new spending month. We’ve taken a spin with The Grocery Game. This time around, except for produce and dairy, we aren’t going to buy anything new to make dinner for the next month. If we want something that we don’t already have in the freezer or the pantry, we’ll have to do without, find a substitution, or make something from scratch to fill in.

I’ll keep you posted on how our frugal dinner challenge is going by posting what we made for dinner from items we already owned. I’m pleased to announce that in the past three nights, we’ve already done just that–with pot stickers and rice from Trader Joe’s on Saturday, gnocchi with vodka sauce (that my husband made from scratch) on Sunday, and chicken, baked potatoes, and salad tonight.

If you’ve embarked on a similar dinner challenge, I’d love to hear more about it.

16 Responses to Frugal Dinner Challenge

  1. Leah Ingram on March 14, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Dee Dee:

    We are the same way–using up frozen food/leftover and then pairing with a salad to make it fresh! And dairy and produce end up being what we’ve had to buy during the challenge–oh and bread, too, since I pack lunches everyday.


  2. dee dee on March 14, 2011 at 8:47 am

    This is a great challenge Leah. Because it’s just the 2 of us, we wind up with a lot of dinner leftovers which we tend to use for lunches and second dinner. Recently we had about a dozen small containers in the fridge – the remains from 5 or 6 from-scratch dinners including sides. My husband made a casserole from the following: some pinto beans, leftover chicken & black bean main dish, leftover rice, leftover tomatoes, a bit of chedder cheese, a few tortillas and some salsa. We paired it with a fresh salad. Not too shabby! We could go for about a week, maybe 2 from the pantry and freezer, but would have to buy fresh dairy and produce.

  3. Michelle Rafter on March 8, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Leah: Great idea. One question: what do you do about salads? Are you not buying lettuce et al for a month either and doing something else for salads, or does the challenge stop short of eliminating fresh greens?

    Michelle Rafter

    • Leah Ingram on March 8, 2011 at 11:53 am

      Michelle: Despite our decision to cook dinners based on what’s in the freezer, we have made the exception to buy fresh dairy and produce on a weekly basis so that we can have salads, milk with cereal for breakfast, etc. Same thing with fresh fruit. Last night I stocked up at the supermarket on yogurt, dairy, and fruits and vegetables for the week, spending about $65.

  4. Leslie on February 20, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Oh my gosh… Women after my own heart. I go into “inventory reduction” in January to come close to emptying and defrosting freezer. Also known as “creative cooking at it’s finest.” On with the challenge! I love it! I do a vietnamese Fried rice with leftover rice, bits of meat, vegys, ets. A family favorite!

  5. […] sure that as we get deeper into the Frugal Dinner Challenge, it won’t be as easy to get dinner on the table as it was tonight. We had DIY […]

  6. Debbie on February 15, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Leah – smoothies are a big reason we save our fresh fruit that isn’t going to stay fresh much longer. But you can bake tarts with the frozen fruit, or make fruit sauces to use on ice cream, frozen yogurt, cake etc.

  7. Leah Ingram on February 15, 2011 at 7:34 am


    The dessert part will be a challenge, to be sure, since not everyone likes strawberries and other fruit, and that’s what I’ve got frozen. I was thinking I could make smoothies but then realized that I don’t have a blender anymore. I wonder if I could use a food processor as a stand in for a blender.


  8. Debbie on February 15, 2011 at 7:30 am

    When we go that route, I say we’re having “freezer food.” Not always a bad thing, since we still have 3 homemade apple pies in there from the fall, and a tub of frozen cookie dough (school fundraiser).

  9. darlene on February 15, 2011 at 5:33 am

    running into the same here- that second freezer tends to fill to the max without notice — we call it our prepaid food. all it takes is planning and we are in– using up the freezer :)

    • Leah Ingram on February 15, 2011 at 5:34 am

      Wow, I can’t believe how common this “problem” is!

  10. Denise on February 15, 2011 at 5:14 am

    It is funny you posted this yesterday. I came to the same conclusion yesterday, except for me it is the pantry. No more pantry items until they are all gone.

    • Leah Ingram on February 15, 2011 at 5:34 am

      Yup, we’re going to try to thin out the pantry, too. Should make for some interesting dinner combinations!

  11. Tina Miller on February 15, 2011 at 1:28 am

    That reminds me of one of my favorite Food Network shows from the past- Door-knock Dinners. They had a tv crew and a chef randomly show up at peoples’ homes and use only ingredients they had in the house. That inspired me to try as well- it’s quite fulfilling when you can succeed! Good luck!

    • Leah Ingram on February 15, 2011 at 4:20 am

      Good to know it can be done!

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