January Monthly Menu Ideas (Tips For Affordable Dinners)

As we embrace the fresh start that January brings, it’s the perfect time to revitalize our dinner routines with delicious yet affordable dinners. My January monthly menu ideas are designed to give you a glimpse of what’s possible with my relaxed style of monthly meal planning and some careful shopping. 

The goal is to bring warmth and nutrition to your table during the chilly winter evenings with simple, cost-effective, and delicious recipes. Let’s make January a month of tasty, nourishing, and budget-friendly meals!

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How to Start Making a Budget-Friendly Meal Plan for January

One thing I’ve done in the past to keep the grocery budget under tight control to start the year is to do a pantry challenge as a way to make affordable dinners. That’s when you attempt to stay out of the stores as much as possible, using items from the freezer and pantry as the backbone of your menu planning. It’s often done as part of a no-spend month.

Years ago, I would do a pretty restrictive pantry challenge. These days, I do more of a modified version. My husband does like to shop for staples and deep-sale items, so we won’t be able to stay out of the stores completely. 

However, it’s still a good idea to come up with as many meals as possible to make with what you have on hand. Then you can fill in with sales and adjust as your schedule changes during the month.

Grab my meal planning printables to keep yourself organized throughout the month and my full year of dinner ideas if you need more inspiration for your own planning.

Woman in a cozy sweater making a list of January monthly menu ideas.

Tips for Affordable Dinners During January:

  • Winter vegetables store well and are fairly inexpensive at this time of the year. Potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, hard squash, broccoli, and kale are our favorites. Sometimes we splurge a little on Brussels sprouts. Roast a mix of winter vegetables at 450 for about 30 minutes and you have a delicious side dish. We also love mushrooms, but I will only buy them on sale or marked down. When they are, I buy several packages. What we don’t use right away gets sauteed and frozen for homemade pizza.
  • Always, always, always check the marked-down produce rack. Be flexible in your meal planning to accommodate any great finds. Use or freeze your bargains right away.
  • Know your meat prices and buy extra at the lowest price if possible. All of the meat in my menu was purchased on sale or on extra mark-down.
  • Use that crock pot! Low-cost soups are PERFECT for January and work so well in the crock pot. Plus, knowing dinner is waiting at home prevents a lot of budget-busting take-out meals or extra grocery stops.
  • If you cook a whole chicken, make the bones into broth. If you cook a whole ham, dice the leftover ham and freeze the bone for future use.
  • Don’t make dessert. It’s just extra food, and the ingredients can be expensive.

January Dinner Ideas

Here is a list – in no particular order – of the meals I could make with what I (mostly) already have in the pantry and freezers.

1. Fried cabbage with sausage or hamburger (or ground venison)

2. Homemade pizza

3. Smothered boneless chicken breasts (onions, perhaps peppers or mushrooms, cheese)

Smothered chicken in cast iron skillet.

4. Red beans & rice (double this and it makes enough for 2 meals or LOTS of leftovers for lunches)

5. Cheeseburger Macaroni Casserole, pickled beets (winter comfort food!)

6. Bean soup made with ham bone (my recipe includes a bit of tomato juice and plenty of winter vegetables… so good!)

Bowl of bean soup with ham and vegetables.

7. Oriental chicken salad (this is usually a summer dish but it works here when I get lettuce and chicken on deep discount)

8. Copycat Zuppa Toscana 

9. Roasted chicken x 2 nights (this is SO easy and always turns out great!) 

10. Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots 

11. Chicken or turkey fried rice (use leftover meat)

Large bowl of chicken fried rice.

12. Bone-in ham, green beans 

13. Canadian Cheese Soup (our favorite winter comfort food! Use leftover diced ham.) 

14. Spaghetti & salad (or peas) x 2 nights 

15. Pork chops & roasted vegetables

Plate with pork chop and roasted vegetables.

16. Tacos x 2 nights 

17. Pasta Carbonara, peas 

18. Venison backstrap chops, roasted vegetables (venison is NOT free, but it’s already in the freezer)

19. Cheeseburgers, raw carrots & celery (maybe add a bag of fries)

Plate of cheeseburgers with blurry background.

20. Chicken Noodle Soup with homemade noodles

21. Crockpot “unstuffed cabbage rolls” 

22. Sweet & sour chicken, fried rice 

That’s 25 nights of dinners planned. I like to leave a few nights open to use up leftovers or in case plans change and we end up going somewhere else for dinner. 

A few things to keep in mind:

  • We tend to eat seasonally. That means during January, we have more winter vegetables and venison from the freezer instead of ground beef from the store.
  • Nope, this isn’t the healthiest menu you’ve ever seen. It’s a balance of the best nutrition I can provide with what we have on hand combined with the occasional store sale items. It’s also food my family will eat.
  • Most of these meals are planned for my husband (big eater), myself (normal eater), and our son (normal eater).
  • We don’t really eat breakfast, but we keep eggs in the fridge for the days we want something.
  • Lunches are usually leftovers. My husband sometimes likes to take wraps for work, so he’ll buy tortillas for those.

Frequently Asked Questions About a Monthly Meal Plan

How do I decide which dinner to make each night?

Just having this month of dinner ideas list eliminates so much decision fatigue. Depending on our schedules, I’ll usually finalize a plan on the weekend. But I’m pretty flexible. As long as there are ingredients in the fridge, we can always shift things around.

I use these plastic sheet pan lids as trays in the fridge for thawing meat. It’s a lot easier to actually cook dinners when you have the food thawed and ready to cook!

How do I make meal planning easy?

First, grab the free printable monthly menu ideas.

Next, get the meal planning printables collection. These are the planning and shopping printables I use every month and every week to keep everything organized and EASY.

More Meal Plans and Resources for Saving Money on Food

February Dinner Ideas For A Month Of Tasty Meals

Quick Food Prep Routine for a Week of Easier Meals

How to Grocery Shop for a Month

June Dinner Meal Plan – Monthly Menu Ideas For Warm Weather

If your pantry is overstocked with cans of beans, you might want to try some of these recipes using canned beans.

Remember, good food doesn’t have to be complicated or overly expensive. With these simple recipe ideas, I hope you get inspired to plan and create enjoyable, tasty dinners that suit your budget and lifestyle. 

Here’s to a month filled with culinary delights and the joy of stress-free cooking whether you’re on a budget or not. Happy dining!

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This post was originally published December 31, 2015. Updated January 1, 2024.

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