Welcome to Kitchn's Food Budget Diaries series, where we show you how people around the country spend money on what they eat and drink. Each post will follow one person for one week and will chronicle everything that person consumed and how much it costs them.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Number of people in family: 2, including my partner. For groceries, we cover any purchases that are under $35. Anything over that, we'll split it via Venmo.
Occupation: I'm a Ph.D. graduate student and my partner is a lawyer.
Household income: $29,000 (not combined income)
Weekly food budget: $50
Day 1: Monday
8:00 a.m.: I eat some leftover brunch from yesterday. It's from the BBQ restaurant across the street from our apartment; I had purchased a handpicked deal so it ended up only being $28 each with a few glasses of mimosas, an appetizer for two, and an entrée each, including tip. I had two biscuits with gravy, fried chicken, eggs, and potato hash. It was a lot of food, so I was able to save half for today's breakfast. I like to think of it as two $14 meals — still expensive, but doesn't hurt as much.
I'm not including this in my budget for the week because it doesn't follow into the seven-day period.
2:00 p.m.: I have half of a bottle of cranberry juice from a vaccine study I'm enrolled in. I end up having to quit the study because my blood pressure has been consistently high. They recommend I see my doctor and start a low-salt diet.
7:30 p.m.: Once I get home, I walk over to Publix to get a few groceries for dinner. I usually go to Kroger, but have to drive to get there, and didn't leave work in time to do that today (I bike to work every day). I pick up a rotisserie chicken (a go-to when I don't have much time and want to make a few easy meals), plus some other essentials in my kitchen (yes, that includes ice cream and cookies).
Rotisserie chicken, $7.39
Ice cream (2 containers), $5.79
Grape tomatoes, $2
Chocolate chip cookies, $3.29
8:00 p.m.: My partner starts taking apart the chicken while I wash and chop the kale. I massage the kale with avocado oil, black pepper, and garlic powder, then cut up the cherry tomatoes and add those to the mix. I roast the chickpeas by draining the can and dumping them out onto a cookie sheet. I toss them with black pepper and garlic powder, then add avocado oil and toss to coat. I put them in the oven (I never wait for the oven to pre-heat, unless I'm baking) for about 20 minutes at 400°F, and then add them to the salad. I add some craisins (that I bought in bulk from Costco a while ago) and I'm done.
My partner chops up the chicken pieces, and we eat the salad with some shredded Kroger brand nacho and taco cheese, and their Private Selection roasted poblano ranch dressing. We also each have a glass of the $2.97 Bay Bridge merlot from Kroger with dinner (purchased last week). I have a cookie for dessert.
When we sit down to eat, I throw the chicken bones and fat into a Dutch oven pot with water covering it, and set it on low. Two hours later, I strain the liquid through a mesh sieve and pour it into two mason jars. One goes in the freezer and the other in the fridge.
Day 2: Tuesday
8:00 a.m.: I'm running late and I'm not that hungry, so I skip breakfast and down a cup of coffee that my partner made, with a splash of non-dairy half-and-half (purchased previously from Whole Foods).
12:00 p.m.: I'm pretty hungry so I eat the salad I packed last night, along with water.
2:30 p.m.: A sales rep stops by our lab, and he always gives us Hershey nuggets, so of course I have a milk chocolate one.
6:00 p.m.: I bike home but don't feel like driving over to Kroger to get what I wanted to yesterday. Instead I make dinner with things we already have. I thaw some hot Italian pork sausage we bought at Costco a few months ago (every few months we spend about $200 stocking up on meat and paper consumables). I take the sausage out of the casing and make this Italian sausage rigatoni with spicy cream sauce recipe. I leave out the onion because we don't have any, but add mushrooms and frozen peas, and I substitute the heavy cream for the non-dairy half-and-half since my partner is lactose-intolerant. I add more tomato paste and sauce to my liking since there's quite a bit of meat, and I like my pasta saucy.
Get the recipe: Italian Sausage Rigatoni with Spicy Cream Sauce by Spicy Southern Kitchen
It turns out delicious and we eat it with more cheap wine — this time the Bay Bridge Pinot Grigio.
Day 3: Wednesday
8:00 a.m.: Running late again, I put some coffee with half-and-half and a packet of stevia into a Thermos, eat a cookie (I know, I know), pack up my lunch, and head out the door.
2:00 p.m.: I realize I haven't eaten anything since drinking my coffee this morning and have my leftovers from last night. So good.
5:00 p.m.: I get pretty hungry and eat the breakfast I never ate this morning: overnight peach and pecan oats by Quaker. I got it as a Free Friday item a couple weeks ago, so I thought I'd try it. I made it with almond milk since we don't use regular milk, and it's pretty good!
8:30 p.m.: I drove to work today since it's a rainy day, so I drive over to Kroger to pick up a prescription and to get things I wasn't able to the other day. I pick up low-carb tortillas, a cilantro bunch, two bottles of Bay Bridge wine, frozen broccoli, more Kroger brand nacho and taco cheese, enchilada sauce, a green bell pepper, a shallot, a poblano pepper, two sweet potatoes, a box of Goya cilantro and garlic seasoning, and a box of Annie's macaroni and cheese (a Free Friday item). I had a coupon for free frozen vegetables so the broccoli, in addition to the macaroni and cheese, don't cost me anything. In addition, I have a $2 coupon from the pharmacy. I'm not sure why, but the last few times I've picked up my prescription, I've gotten this coupon valid for any purchases in store. I end up getting almost $10 worth of items for nothing. Kroger is the best!
Taco sauce, $0.79
Chili pepper, $0.69
Frozen vegetables, $0
Ole wrap, $2.99
Annie's mac & cheese, $0
Shredded cheese, $3.19
Refried beans, $0.87
Green pepper, $0.79
Poblano pepper, $0.77
Bay Bridge wine, $2.97
Additional coupons: -$2.00
Total spent: $16.72
9:30 p.m.: As you might have guessed, I'm making chicken enchiladas with Monday's chicken. It's a recipe I used to make a lot from one of my first cookbooks, but haven't made in quite a while. We don't have all that much chicken, so I decide to roast the frozen broccoli in the oven at 400°F for 20 minutes. I heat up the chicken in the microwave, toss it with Goya cilantro and garlic seasoning, then mix the broccoli in. From here, I follow the recipe for creamy chicken enchiladas from Marlene Koch's cookbook Eat What You Love, but I also top the enchiladas with cheese and some of the red enchilada sauce I bought. We each eat with a glass of the Bay Bridge Cab.
Day 4: Thursday
7:30 a.m.: I have a dentist appointment this morning, so I don't eat or drink any coffee until after.
10:00 a.m.: When I get to lab I eat my yogurt and cut-up peach I had made a while ago but just never ate.
12:30 p.m.: I eat two leftover chicken enchiladas from last night, along with water.
6:00 p.m.: I get home relatively early today but am dead tired. I'm also hungry so I eat a couple cookies. I take a nap then finish up some laundry while my partner makes dinner for us. He thawed some more hot Italian sausage in the fridge last night, and he uses bell and poblano peppers for the veggies. We eat that with, you guessed it, more Bay Bridge wine.
Get the recipe: One Pan Healthy Sausage and Veggies from Chelsea's Messy Apron
Day 5: Friday
8:00 a.m.: I down a cookie before biking into work for a meeting.
10:30 a.m.: I eat a ham and cheese Lean Pocket (I got a free box from Kroger as a valued customer coupon), since I didn't really eat a breakfast.
3 p.m.: I eat last night's sausage and veggies cold because I'm lazy and I have another meeting soon.
4:30 p.m.: Our department has a pizza and beer party on the first Friday of every month. I sneak in after my meeting to grab two pieces: spinach Alfredo and pepperoni from Papa John's.
6:00 p.m.: It's been a stressful day and I could really use a beer. My partner generously walks to the convenience store near us and gets a six-pack of Stone IPA while I finish packing for my trip home. I have one before he drives me to the airport to see my parents who live in Farmington Hills, Michigan (near Detroit).
Day 6: Saturday
10:30 a.m.: I sleep in, then raid my parents' fridge. I toast some rye bread, then dollop some Sriracha on it, add a slice of Colby, and this interesting peppered sausage they had on top. I make some coffee and drink it black with my concoction.
12:30 p.m.: One of my friends picks me up and we head over to our other friend's condo to eat, drink, and watch the Michigan football game. My friend and her husband make some fancy grilled cheeses, salad, and tomato soup. We all start drinking while prepping the food — I have two glasses of prosecco with mango lemonade. I have a piece of the apple, brie, and honey on sourdough; the "regular" cheddar and tomato; the pesto, pepper jack, and avocado on sourdough; a delicious salad with fruit and balsamic dressing; and a Ghiradelli brownie for dessert. By now I've had two drinks and downed some waters, so I have a pumpkin ale from a local brewery with lunch. This is all free for me.
4:00 p.m.: We're watching the game and I drink some more water and another pumpkin ale.
6:00 p.m.: There are snacks on the table and I munch on tortilla chips and salsa, and another brownie.
11:00 p.m.: After checking out the art festival that was nearby, we decide that we could all go for some Taco Bell. I get a bean burrito and a fiery Doritos locos taco. My friend's husband insists to pay for everyone when I try to make my own order.
Day 7: Sunday
11:30 a.m.: I sleep in late again. My dad just made himself some eggs so he offers to make me breakfast as well. He makes scrambled eggs with onions and a bunch of spices, rye toast, and a breakfast sausage patty. I add some hot sauce and a slice of provolone to the toast and eat that all with some black coffee.
3 p.m.: We are out looking at the progress made on my parents' new lake house that they're building, so we stop at a restaurant on one of the larger lakes. They're closing early for Labor Day, so the kitchen is closed, but we each get a beer. I get a Fat Tire and a water.
4 p.m.: We go to a nearby brewery to eat. We get a beer cheese dip as an appetizer, and I get a buffalo chicken wrap with fries and an amber ale. I only eat half of my wrap and put the rest in a to-go box. My parents pay for the meal.
9:45 p.m.: I'm meeting one of my best friend's new boyfriend tonight, so our other friend picks me up and we head to Ann Arbor to get drinks. My friend and her boyfriend already ordered some tapas and my other friend orders some more when we get there. I order a Spanish wine, and have a bacon-wrapped date, a piece of fried cauliflower, and a piece of asparagus tempura. Even though I don't eat many of the tapas, I split the veggie ones with my one friend because she so generously bought and made lunch for the four of us yesterday.
Ann Arbor Bar
Spanish wine, $9
2 Tapas, $9
Total Spent: $23
*Note: This was a slightly unusual week in that I went over my $50 budget. Since I went on a trip, I ate out a lot more than I normally would if I were at home. Also, since I had bought all the groceries at the beginning of the week, if I had stayed at home, my partner would have bought the groceries at the end of the week.
1. How did you set your food budget?
I budget my months based on recurring expenses. Since I have loan payments, my leftover money is extremely limited. I budget to spend about $13 per day, which includes my food budget. If I budget $50 per week, that leaves me about $40 to spend on other items in a week.
2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can't live without?
- Spices! Most important are garlic and black pepper.
- Sheet pan. I bake a lot of things, including bacon, so this is crucial.
- Cast iron skillet. This is great because I can brown meat on the stove and then cook it through in the oven all in the same pan.
3. What's the budget recipe you always rely on?
A simple salad with protein (usually chicken). I love kale because it lasts a while without getting wilted and nasty, and I can easily just top it with items that don't take a ton of prep work.
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