How a Family of 5 Eats for $200 a Week in Baltimore, Maryland

How a Family of 5 Eats for $200 a Week in Baltimore, Maryland

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Ariel Knutson
Apr 19, 2017
(Image credit: GettyImages)

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 Diary follows one cook for one week, chronicling what they shop for, what they eat, and how much it costs.

Name: Jocelyn
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Age: 32
Number of people in family: 5 people. Me; my husband, Tim; two toddlers, Watson (3) and Vivian (1 1/2); and one breastfeeding baby, Freddy (3 months).
Occupation: I'm a linguist; my husband is a mathematician.
Salary: $160,000 a year (combined with husband)
Weekly food budget: $200

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day One: Saturday

6:30 a.m. Woke up and ran to pump milk for the baby before anyone wakes up. Freddy's daycare says he needs 20 ounces a day and I'm desperate to avoid buying formula so I'm trying to get as much breastmilk as I can on the weekends.

7:30 a.m. Everyone is awake at this point, so once the kids are dressed we go downstairs to make breakfast. The kids say they want cereal bars so we give them each one and then they want cereal after. I try to mix the sugary stuff my mom bought them with the less sugary stuff. How much of the Cinnamon O's gets eaten versus the organic fruit loops is questionable.

My husband, Tim, requests eggs and toast so I use the last of our bread and spread on some hummus leftover from last night. I top it with two poached eggs each and add a pile of strawberries.

My son eats about a third of my eggs and strawberries, which makes me feel a bit better about his breakfast. My husband makes coffee and I find some oranges left from last week's CSA and make some fresh juice. The kids also demand juice but don't like the orange juice, so I dig around and find a couple juice boxes in the pantry left from a party that are still good and give them those.

9:30 a.m. Our fruit and veggie boxes from Hungry Harvest (our local CSA) come. We get the super organic box, which is $55 a week, and the full fruit harvest, which is $35 a week.

Hungry Harvest

Yellow squash
Red peppers
Sweet potatoes
Cucumbers
Butternut squash
Cherry tomatoes
Kiwis
Apples
Mangoes
Grapes
Oranges
Spring mix
Pea shoots
Strawberries
Blackberries
Baby carrots
Grapefruit

Total Cost: $90

I grab a pile of cookbooks and make a list for the grocery store. I also check Cartwheel (a Target-specific coupon app) before we go to see if there are any specials. I learn that chicken nuggets and almond butter are 30 percent off at Target, so we'll also stop there.

10:30 a.m. We head to our local grocery store, MOM's Organic Market. The baby starts screaming at the store so we're throwing stuff in the cart as fast as we can. I'm also trying to add things up so we don't go over the budget of $50 that we set for ourselves before going into the store.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

MOM's Organic Market

Large eggs: $4.49
Cubed tofu: $1.99
Tempeh: $2.99
Fruit punch: $3.98
Harissa: $5.99
Vegetable broth: $4.00
Diced tomatoes: $2.76
Tahini: $8.99
Tortillas: $2.79
Avocado: $4.98
Limes: $1.91
Lemons: $3.08

Total Cost: $47.77

We end up about $2 under budget. The store has samples of bread and vegan "butter," so we make the kids mini sandwiches and get coffee for ourselves.

11:00 a.m. The baby is still crying so my husband runs into Target with my son to grab the nuggets and almond butter.

Target

Chicken nuggets: $5.03 (x3)
Almond butter: $5.10 (x2)
Cake pop: $1.95
Candy: $1.95

Total: $29.19

11:30 a.m. For lunch I make a jumbo chickpea pancake, but throw in some ras-al-hanout, cumin, and harissa and top it with spring mix, cucumbers, tomatoes, and some lemon-tahini dressing for the grown-ups. The kids get some chicken nuggets and grapes. I give them a couple pieces of cucumber to try, which end up at the side of the plate. My son eats only the grapes and my daughter eats only the chicken nuggets. That's about how these things usually go.

Get the recipe: Jumbo Chickpea Pancake from Oh She Glows

1:30 p.m. My daughter wakes up from her nap and I realize she hasn't had any fruits or vegetables all day, so I grab some applesauce I made with wrinkled apples last week and give it to her. On our way to a playdate, my husband and I sneak a pack of peanut butter crackers.

2:00 p.m. At the playdate there are bowls of Pirate's Booty and veggie straws. My husband and I resist, but the kids eat everything. My son has some apple juice and my daughter drinks a ton of water.

5:00 p.m. On our way home we stop for a latte because dinner will probably be late and we're kind of starving. We figure this will help hold us off without getting desperate. My son demands a happy meal but we say no, so most of the car ride is screaming.

Starbucks

Lattes: $6.89

Total: $6.89

6:00 p.m. The kids have macaroni and cheese while I start getting our dinner ready. Tonight we're having beets, which I know won't get done before bedtime so I'm not stressing too much about it. My son eats all of his mac and cheese; my daughter dumps it all over her tray.

7:30 p.m. My husband takes over making dinner so I can feed the baby. We have pasta with beet pesto from Sarah Britton's new book, as well as the charred cabbage with apple and walnut sauce. We use up the last of our veggies from last week and have leftover walnut sauce for a salad I have planned later in the week.

Get the recipe: Vibrant Pink Pesto Pasta from The Social

Day Two: Sunday

8:00 a.m. My son has requested waffles so I let him help in hopes that that will get him to eat more. We make multi-grain waffles with almond milk and add some cocoa and frozen blueberries for fun. He and my daughter have some maple syrup on theirs; my daughter eats about half of her waffle and my son licks off the syrup and says he doesn't like waffles. My husband and I have ours with a little melted chocolate and some strawberries and kiwis.

Get the recipe: Whole-Wheat Waffles from 101 Cookbooks

10:00 a.m. We finally finish breakfast and get ready to run errands and go to the children's museum. I pack snacks of applesauce pouches for the kids and peanut butter crackers for everyone.

11:30 a.m. The Williams-Sonoma in our mall is closing, so everything is 40 percent off. I buy the set of chili salts I've had my eye on for months.

Williams Sonoma

Chili salts: $24.60

Total: $24.60

3:00 p.m. We get home. I've misjudged time horribly and we're all starving. I give the kids scrambled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and some grapes. All they eat are grapes. I make shakshuka and salad for my husband and myself, and we eat it with some leftover muffins from last week and a big pot of tea.

Get the recipe: Shakshuka with Red Peppers and Cumin from Epicurious

Day Three: Monday

6:00 a.m. The kids have cereal bars and some cereal and we have leftover waffles with strawberries, maple syrup, and a ton of coffee. I pack our lunches (leftover mac and cheese for my son; chicken nuggets for my daughter; blackberries for both of them).

9:00 a.m. I'm already hungry and break out baby carrots and hummus. I'm taking management classes for work right now. I'm in training the first couple of days this week, so my schedule is a bit more relaxed. I find myself getting hungry at around the same time I would probably eat in the office — there's just less coffee here.

11:00 a.m. It's my lunch break so I have my leftover tabbouleh and chickpeas from Friday night and an apple while reading food blogs.

2:00 p.m. Eat a pear. Wish I had 10 of them.

5:00 p.m. We get home from picking up the kids and start making dinner. My husband wants a simple salad with orange dressing and maybe some tempeh. I don't tell him that the orange dressing will take forever to make because I have to reduce 4 cups of orange juice to 1/4 cup. I get bored while waiting for the juice and make curry-spiced almonds, quinoa, and halloumi to put on the salad.

I give the kids bits of the salad, and my daughter eats her mango and a bit of tempeh. We can mostly tell what she's eaten by forensic reconstruction of the remains torn and mashed up around her tray. My son eats a bite of pea shoots because he wants to prove that he's a grown-up. My husband and I dig out a nice bottle of wine left from Christmas and have a glass each.

Get the Recipe: Orange Vinaigrette from Food Network*

* Note: The version in my cookbook calls for four cups of orange juice, but this version would have been easier and I'm going to bookmark it.
(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day Four: Tuesday

8:30 a.m. Snow day! We eat leftover waffles again and my daughter has a muffin and cereal bar. My son has a cereal bar and also asks for cereal, but doesn't really eat it. I let them have juice boxes because it's a special day. My husband makes a fresh pot of coffee and we each have a cup.

12:00 p.m. I give the kids chicken nuggets and grapes because I just realized it's nap time and I hadn't gotten around to making lunch yet. I make butternut squash farinata with pea shoots and leftover walnut sauce on top (for the adults). My husband makes a giant pot of tea that we drink for the next couple hours.

Get the recipe: Butternut Squash Farinata from Washington Post

2:00 p.m. My daughter is still napping, so my son and I make granola bars with some pantry staples. We eat a lot of oatmeal, so I always have oats on hand, and quinoa tends to be our grain of choice. After playing in the snow, the kids want to try them. My daughter loves them; my son is not impressed.

6:00 p.m. I make vegan zucchini lasagna, which is a hit with my husband. The kids tear it apart and just eat some blackberries, although my daughter does try a carrot. I also throw together a small salad with some spring mix, grape tomatoes, and leftover orange dressing.

Get the recipe: Vegan Zucchini Lasagna with Tofu Ricotta from Emilie Eats

8:00 p.m. A friend brought us a giant bag of goodies from Trader Joe's after I had the baby and we've barely touched it, so tonight we treat ourselves to some milky tea and biscotti.

Day Five: Wednesday

7:00 a.m. Delayed opening at work and daycare so we have a leisurely morning eating leftover waffles. My son eats most of my waffle and then complains that there aren't more, so I promise him that we can make more over the weekend. My daughter has some waffle as well, and they both bring snack cups of cereal to daycare.

I send macaroni and cheese with my son and chicken nuggets with my daughter, as well as applesauce with both for their lunches.

9:00 a.m. I'm still hungry due to the Toddler Diet (wherein half my food is eaten by a toddler), so I stop at Starbucks for a coffee to go with the granola bar I brought.

Starbucks

Coffee: $2.39

Total: $2.39

10:00 a.m. I'm hungry again and have some carrots and hummus.

12:00 p.m. Finally lunch time, I have leftover farinata and beet salad from last week and get irrationally angry at everyone in front of me in line for the one working microwave. I have an apple afterwards and feel much better.

2:00 p.m. I can't wait for the training instructor to give a break and noisily eat my pear in class. I know he's judging me — I don't care.

4:30 p.m. I sneak a marshmallow when I get home and get started on the most exciting meal of the week: falafel waffles! I make these while roasting the other half of the squash I used in the farinata and making tahini-harissa sauce. I pile the squash, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, avocado, and sauce on top of the waffles and have never been happier.

The kids tell me they're disgusting and refuse to eat them. I let my daughter have an applesauce pouch because I worry that she isn't eating enough.

Get the recipe: Fantastic Falafel Waffles from My New Roots

7:00 p.m. The kids are in bed, so we have tea and another biscotti.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day Six: Thursday

5:30 a.m. We have more of the leftover muffins and some grapefruit. My daughter shares my husband's muffin and my son eats half of each of our grapefruit and both kids have cereal. They try Rice Krispies for the first time and love them, which makes me happy since they don't have much sugar, but horrifies my husband when he sees how easily the kids spill them everywhere.

I pack chicken nuggets for both kids and blackberries for my son, and applesauce for my daughter.

9:00 a.m. I join the line for the coffeemaker at work. For $10 a month I get all the coffee I can drink and I take shameless advantage. Over the course of today I drink four cups. The first one I enjoy with my granola bar.

10:00 a.m. I eat some carrots (no hummus today — I sent the last of it to work with my husband).

11:00 a.m. I have some leftover lasagna along with coffee.

12:30 p.m. I have a pear and start doing work on employee reviews. I decide I need more coffee in order to stop myself from stuffing my face with chocolate. About half the people in my office have candy bowls and have only started stocking them with good candy now that I'm trying to lose baby weight.

2:00 p.m. I have my last snack — an apple. There's no more coffee and I don't want to make another pot in case no one else wants any and this just proves that I am the coffee-obsessed person everyone thinks I am.

5:40 p.m. I finally get home after being stuck in traffic for an hour and a half. I had planned to make enchiladas, but don't have time. I dice sweet potatoes and throw them in the oven to roast while sautéing tofu, peppers, yellow squash, and some leftover quinoa with the leftover orange dressing. I throw the sweet potatoes and leftover curry almonds on top and call it dinner.

The kids are hungry before I'm done so I dig in the pantry and find a packet of broccoli pasta and cheese that we got on clearance at Target a while ago. I make it for them and it looks just like green oatmeal. They refuse it, and honestly I don't blame them. They eat two bowls of grapes each and both try some tofu.

My husband and I each have a small glass of wine. Grain bowls like this are one of our go-tos to stay within our budget. It's always tempting to go out, but honestly the time it would take us to saddle up the kids, get somewhere, and wait for our food is probably longer than it takes me to throw this together.

7:30 p.m. We let my son stay up late to watch a Mr. Rogers episode as a reward for a diaper-free day and have the last of the biscotti and some tea after he goes to bed.

Day Seven: Friday

6:00 a.m. The baby was up a lot so we wake up late and have to hurry. I pack our breakfast so we can eat at work. It's a muffin and half a grapefruit. I enjoy not having to share my grapefruit with anyone. It's pizza day at daycare, so I don't have to worry about packing lunch for the kids.

9:00 a.m. I have some grapes that I packed. There are cake bites at the table behind me and it's all I can think about. So far I've had three cups of coffee.

10:00 a.m. I didn't make another dip yet, so it's another day of plain carrots. They're pretty good though.

12:30 p.m. I've been in meetings for most of the morning so I don't get to my lunch until now and I'm starving. I spent a good bit of meetings planning meals for next week so I feel prepared-ish and hope to have some time to prep some stuff this weekend. Lunch today is farinata and beet salad again. It hits the spot and I eat an apple right away afterwards.

3:00 p.m. I realize it's almost time to leave and I still haven't eaten my last snack. I enjoy my kiwi right before leaving. I finally give in and grab a cake bite with my last cup of coffee for the day. It's actually kind of awful and I regret everything about it.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

5:30 p.m. I make vegan enchiladas for dinner. I thought I'd be able to give the kids some, but then I taste the sauce. It turns out my chili powder is much spicier than I thought so I end up making them chicken nuggets, peanut butter crackers, and grapes for dinner. My daughter eats it all; my son eats his grapes and licks the peanut butter off his crackers.

Get the recipe: Vegan Enchiladas with Cilantro Avocado Cream Sauce from Oh She Glows

7:00 p.m. It's family movie night, so after we put my daughter to bed, my husband and son make cheesy popcorn. They pop about 3/4 cup of kernels with some Parmesan, salt, garlic powder, and a spray of olive oil. It's a huge hit.

Total Food Expenses for the Week: $196.25

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1. How did you set your food budget?

Our food budget is based around our CSA and then we felt that a hundred or so beyond that amount was generous enough to cover indulgences and impulse buys, but not so much that we'll buy things we won't use. We had some trial and error trying different amounts. For a while I tried to keep under $25 and could only afford chicken nuggets.

2. What kitchen ingredients can't you live without?

The ingredients we can't live without are oats, quinoa, canned beans, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, lemons, chickpea flour, and tahini.

3. What's the budget recipe you rely on?

Our favorite budget recipe is falafel patties. Chickpea flour is a cheap staple and we can make salad or sandwiches with the patties and whatever veggies we have that week.

At Kitchn we believe setting a food budget for you and your family is an essential part in getting your financial life in order. Don't know where to start? We have a guide for that. Want to share your food budget diary with Kitchn? See how here.

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