How a Family of Two Eats for $230 a Week in Washington, D.C.

How a Family of Two Eats for $230 a Week in Washington, D.C.

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Ariel Knutson
Oct 16, 2017
(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

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.

Name: Lisa
Location: Washington, D.C.
Age: 25
Number of people in family: 2; my partner and me.
Occupation: I am a law student and my partner is an attorney.
Household income: $180,000
Weekly food budget: $230

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day 1: Thursday

7:30 a.m. It's time to wake up. My partner is not a morning person, so I hop out of bed and start our morning ritual. Our gray cat is already screaming for food, so I head downstairs and feed him (and our other cat) breakfast. At this point, our dog is still waking up, but I get his food ready. We're running low on human food so I plan to do grocery shopping after class today.

8:00 a.m. I realize we're out of coffee (not good), so I run to Trader Joe's (it's two blocks away) and grab a few things until I can shop later. I don't stay long because I want to get back before my partner leaves for work. I don't have class until 1:20 p.m. today, so I make my partner a breakfast sandwich with eggs (from my grandparents' chickens), sautéed jalapeños (we eat spicy everything, so I freeze extra jalapeños from our summer veggie garden to use the rest of the year), Trader Joe's meatless sausage, and sourdough bread that we made the previous week. I go with avocado toast with sea salt, olive oil, tomato, and smoked chili flakes. I love this combo in the morning!

Trader Joe's

Organic Jalapeño Limeade, $2.29
Mission St. Session Peach IPA, $2.99
Joe Coffee Dark Roast, $4.99
Trader Joe's Ginger Beer, $3.99
Meatless Breakfast Patties, $3.29
3 Bananas, $0.57
2 Avocados, $2.98
2 Limes, $0.58
3 Tomatoes, $0.87
Total: $22.50

8:30 a.m. We take our adorable, crazy dog on a walk — he is 85 solid pounds of energy, so he needs at least a one-mile loop every morning. We get back in time to shower before my partner bikes to his office.

9:30 a.m. I make some chai from spices I have and sweeten it with a bit of agave syrup before I sit down to work on my research assignment. It's strange how much I enjoy researching cases and reading legal opinions, but I guess that's why I'm in law school!

11:30 a.m. Time flies while you're doing legal research, and it's almost time for lunch. I don't have much on hand, so I make a peanut butter sandwich with sourdough bread, banana slices, slivered almonds, and chia seeds. It's surprisingly filling.

1:00 p.m. My partner's firm provides lunch during a meeting today; he has a tuna fish sandwich, sweet potato chips, oatmeal raisin cookie, and sparkling water.

1:20 p.m. Time to learn all about non-trespassory nuisance!

3:30 p.m. One of my friends shares some nuts while we're all chatting before our second class starts.

5:10 p.m. After class, some friends and I decided we're going to go to Bar Review, which is a weekly law school social event at a different D.C. bar, and decide to meet up later.

5:30 p.m. I also agreed to go to another friend's house to hang before meeting up for Bar Review, so I rush home to take our dog on a walk, shower, change, and make something to eat. Since I'm low on time and ingredients are limited, I make a quick grilled avocado and tomato salad with olive oil and sea salt. My plan to go grocery shopping today probably isn't going to happen.

My boyfriend gets back before I leave so we talk about his day, and I head out.

7:00 p.m. I bring the Peach IPA I bought this morning to my friend's, and we have a good time talking about the week. I eat a chocolate chip cookie she made.

8:30 p.m. The walk to Bar Review is quick, and I meet up with a couple friends there. There is nothing like playing a round of D.C.-themed mini-golf to end the day! After a fun round, we sit and talk as other people from our law school class stop by and chat. It's a more chill and low-key Bar Review than usual, and I don't end up drinking anything because of the beer from earlier.

10:30 p.m. One of our other friends didn't make it to Bar Review but texts us that she's in the area to walk a friend's dog. We walk over and join her. This puppy is the cutest and makes me want to adopt another dog! We walk to our friend's apartment and contemplate getting food, but everyone is too tired.

12:00 a.m. I'm hungry when I get home, but decide to resist the urge to snack and get ready for bed.

Day 2: Friday

7:00 a.m. I don't have class today, but I still get up at the normal time. I make my partner a coffee with an omelet and a breakfast smoothie using the kale, beets, banana, and vegan protein powder while he feeds our cats and dog.

The kale and beets are from our CSA that we get every two weeks and share with my brother. He dropped it off this morning before going to work.

CSA

2 bunches of kale
1 bunch of beets
3 nectarines
1 head of broccoli

Total: $18.50

8:00 a.m. My partner heads to work and I take our dog out for a walk.

8:45 a.m. The walk turned into more of a jog and I come back hungry. I enjoy a nectarine with some Moroccan mint tea before getting started on my readings for next week. The sun is shining, so I sit in the backyard with my tea and dog while learning all about jurisdictions over corporations.

12:00 p.m. Time to work out. I run to the gym at school and do an hour weight training class before heading back home.

1:45 p.m. For lunch, I quickly throw together a double portion of chickpea sunflower filling to stuff into a sandwich. It's a delicious vegan sandwich filling, so I made extra to use later on if I'm too busy to cook. Most of the ingredients come from my pantry, but I add some tomatoes that I bought the day before.

Get the recipe: Chickpea Sunflower Sandwich from Minimalist Baker

2:15 p.m. My dog's ready for his second walk, and we hit the park next to our house. He's really excited by every single smell so we have a leisurely stroll instead of a jog.

2:45 p.m. Once we're back, I shower and get back to my readings for class next week. I drink some more tea.

6:30 p.m. My partner gets off work earlier than usual today, and when he gets home we chat while taking our dog on another walk. He's so spoiled! At this point, our dog has marked every spot in the park, so we decided to walk through the Adams Morgan neighborhood close by.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

7:15 p.m. Living close to so many restaurants is too tempting, and we decide not to cook. The U Street area can be pretty crazy on the weekends so we decide to go for something simple rather than trying to find a seat at a restaurant. There's a sandwich shop called G by Mike Isabella that has good veggie options, which is ideal for us since I'm vegetarian and my partner is pescatarian.

We thought we could order takeout but dinner is sit-down only, so we grab a table. I order the cauliflower sandwich and the Sloppy Yo (refried black beans, spicy tofu chorizo, potatoes, avocado, pickled cabbage, chili-dipped bun), which we each eat half of — we love to share food! My partner enjoys his meal with the Atlas Rowdy Rye Ale.

G Sandwich Shop

Atlas Rowdy Rye Ale, $7
Sloppy Yo Sandwich, $11
Roasted Cauliflower Sandwich, $10
Total: $28

9:00 p.m. Instead of going to a party as originally planned, we decide to have a chill night in. We make some Dark 'n' Stormy drinks with the ginger beer I bought the day before and watch La La Land.

Get the recipe: Dark 'n' Stormy from The New York Times

Day 3: Saturday

9:00 a.m. We sleep in this morning, but not too late since we need to take our dog on a walk. He's full of energy after a long night's sleep. I eat some overnight oats with sliced strawberries, slivered almonds, cinnamon, chia seeds, and flax seeds that I made before bed yesterday. I loosely base my overnight oat recipes on this one by Oh She Glows, but I pretty much use whatever fruit and non-dairy milk I have on hand.

Get the recipe: Vegan Overnight Oats from Oh She Glows

10:00 a.m. My partner makes us coffee before we head out to run errands. Tonight we have friends coming over, so we decide to get some snacks. On our way to Trader Joe's, we walk to our neighborhood farmers market that is a block away. It's always fun walking through the different stalls and looking at all of the seasonal produce. Farmers markets are kryptonite to my self-restraint. I want to eat and buy everything!

Farmers Market Haul

3 Shinseiki Asian pears, $3.49
3 nectarines, $2.44
1 container of strawberries, $5.50
4 heirloom tomatoes, $3.71
2 cipollini onions, $1.50
4 Honeycrisp apples, $3.12
1 container of sweet peppers, $4.50
1 head of cauliflower, $3
Total: $27.26

11:00 a.m. Oh man, Trader Joe's on the weekend; it is mayhem. I've never seen so many people in one grocery store, but we tag team-it through the aisles and grab everything we need quickly. We realize afterwards that we missed a lot of things, but don't want to go back in.

Trader Joe's

Ode to the classic potato chips, $1.99
5-cheese Greek spiral, $3.99
Mission St. session peach IPA, $2.99
Organic yellow corn taco shells, $1.99
Spinach and artichoke dip, $2.99
Buttermilk biscuits, $2.99
Chocolate chunk cookie dough, $3.49
Queso dip, $2.49
Organic coconut milk, $1.69
Sparkling French berryade, $2.99
3 packs of vegan marshmallows, $5.98
Yuzu hot sauce, $4.99
Jackfruit in brine, $1.99
Whipping cream, $1.29
Dogfish Head namaste white IPA, $10.99
Total: $55.73

11:30 a.m. After dropping off our groceries, we walk to a nearby bakery and get my partner a croissant breakfast sandwich and more coffee. He loves coffee.

Bread Bite

Egg and cheese croissant sandwich, $7.29
Americano, $3.09
Total: $10.38

1:00 p.m. For lunch we use the cauliflower we just bought to make some vegan comfort food. We go with a delicious baked cauliflower bite recipe from one of my favorite Aussie food bloggers. It is so yummy!

Get the recipe: Lemon "Honey" and Soy Cauliflower Bites

1:45 p.m. I make myself some pu'er tea while doing some schoolwork.

5:00 p.m. I start getting ready for our board game night and set up the snacks we bought earlier and bake the cookies, biscuits, and Greek spiral. We also heat up the artichoke and spinach dip and put the drinks on ice.

5:30 p.m. Our friends arrive and we snack and play Imperialism. It's so much fun to catch up with grad school friends over a good board game. We planned to go and get Ethiopian food, but we lost track of time and ended up just snacking throughout the night.

12:30 a.m. We finish our game and hang out for a bit before they head out. We clean up the kitchen and head to bed around 2 a.m.

Day 4: Sunday

9:00 a.m. Our daily alarm clocks (our cats) wake us up to tell us it's time for breakfast. We take a longer walk with our dog this morning, since it's Sunday. He's pretty tired from the excitement of the weekend but still has his usual need to smell every leaf and greet every dog at the park.

9:45 a.m. Breakfast is Earl Grey oatmeal that I base off of a Half Baked Harvest recipe. I use coconut milk and agave syrup instead of milk and honey and top with strawberries instead of blueberries.

Get the recipe: Earl Grey blueberry oatmeal from Half-Baked Harvest

10:15 a.m. I make some chai and do some readings for class after breakfast.

11:30 a.m. We meet a friend for lunch but instead of waiting in line with the brunch crowd, the three of us decide to walk to the DuPont farmers market. It's a nice 15-minute walk from our place, and once again, I want to buy everything.

DuPont Farmer's Market Haul:

2 ears of corn, $1.50
3 zucchini, $2.87
Paper bag of shiitake mushrooms, $12.56
5 mixed potatoes, $2.44
Total: $19.37

1:00 p.m. We decide to make a veggie hash with some potatoes, zucchini, corn, onions, and mushrooms, topped with a fried egg. Some of our leftover snacks from last night serve as sides to our hash.

2:00 p.m. The day is so beautiful, so my partner and I use the Capital Bike Share to bike south towards the Mall and walk around. We end up at the Turkish festival, which is full of amazing-smelling food, dancing, and music. Still too full from lunch, we didn't get anything (even though it all looked so tasty).

8:00 p.m. My brother and his girlfriend meet up with us at a rooftop bar and we order food and hang out with great views of the city. Instead of entrees, we go with six appetizers to share among the four of us. There was a Yelp check-in deal and we get a free root beer float as well! I really love some of the dishes and plan to recreate them to make at home. My partner and I pay for dinner.

1905 Bistro and Bar

Salt roasted golden beets, $10
Black-eyed pea hummus, $8
Quinoa-crayfish hushpuppies, $10
Truffled deviled eggs, $8
Caviar and tater tots, $8
House-made truffle ricotta, $10
Root beer float, $0
Total: $54

10:00 p.m. I do some more readings and briefing for class while making some granola with oats and different nuts I have on hand. Usually, I make a batch every two weeks and keep it around for a quick breakfast or snack option. I loosely follow a quinoa granola recipe by one of my favorite food bloggers — she makes the best simple and wholesome recipes.

Get the recipe: 7-Ingredient Quinoa Granola from Minimalist Baker

11:30 p.m. We drink some water before heading to bed.

Day 5: Monday

7:30 a.m. Monday arrives too soon. We quickly feed the cats, walk the dog, and throw together a breakfast of quinoa oatmeal with coconut milk. My Thug Kitchen cookbook has a great recipe that first introduced us to the combo. The quinoa oatmeal has a nice texture — especially for my partner, who isn't a huge oatmeal fan. We sweeten with agave and have an Asian pear from the farmers market.

12:30 p.m. I packed myself an avocado and chickpea salad sandwich that I eat while in a study group. It was a busy morning of running from class to study group to study group.

1:00 p.m. My partner's firm provided lunch again today, and he eats a caprese panini with a chocolate chip cookie.

2:30 p.m. I eat a banana during another group meeting to review some work for a class.

3:30 p.m. I'm back home and scarf down some leftover hash from the day before and take my dog on a walk. I get some more readings for class done while drinking some jalapeño limeade.

6:00 p.m. I run to the gym and weight train before coming home to make dinner.

7:30 p.m. We want something easy tonight since we're both tired, so we make a vegetable (broccoli, onions, zucchini, kale) and tofu stir-fry using a recipe my grandmother taught me. My grandma makes her own tofu, and she always gives me some to take when I visit home. Since we're out of white rice, I cook up some farro we have in the pantry. It's a satisfying dinner, but makes me miss my family.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

8:15 p.m. I make some tea while doing classwork for school the next day. My partner walks our dog.

12:00 a.m. Much-needed bedtime.

Day 6: Tuesday

8:00 a.m. We accidentally sleep in and have to divide and conquer. My partner feeds the cats and makes a simple breakfast of the coconut milk and granola I made earlier in the week while I walk the dog.

9:00 a.m. I make it to school on time and do some readings before class. I'll be gone until 7:30 p.m. with classes all day.

12:00 p.m. My partner has sushi that is part of a work event.

12:30 p.m. I have a 50-minute break during our huge block of classes so I quickly eat my packed lunch of a beet and nectarine salad thrown together with cashews, olive oil, paprika, and balsamic vinegar.

3:25 p.m. It's wellness week at school, so they're handing out trail mix and oranges. I share the trail mix with my friends during our 10-minute break before the next class.

5:00 p.m. After class, I go with a few friends to the library to study. We end up getting distracted and talk instead.

6:00 p.m. My stomach is growling really loudly, so I eat the orange from before.

8:00 p.m. My partner makes dinner while I start doing more briefing on cases for class tomorrow. I feel behind because of the long day of classes.

For dinner, we eat some jackfruit and shitake mushroom tacos loosely based on a recipe we've tried before.

Tacos are a go-to for us because they're so fun and quick to assemble. Being non-meat-eaters, we try to be creative with what sort of fillings we can make for the tacos. One of our favorites is using soaked walnuts to replace ground beef in a recipe.

Get the recipe: Spicy Garlic Chipotle Jackfruit Tacos from Vegan Richa

Day 7: Wednesday

7:45 a.m. This morning is really rushed, since I keep hitting my snooze button. My partner is up early, eats two scrambled eggs, and is out the door before I'm up.

I quickly brush my teeth and take my dog on a walk. He's pretty chill this morning. I shower and quickly throw together a sweet potato (microwaved since I didn't have time to bake it), topped with almond butter, tahini, chia seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds. While studying in Sydney, one of my housemates showed me this recipe, and it's been a staple for us since then.

9:20 a.m. I munch on an apple before class starts.

11:15 a.m. I'm trying to get as many readings and briefs done for class tomorrow, since my brother wants to go to the rock climbing gym later this evening. I head to the library where I eat some of the strawberries we got at the farmers market.

12:00 p.m. My partner eats leftover tacos from the night before that he brought to work with him and an Asian pear.

1:00 p.m. Briefs and readings done for one class! I rush to the cafeteria to grab lunch before seminar at 1:20. I don't have time for cooked food, so I get the protein granola wrap which is peanut butter, jelly, and nut granola in a whole-wheat wrap. We get 10 percent off in the cafeteria with money that's on our student IDs, so it's a very good price for lunch. I eat half before class starts.

Cafeteria

Peanut butter protein wrap, $3.75

Total: $3.75

2:20 p.m. We have a break during our seminar, and I eat the rest of my wrap.

4:00 p.m. Back home and time for a quick snack. I take some of the leftover jackfruit taco filling, avocado, and tomato and mix it up with some yuzu hot sauce.

4:15 p.m. My dog is ready for his third walk of the day. The dog walkers normally wear him out when we're not here, so he's pretty calm. It's hot outside, so we do a quick walk to make sure he doesn't overheat.

4:35 p.m. I make some iced jasmine tea and sit down to do more readings and brief more cases.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

6:30 p.m. I got assigned my pro bono project that starts next week. Definitely excited, but it'll take most of my Fridays each week. I start thinking about how I need to meal plan and fit grocery shopping into my new schedule.

7:00 p.m. My partner comes back and is pretty tired from his 12-hour work day. We sauté some of the sweet peppers, kale, and cubed sweet potato to make quinoa grain bowls with avocado, tomato, and nuts. We make a sesame vinaigrette by mixing sesame oil, sesame seeds, coconut amino acids, and rice vinegar. It's simple but really tasty and satisfying.

7:45 p.m. Since the rock climbing gym is in northern Virginia, we take my car and pick up my brother along the way. It's a really fun few hours, and we're happily exhausted afterwards.

11:00 p.m. We have a horrible habit of snacking late at night. Tonight, we use our climbing as a justification for eating some almond butter and apple slices before bed.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)
(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1. How did you set your food budget?

For our food budget, we focused primarily on dividing into three categories: the cost of fresh produce and weekly ingredients, pantry staples, and going out to eat/drink or entertaining at home.

Our pantry staples are items we typically buy once a month and use throughout that time, so we average the cost over the month. On average, our use of pantry staples per week is about $30. Then we allocate $100 for our weekly ingredients and fresh produce and another $100 for eating out and entertaining.

Eating out with our friends and family and entertaining at home are important to us, so we budget that into our weekly budget. Recognizing that shopping at farmers markets tends to be more expensive, we make sure to accommodate that in our budget. We are willing to add that extra expense for the quality of the produce and to support our local merchants.

My partner has many work lunches, which helps with our food budget and gives us more discretionary spending for food. For the amount of food, we take into account the fact that we both like to snack and are pretty active, which is why we have a bigger budget.

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

I always have coconut oil, avocado oil, sweet potatoes, black beans, almond butter, chickpeas, avocados, a variety of nuts, oats, chia seeds, coconut amino acids, and some assortment of fruit and veggies.

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

Stir-fry is one of the best budget recipes — especially at the end of the week. It's so easy to throw whatever produce, protein, and toppings that are left over to make a delicious meal. My grandmother gave me a wok that she used to use, so making stir-fry also has sentimental value to me.

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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