Grocery Diaries

How 2 Biologists in Alaska Spent $340 on Groceries for 3 Weeks During the Pandemic

updated Jun 7, 2020
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Credit: Caitlin S
  • Name: Caitlin
  • Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Number of people in household: 2 (myself and my boyfriend, Nathan).
  • Age: I am 31 and he is 33.
  • Occupation: We are both biologists.
  • Grocery shopping for how long? 3 weeks.
  • Where did you shop? Fred Meyer and Roaming Root, a local store with delivery services during COVID19.
  • How much did you spend? $339.89 ($319.89 at Fred Meyer, $20 at Roaming Root).

We’re changing up our Grocery Diaries column to reflect what grocery shopping looks like during the coronavirus outbreak. Want to share your story? See how here.

How did you choose where to buy groceries?

In Fairbanks we have a relatively limited set of options for grocery shopping. In “normal” times, we usually shop at Fred Meyer, so we chose to continue shopping there now. In addition to Fred Meyer, we ordered a few local items from a pop-up mobile store to support local businesses.

What time did you shop, and what was it like?

Our Fred Meyer opens at 7 a.m. During most of the week, 7 to 8 a.m. is reserved for seniors and vulnerable individuals, so I waited until the weekend to go at an early hour. I wanted to go early in hopes avoiding crowds and finding items in stock.

I wore a homemade fabric mask to the store. I brought a container of sanitizing wipes to use on the cart, and hand sanitizer to use after leaving the store. The store was limiting the number of people entering the store at one time, had stickers on the floor to encourage social distancing when standing in line, and they had put up plexiglass between the cashiers and customers. I also noticed that the bulk bins had been removed.

Credit: Caitlin S

How did you meal plan?

I usually meal plan by the week, using a few meal ideas as a foundation and building leftovers and other meals from there. It also is not unusual for me or my partner to make quick trips to the store during the week for additional ingredients.

Now that we are operating under a “new normal” during the pandemic, I am putting more time into meal planning to ensure that we don’t waste food and can minimize our trips out to the store. I started by taking stock of our usual pantry essentials like canned tomatoes, dried beans, pasta, and rice. Then, I flipped through some cookbooks and browsed online for recipes that sounded good. My partner hunts and we fish during the summer, so a good portion of our protein comes from those sources.

What did you buy?

From Fred Meyer

Produce: Green cabbage, green onions, yellow onions (6), 10 pounds potatoes, 2 heads garlic, ginger, baby kale, spring mix, 3 zucchini, head of cauliflower, 16 ounces white mushrooms, 2 avocados, 32 ounces organic strawberries, 2 pints cherry tomatoes, 1 yellow bell pepper, 3 crowns broccoli, 5 pounds carrots, 6 apples, 2 lemons, dill, parsley, cantaloupe, 2 English cucumbers, 5 bananas, 2 sweet potatoes.

Dairy: 4% cottage cheese, whole milk, 2% milk, ricotta cheese, 2-pound block cheddar cheese, 5-dozen eggs.

Protein: Firm tofu, organic chicken thighs, canned tuna.

Pantry staples: 2 bags frozen corn, 2 bags frozen broccoli, 2 cans great northern beans, 2 cans diced tomatoes, 1 can tomato paste, 2 cans tomato sauce, dry black beans, 2 cans chickpeas, dry chickpeas, 2 cans coconut milk, 1 can chipotles in adobo, 20 pounds of flour, popcorn kernels, lasagna noodles, walnuts, panko breadcrumbs, 2 jars natural peanut butter, mayonnaise, ketchup.

Prepared: Annie’s organic ravioli, Annie’s mac and cheese, Sunchips, WheatThin crackers, NutThin crackers, rice cakes, 3 frozen cheese pizzas.

Other: 1 pound coffee, black tea bags, lime cranberry seltzer, plain seltzer.

From the Roaming Root

Basil, mint, cream of barley breakfast cereal, beets.

Credit: Caitlin S

What couldn’t you find?

I found everything we were looking for, but I forgot to get feta cheese. We will do without because it is not worth an extra trip.

What do you plan on making?


  • Fried eggs over sautéed cherry tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, baby kale.
  • Cheddar and roasted veggie (onion, sweet potato, and broccoli) quiche.
  • Sourdough English muffins with peanut butter (or as a breakfast sandwich with fried egg and cheddar).
  • Strawberries and cottage cheese with walnuts and honey.
  • Cream of barley with butter and brown sugar.
  • Oatmeal with fruit.
  • Sourdough discard waffles with fruit.
  • Banana bread.


  • Tuna-cabbage-bean salad, roughly based on this recipe.
  • Moroccan red lentil stew.
  • Black bean soup.
  • Roasted veggie and grain salad (big pan of roasted sweet potatoes, onions, broccoli, garlic with barley over greens).
  • Summer rolls with cucumber, carrots, baby kale, avocado, mint, and basil.
  • Mushroom lentil burgers from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen (with cheddar cheese on top!).
  • Roasted beets and chickpeas with walnuts, honey, and mint over spring mix.
  • Leftovers!


  • Chili with ground black tail deer, zucchini, bell pepper, frozen corn, and sweet potato.
  • Taco zucchini boats and brown rice. We will use ground mountain goat instead of ground beef.
  • Roasted cauliflower steaks and great northern beans with dijon-parsley dressing.
  • Gochujang meatballs with rice and crunchy cabbage slaw. We will use ground deer instead of turkey.
  • Zucchini and deer burgers with dilled potato salad.
  • Lasagna with ground caribou.
  • Salmon with sautéed baby kale over cheesy grits, roughly based on this recipe but using salmon instead of shrimp.
  • Yellow coconut curry with potatoes, frozen peas, onions, tofu, and rice.
  • Halibut fish sticks served with coleslaw and oven-baked french fries. 
  • Roasted chicken thighs with garlic and lemon, served with rice and broccoli.
  • Pasta tossed with leftover chicken, baby kale, lemon, and Parmesan.
  • Chili mac — again, we will substitute our wild game for the ground beef.
  • Pasta con cici with kale stirred in during the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Cauliflower and chickpea masala (we will sub coconut milk for heavy cream).

For when we don’t feel like cooking: Mac and cheese (we usually add in frozen peas if we are feeling the need for something green), frozen pizza.

Snacks (we are doing a lot more snacking now that we are spending more time at home): Cantaloupe, strawberries (and leftover ricotta, yum!), cucumbers and tomatoes with cottage cheese and zaatar, crackers and cheese, apples, hard-boiled eggs (I cook them in the Instant Pot and will never go back to any other way), rice cake and peanut butter, and popcorn with olive oil, smoked paprika, salt, and nutritional yeast.

Cooking Projects

  • Sourdough English muffins.
  • No-knead sourdough bread.
  • Rhubarb cordial made with some very sad rhubarb I found in the back of the freezer.
  • Yogurt.
  • Shrubs – I make shrubs roughly following this method. I use scraps from trimming strawberries and/or berries that look a little mushy. 
  • Popovers.
  • Chocolate chip cookies.
Credit: Caitlin S

How is this different from how you normally shop?

We usually do not shop for three weeks at a time, and I have found it takes more time to carefully plan a grocery list because we don’t have the luxury of being able to run out to the store on a whim anymore. I will also be careful to cook meals that use up more fragile produce first and leave heartier produce (cabbage, carrots, potatoes) for later. I have also been trying to be much more vigilant about food waste. 

We will probably switch to curbside pickup for our next shop; I will need to remember to submit our order about a week in advance. One positive outcome from the changes due to COVID-19 is that I discovered a local business that I might not have known about otherwise. It was fun to be able to support a local business and get some fresh produce!

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 Grocery Diary with Kitchn? See how here.