Grocery Diaries

How a Teacher in New Orleans Spends $56 a Week on Food and Drinks

published Feb 25, 2020
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Credit: Photos: Shutterstock, Taco Bell Logos: Rouses, Taco Bell

Name: Liz
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Age: 30
Number of people in household: 1
Occupation: Teacher
Household income: $50,000/year
Weekly grocery budget: During a typical week, I spend about $50 on groceries and $50 on going out drinks/food. During this diary though, I was trying to be conscious of how much I spent before Mardi Gras, when there will be a lot of spending on snacks and drinks at parades, Ubers, and parking. I always try to spend a little less in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, because it’s usually a spending frenzy. 
Grocery store of choice: Rouse’s (local supermarket chain throughout the Gulf Coast), Target, Walmart, Trader Joe’s

Day 1: Thursday

Breakfast: I get up and brew coffee that I put in the pot last night. I usually just put a splash of almond milk in my coffee and I noticed this morning that I was starting to run low on it so I add it to the running grocery list on my phone. I normally don’t eat breakfast on weekdays so I can sleep a little later. I then realized that this was a form of intermittent fasting because my school schedule means I don’t eat most days until at least 11:30 a.m. I started formalizing it by trying not to eat after 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. most days.

Lunch: I have the same lunch that I prepped for the whole week: Budget Bytes balsamic chicken thighs, brown rice, and steamed broccoli. I also usually have a can of Spindrift sparkling water (blackberry this week!) and a can of Diet Pepsi.

Dinner: I make a personal pizza to eat while I watch Netflix on the couch. I usually make skinny pizza dough from My Bizzy Kitchen as part of my weekly meal prep. This keeps the cost and the calories down before Mardi Gras really gets going. I top the pizza with shredded mozzarella, some spinach that’s about to go bad, Target brand turkey pepperoni, and hot banana pepper.

Dessert: I eat a mini paleta (popsicle) from a Helados Mexico variety pack while I glitter a hair bow for part of my costume for the Mardi Gras ball I’m attending tomorrow night.

Day 2: Friday

Breakfast: This morning, we have a staff meeting for the teachers before the kids arrive. Usually, we are provided coffee and some breakfast, so I pack lunch and don’t make coffee. When I get to school, I drink two cups of coffee and grab a serving of breakfast casserole. When the kids arrive, I see one of my students bringing in a king cake that I hope to have a slice of later.

Lunch: I have the exact same lunch as I did yesterday, including the Diet Pepsi and blackberry Spindrift. I make a note in my running grocery to count the rest of the cans in case I have to buy more of one or both for next week. While I eat lunch, I browse Budget Bytes to figure out what to make for lunch next week that will use up what’s in my freezer.

Snack: My new favorite student comes through with the king cake. I eat a small slice. It’s a New Orleans tradition to have king cake at work or school on Fridays during Mardi Gras season. It’s such a short time of the year that I never say no when offered some.

Happy hour: I get home and get ready for the ball. I’m going to two pregames, so I pregame the pregame with a civilized glass of rosé. At 5 p.m. I head over to my sister’s house with half a bottle of Tito’s and a bottle of Fireball that I’m hoping to conveniently leave somewhere tonight because it’s been sitting in my freezer for a year. Hopefully, there isn’t a time tonight when I think the Fireball is a good idea. My sister provides some sparkling water and limes and we drink classy vodka waters while we eat pizza.

Party time.: We get to the ball and check out the food situation. It is not great. I eat one mediocre pulled pork slider. I wash it down with a beer and follow that up with about four vodka sodas and two vodka sprites after the bar runs out of soda (no judgement — it’s Mardi Gras). I double-fist my drinks most of the evening because the lines at the bar are so long. 

1 a.m Snack.: I stumble home and microwave leftover chicken parm from earlier this week instead of ordering pizza. It occurs to me that I can’t drink like I used to, so I start pounding water.

Day 3: Saturday

Breakfast: I wake up feeling the effects of last night. I drink more water and take ibuprofen. I also look in the fridge for blue Gatorade and discover that I do not have any, which is unfortunate. I add blue Gatorade to my grocery list. It is a true essential for Mardi Gras.

At 10:45 a.m. I drag my hungover self out of bed and make a pizza for breakfast using the last of the skinny pizza dough I made last week. I top it with jarred marinara, the very last of my slightly slimy spinach , turkey pepperoni, hot banana peppers and mozzarella. Here’s hoping this helps my hangover.

While it bakes, I clear out my fridge and freezer as much as possible to make space for beers / helping my mom store food when parades start. My parents live right on the parade route and basically feed an army once the parades start rolling.

Credit: Logo: Rouses Design: Kitchn

Alcohol run: I head to the painting party and I stop by Rouses to pick up a bottle of rose to drink while we paint.

Lunch: I get to the painting party and the lovely host has put out an amazing spread of 7-layer dip and tortilla chips, delicious seafood salad finger sandwiches, and a veggie tray. She also gives me a Bud Light which clears the hangover right up. I have a few sandwiches, a couple bites of chips and dip, and a few carrots with ranch. I wind up not drinking any of the wine.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock Logo: Rouses

Grocery run: After I leave the painting party, I head to a different Rouses by the host’s house to get groceries. I get kale, a jalapeño, an onion, green onions, cherry tomatoes, Greek yogurt, coconut milk, canned green chilies, black beans, and a spray can of coconut oil. I have never been to this Rouses and the layout throws me off so much that I forget to grab blue Gatorade for my upcoming hangovers. I keep it on my list for next week.

Dinner: I heat up a serving of Weelicious chicken tortilla soup that I made earlier in the week and freeze the rest of it in individual servings. I also make creamy bean dip to take to my parents’ house tomorrow night. It’s just Greek yogurt mixed with green onions, black beans, shredded cheese, green chiles, and some Tex Mex seasoning. I did not plan this well, as it turns out, because I am almost out of both chili powder and cumin. I use what I have and hope for the best. I also add chili powder and cumin to my grocery list for next weekend.

Day Four: Sunday

Breakfast: I wake up and make an egg in a basket for breakfast. I spread some butter on the bread and also put some Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning on it because this is Louisiana.

Credit: Photo & Logo: Taco Bell

Lunch: After I workout, I head to Taco Bell where I do a mobile order of the nacho fries box. I am unashamed of my deep love for Taco Bell. I sub in a soft taco and beans for the meat in the burrito. When I get to Taco Bell, they tell me they’re out of Diet Pepsi, so I opt for diet Mountain Dew instead. On the way home, my mom texts me and asks me to pick up a king cake for dessert this evening.

Meal prep part 1: I start meal prepping my lunches for the work week and immediately discover two problems: One is that the chicken needs to marinate before it can be cooked and the other is that the chicken is still partially frozen. I make the marinade and put the chicken in it and hope for the best. I also throw some cherry tomatoes in the oven to roast. Then I make everything for Budget Byte’s kale chicken pasta (except the chicken). It’s still somewhat frozen in the marinade, so I plan to cook it later.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock Logo:Antoines

King Cake run: I don’t feel like driving all the way to my secret king cake spot, so I pick up a king cake from Antoine’s Bakery, which is almost as good as my secret spot.

Happy hour: I get to my parents house and make myself a vodka tonic with some Peach Deep Eddy Vodka my mom has in her pantry. I also put together a makeshift charcuterie board from random hunks of cheese and meats in my moms fridge. At this point, I realize I left the bean dip I made yesterday in my fridge at home. I have another vodka tonic.

Dinner: I eat dinner with my parents. My mom made pasta primavera with garden salads and toasted French bread. I skip the French bread because I know I’ll be eating king cake soon.

Dessert: We start eating the king cake. My mom and I proceed to eat pieces of the king cake for the remainder of the night. I stop drinking because I do have to go to work tomorrow. Before I go home, my mom gives me two portions of pasta primavera and two huge pieces of king cake to take with me.

Meal prep part 2: I put the leftover food from my mom in the fridge and bake the chicken I left marinating earlier which is finally unfrozen. I start drinking a lot of water. I get distracted doing other prep for going to work tomorrow morning and accidentally overcook the chicken. I salvage what I can and divvy it up between the pasta and tomato portions I’ve already made. I drink more water.

Day Five: Monday

Breakfast: When I finally get up a little before 7 a.m., I make coffee and pack my lunch for the day. No breakfast for me since it’s a week day. When I get to school, I fill my water cup with ice and water from the machine in the cafeteria during my planning period. 

Lunch: I eat one portion of the kale parmesan pasta with the overcooked chicken from last night. The pasta is good and the chicken isn’t terrible. I wash it down with a blackberry Spindrift and my beloved Diet Pepsi.

Food run: I go over to my parents house to pick up some Mardi Gras food my mom wants me to keep in my freezer until the parades roll. It’s mostly frozen cooked turkey pieces and taco meat. It will sit in my freezer until the second weekend of parades. I help myself to a bag of tortilla chips to eat with some of the bean dip I forgot to bring yesterday.

Snack dinner: I get home and do some work. I also bust into the chips and bean dip. I am exhausted and it appears increasingly possible that my dinner will be bean dip and king cake.

Dessert: I eat a piece of king cake and decide not to cook dinner. It’s a very adult meal. Then I do all my usual school night prep: I put coffee in the coffee pot and make sure my lunch box is ready to be packed tomorrow morning. I’m planning to try doing an on demand workout tomorrow morning before school so I’m interested to see how that affects my hunger situation. I set the alarm for 6 a.m. and hope I’ll actually force myself out of bed.

Day Six: Tuesday

Breakfast: I drag myself out of bed by bribing myself with coffee after the workout. I am concerned that I will get hangry before lunch due to the workout. Before I leave for work, I get out a frozen portion of posole I made a few weeks ago to have for dinner. By 10 a.m, I’m with my second class of the morning and I’m suddenly ravenous. This is why I don’t like to workout in the morning. I go grab water in the cafeteria and settle in to grade some essays.

Lunch.: I eat my meal prepped kale Parmesan pasta in the cafeteria because I have lunch duty today. I also have a blackberry Spindrift and Diet Pepsi.

Candy break.: I have some kids in my room making things up after school, so I sneak a fun-size Hershey’s and Lifesaver Wint-o-green mint from my stock of candy.

Afternoon snack: I leave school and go home to change because I have a meeting that will go from 5-8. I also eat some more tortilla chips and bean dip.

Dinner: I get home and start heating up the posole. While it’s heating, I eat some more tortilla chips and bean dip. I also pour myself a large glass of rosé.

Dessert: I eat the last piece of king cake.

Day Seven: Wednesday

Breakfast: We have a full day of meetings today so I don’t have to be at school until 8. This means I can go take a 6 a.m. exercise class. I get out bread and coffee to make breakfast for when I get back. I learned from being so hungry yesterday and I’ll need carbs to get me through the day.

When I get back, I start the coffee pot and throw the piece of bread in the toaster while I shower and get dressed. Then I put butter and blackberry preserves on the piece of toast and milk in my coffee and head out to work.

Coffee break: After our first meeting, I get my second cup of coffee. This time I just drink it black.

Snack: I eat a bag of fun-size M&Ms from the bowl of candy on our table.

Lunch: The teachers are served a (free) lunch of Caesar salad and various pasta casseroles. I fill most of my plate with salad and sample two of the casseroles. One is shrimp and pesto and the other is mac and cheese with blue cheese. I also grab a white chocolate macadamia cookie from the lunch buffet.

Errands: When we are dismissed for the day, I refill my water cup so I can take it with me while I run out to a suburb to pick up a pair of Mardi Gras-theme leggings and some craft supplies so I can glitter my costumes and decorations for the next few weeks. Then I get home, glitter and leggings in hand, and I finish the last of the tortilla chips and bean dip. 

Dinner: I make pollo poblano for dinner. It’s a recipe my mom has made for years and it’s basically sautéed chicken breast with jalapeños, bell pepper and onion, tossed with sour cream or Greek yogurt. My mom usually serves it with rice and beans, but I don’t feel like cooking rice and I don’t have any beans, so I eat it as is.

Wine: I am done eating for the night, but this level of glittering requires wine, so I pour myself a glass of rosé.

Credit: Kitchn

1. How did you set your food budget?

I try to balance what I spend on food between what I make at home and what I would potentially spend if I go out, so I usually set $50 a week for each. I try to stay under $100 for all food consumed whether its food I cooked at home or something I bought while I was out, so if I go over on one, then I go under on the other. Right now, I’m also thinking specifically about what my spending will be during Mardi Gras. The reality is that Mardi Gras is not a 1 day thing, but actually takes place over the course of a few weeks, and I know there will be way more miscellaneous spending then.

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

I cannot live without Greek yogurt. I use it for my fave pizza dough recipe, for smoothies, as a soup topping, and in place of sour cream. I usually buy a big tub of it every other week.

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

The budget recipe I always rely on the skinny pizza dough from My Bizzy Kitchen. It makes four portions of pizza dough and keeps me from ordering pizza, which is my guilty pleasure, constantly.

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.