Grocery Diaries

We’re a Family of 5 in Pennsylvania and Shop Mostly at Aldi — We Spent $180 on Groceries This Week

published Feb 2, 2023
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collage of grocery diaries author Cara in the center surrounded by chopped green onions, avocado, ravioli and blueberries
Credit: Photo Credit: Shutterstock and Courtesy of Cara; Design: The Kitchn

Name: Cara
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Age: 40
Number of people in household: Five; me, my husband (43), and our three children (4, 9, and 11)
Occupation: I’m a homeschool educator and my husband is a pastor.
Salary: We are a single-income family living on $65,000/year.
Weekly food budget: We spend approximately $850/month on food, which includes $200/week for groceries ($150 at Aldi and $50 at other retailers), plus $50 a month for takeout 
Amount Spent: $179.90

Credit: Courtesy of Cara

Where did you shop?

This week I only shopped at Aldi. It was a big order. I hadn’t been grocery shopping in a week-and-a-half and needed to restock our freezer and pantry, which is why I went over our weekly Aldi budget. (Although we’re actually under for the month because I didn’t go to Aldi last week.) My family generally doesn’t mind the store-brand substitutions I pick up at Aldi, but there are a few name-brand things I still buy at other retailers.

Generally I try to go to Aldi once a week to get our weekly produce, and Sam’s Club once a month, where I stock up on things like olive oil, peanut butter, butter, a few baking items, and spices in bulk. I used to get more produce at Sam’s but found we weren’t eating it fast enough and now stick to pantry items. 

What’s your grocery strategy?

I sit down once a week with a notepad and meal plan for the upcoming week. I write down the produce we’re out of, trying to be mindful of what’s in season and what everyone’s actually been eating, in addition to the milk and other dairy I know we eat, meat needed for dinners, bread, breakfast items, and some snacks. My 4-year-old in particular is a very picky eater and exists mostly on cheese and crackers. 

I end up having to make a few quick trips during the month to either our local grocery store, Giant Eagle, Target, or Walmart; wherever I happen to be when we need something that’s not stocked at Aldi or Sam’s, like egg roll wrappers, sesame oil, and rice noodles.

How do you meal plan?

I always start by peeking in the fridge to see if we have produce from my last shopping trip that needs to be used ASAP. I try really hard not to have any food waste. I then sit down with a paper list to write down meal ideas, thinking about the week to come, items that need to be used, and days we’ll need a slow cooker meal. The shopping list also includes pantry and fridge items that need to be restocked and anything specific to a meal. 

Each meal has a veggie, a protein, and a starch, and I try to rotate so we’re not eating the same things all the time. I usually aim for one chicken or ground turkey, one fish, one beef, one pork, one vegetarian meal, and one night of leftovers per week. Sometimes if I know we have a busy week, I’ll try to get two meals out of a meat purchase. It saves both time and money. We almost always have pizza on Friday. We have homemade pizza two or three times per month and get takeout or eat frozen pizza once a month. 

I do not typically make breakfast. Everyone, with the exception of the toddler, is on their own and usually eats something quick like oatmeal, toast, yogurt, freezer waffles, and fruit with coffee, tea, milk, or juice.

I usually end up slightly adapting my meal plan based on what I can find at Aldi. Unless there’s a special event, like a birthday with a requested meal, I’ll adapt instead of making a second trip to Aldi or another grocery store. 

What did you buy? 

  • Organic apple juice, $2.75
  • 2% milk, $4.46
  • Soda, $1.15
  • Freezer cheese ravioli (2), $5.90
  • Frozen french fries, $2.49
  • Frozen corn, $0.79
  • Frozen broccoli, $0.97
  • Frozen chicken breast, $7.99
  • Organic plain yogurt, $3.79
  • Half & half, $2.65
  • Bottom round beef roast, $13.72
  • Whole chicken, $13.35
  • Italian sausage, $5.53
  • Steel-cut oats, $3.09
  • Old-fashioned oats, $2.49
  • Tomato soup (2), $1.32
  • Pizza sauce, $1.43
  • Pasta sauce, $1.95
  • Pesto sauce, $2.29
  • Tomato paste (2), $1.50
  • Chicken broth, $2.79
  • Organic salsa, $2.45
  • Pepperoni, $2.55
  • Shredded wheat, $1.59
  • Sugar, $4.77
  • Onions, $2.49
  • Crescent rolls (2), $3.50
  • Colby Jack cheese (2), $3.98
  • Sharp white cheddar (2), $3.98
  • Red potatoes, $3.99
  • Shredded mozzarella, $3.49
  • American cheese, $3.89
  • Hummus, $2.45
  • Fuji apples, $3.69
  • Bell peppers, $2.69
  • Celery, $1.19
  • Zucchini, $2.13
  • Pears, $3.99
  • Spinach, $1.79
  • Romaine, $2.99
  • Baby carrots, $0.79
  • Green onions, $0.85
  • Cucumber, $1.25
  • Cilantro, $0.85
  • Blueberries, $1.99
  • Eggs, $4.33
  • Goldfish crackers, $4.00
  • Oatmeal cream pies, $2.58
  • Chocolate chip cookies, $5.98
  • Avocados, $2.15
  • Bananas, $1.79
  • Wheat bread (2), $4.18
  • Pita bread, $2.99
  • English muffins, $1.39
  • Dish soap, $4.44

Grand Total: $179.90 (includes $0.34 tax)

What did you make?

Credit: Courtesy of Cara

Monday: Peanut Butter Toast, Oatmeal, Frozen Waffles, Grilled Cheese, and Sheet Pan Gnocchi

For breakfast, I have peanut butter toast and coffee, my husband and son have quick oats with craisins, and coffee for my husband and tea for my son. The girls eat frozen waffles with Nutella. We were sick last week, and I hadn’t gone grocery shopping for over a week-and-a-half, so we’re low on groceries and out of fruit.

We have grilled cheese, applesauce, and cut-up raw vegetables for lunch, and then I head to Aldi to do our weekly shop. 

For dinner, we have sheet pan gnocchi with Italian sausage and roasted veggies; I use up the remaining mushrooms and cherry tomatoes from last week. The kids don’t like the gnocchi, so they eat leftover biscuits instead. (My husband will eat the rest for lunch for two days this week.) 

The kids get some ice cream left over from having company two weeks ago before bed. The 4-year-old is partially tube-fed due to some medical issues; we supplement based on her eating for the day, and she definitely needed a tube feed today before bed. We use a prepared blend prescribed by her doctor called Compleat Pediatric Organic Chicken blend.

Credit: Courtesy of Cara

Tuesday: English Muffin, Oatmeal, Cereal, Frozen Waffle, Cheese and Crackers, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Leftover Gnocchi, Roast Chicken Dinner

For breakfast I eat an English muffin with peanut butter, a banana, and coffee. My husband has oatmeal with coffee. My son also has oatmeal with craisins and some apple juice. My older daughter has a bowl of cereal with milk and apple juice. The toddler has her usual breakfast of a frozen waffle with Nutella and milk. She has a midmorning snack of some crackers and more milk.

The kids and I have an afternoon appointment and eat quick lunches in the car: I have cheese, crackers, an apple, and salami, and the kids have peanut butter sandwiches and squeezy applesauce pouches. My husband has leftover gnocchi at work. 

We have roast chicken, couscous, and spinach salad for dinner. This is an adaptation of the tilapia and chicken Alfredo I’d planned for. The chicken breasts I intended to buy didn’t look fresh. I bought a whole chicken instead, figuring I could use it for two meals. The big kids like it, but my 4-year-old has a tube feed for dinner with some crackers and cheese for a snack before bed. 

Credit: Courtesy of Cara

Wednesday: Yogurt, Cereal, Oatmeal, Leftover Couscous, Frozen Waffle, Homemade Mac and Cheese, Leftover Gnocchi, Beef Roast with Veggies and Gravy

I eat plain yogurt with honey and a banana for breakfast with my coffee. My husband has coffee with a bowl of cereal. My son has oatmeal with craisins and apple juice, my older daughter has leftover couscous and apple juice, and my youngest has her waffle with nutella and milk. I’m reminded why I don’t make couscous often: It makes such a mess! My older daughter loves it, though.

I make homemade mac and cheese with some cut-up apple on the side for lunch for myself and the kids. My husband eats more leftover gnocchi for lunch at work. The big kids get a snack of a cheese stick and some grapes at a youth group late afternoon. 

We have a bottom round beef roast with gravy and carrots, potatoes, and peas for dinner. This is our slow cooker meal of the week. We eat at 7 p.m., which is later than usual because of the youth group at our church (it runs from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.). My youngest refuses to even try it and gets a tube feed for dinner with some crackers for a bedtime snack.

Credit: Courtesy of Cara

Thursday: English Muffin, Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, Oatmeal, Frozen Waffles, Leftover Couscous and Mac and Cheese, and Chicken Casserole

Breakfast is an English muffin with cream cheese, a pear, and coffee for me; oatmeal with craisins and apple juice for my son; leftover couscous and craisins for my older daughter; a waffle with Nutella and milk for my youngest; and a peanut butter and banana sandwich on-the-go for my husband, who was running a little late. The youngest has two chocolate chip cookies with milk for a morning snack.

Lunch is leftover mac and cheese for the kids and me. My husband eats a second peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch at work. 

Dinner is one of those thrown-together meals without a recipe: chicken, rice, and zucchini casserole. It’s a one-pot meal using the second half of the chicken from Tuesday’s dinner. I sauté the onions in my Dutch oven in butter, then add the zucchini and then the rice and some chicken broth. It simmers until the rice is cooked. I add the leftover chicken, a dollop of sour cream, and about a cup of shredded white cheddar and bake it for 20 minutes at 350°F. It doesn’t look super appetizing, but is pretty tasty. 

Credit: Courtesy of Cara

Friday: English Muffin, Cereal, Oatmeal, Leftover Couscous, Frozen Waffles, Beef Vegetable Soup, Leftover Chicken Casserole, and Homemade Stromboli

Breakfast is very similar to yesterday’s: I eat an English muffin with butter, a pear, and coffee. My husband eats cereal with coffee. My son eats oatmeal with jam and apple juice. My older daughter, yet again, eats couscous (the last of it) with blueberries on the side and apple juice, and my youngest eats a waffle with Nutella and milk.

We make beef vegetable soup for lunch with the leftover roast, carrots, and potatoes, plus beef broth, tomato soup, diced tomatoes, and frozen corn. I usually like to add a bag of freezer peas or green beans to this, but we don’t have any. The youngest eats cheese and crackers for lunch and pokes at the soup. My husband has the leftover chicken and rice casserole for lunch at work.

Dinner is homemade stromboli. I’m a third-generation Friday night pizza maker. My grandmother found a recipe in a magazine years ago for pizza dough with all-purpose flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and canola oil and it quickly became a tradition to make pizza every Friday. My mom carried it on, slightly adapting the recipe to use olive oil instead of canola oil, and I have continued it for my family, also slightly changing the dough recipe to use half whole wheat and half bread flour. 

I really like King Arthur flour; it’s one of the few name-brand things we buy. I still have some from my last Giant Eagle trip. I fiddled with the recipe a while ago to turn it into stromboli. It took some trial and error. (We ate some soggy stromboli for a few weeks!) I finally stumbled on a winner that has the sauce on the side. 

I spread my dough out onto a cookie sheet and spread it with ricotta, garlic salt, mozzarella, and pepperoni. It gets rolled into thirds and then it’s baked at 375°F for 30 minutes versus a typical pizza which bakes at 425°F for 20 minutes. I put bell pepper and onion on top of one and just pepperoni on the other. Even my super-picky toddler likes it and eats enough to not need a tube feed!

Credit: Courtesy of Cara

Saturday: French Toast, Lunch with a Friend, Leftover Stromboli, and Fridge Clean-Out Dinner

For breakfast, I make French toast with bread my husband has brought home from church. I meet a friend for lunch at a cute little bistro nearby and have a Buffalo chicken wrap, which is free because my friend treats. The kids and my husband eat leftover stromboli for lunch. 

We clean out the fridge of all the random leftovers for the week for our dinner. My husband finishes the soup, and the kids and I eat the rest of the stromboli. I also cut up some cucumber and carrots for everyone. The youngest hasn’t eaten very much of the stromboli and gets a tube feed before bed.

Sunday: Leftover French Toast, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Frozen Waffle, Tuna Sandwiches, and Pittsburgh Salad 

Breakfast is quick. We are going to church early so we can go to the science center in the afternoon. The big kids and I eat leftover French toast with butter and cinnamon sugar and some blueberries. My husband makes a peanut butter sandwich to eat in the car on the way to church.

Lunch for me and the kids is tuna-and-cheese sandwiches and fruit. My husband eats a second peanut butter sandwich in his office after church. 

We have a Pittsburgh Salad for dinner with the frozen chicken breasts and french fries from Aldi, romaine lettuce, cucumber, cheese, and carrots. We are all tired after a long day, and I don’t really feel like cooking. My youngest has a few french fries and a tube feed. I forget to take a picture, but it’s just a big salad with the chicken and fries on top. We’ve eaten up pretty much all of the produce I bought Monday and I will have to go shopping again tomorrow morning. I think we’ll have sweet-and-sour stir-fry and egg rolls!

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