I Work at a University and My Husband Is in Grad School — We Spent $162 at (Mostly) Kroger on a Week’s Worth of Groceries and Came in $12 over Budget
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Number of people in household: 3; me, my husband, and toddler daughter
Occupation: I’m a social science information specialist at a university research institute and my husband is a graduate student
Where you shopped: Trader Joe’s, Kroger
Weekly food budget: $150
Amount spent: $161.57
Where did you shop?
We shopped at Trader Joe’s, where we went to pick up some food gifts. I also bought some basic groceries (milk, bread, produce, etc.) and pantry staples while there. Our major shopping trip of the week was at Kroger; my husband also picked up some groceries there earlier in the week.
What’s your grocery strategy?
My strategy is to rotate where we shop, so we can take advantage of each of our favorite stores. We have a Kroger store that’s walking distance from our house, which is dear to my heart, as I had my first grocery experience there after coming to the U.S. We get great coupons, thanks to the rewards program, and can score deals by buying some items heavily discounted with the reduced stickers. (It’s how we found some new favorites that we otherwise wouldn’t have bought.)
Aldi, which we didn’t visit this particular week, is great for overall low prices and periodically has some great European groceries. The same goes for Trader Joe’s, where we also pick up some fun seasonal items.
We have a shared running list where we note what we are running low on. I also look at any special deals to see if our go-to stores have any of our staples on sale. We always buy lots of fruit for our toddler and plenty of vegetables, fresh or frozen.
We shop typically once a week, mostly buying what we need for the week and also picking up pantry staples or meat to freeze for later. This can sometimes bring us over our budget, but evens out over the course of the month. This week was a bit out of the ordinary with multiple grocery trips, as we got back into our routine after a friend stayed with us. Multiple grocery trips always result in going over budget, as you can see this week.
How do you meal plan?
For a long time (before our daughter was born), I was very meticulous with our meal plans. Now I have less time to do that, but I’ve been keeping notes of our weekly meal plans for years. These notes help me see what we enjoyed before, which is my main inspiration for meals.
Another source is an extensive recipe wish list, which is all over my devices in browser tabs, bookmarks, and folders. I try about two new recipes or meal ideas a week. If nothing comes to mind, my well-maintained pantry, including a wide variety of condiments and spices, helps me come up with something quick in the evening.
Besides planning our dinners, I need to have a basic plan for lunch boxes and snacks for our toddler. I make a few batches of muffins, oat cups, and energy balls for her and freeze them for the week. This makes assembling her lunch bag easy and hopefully she will enjoy the variety of her snacks.
Our lunches mostly consist of leftovers or simple things, like sandwiches, salads, or doctored-up ramen. My husband and I mostly work from home, so I only have to plan in advance when I’m bringing lunch to work. We also plan for a cozy Sunday lunch that is based on Eastern European flavors and recipes.
What did you buy?
- Sliced rye bread, $3.49
- Raspberries, $5.00
- Italian salad dressing, $3.49
- Parsley, $0.99
- Organic baby spring mix, $5.49
- Large raw shrimp, $13.48
- Sour cream, $1.99
- Broccoli crowns, $3
- Pomegranate, $1.49
- Head of cauliflower, $3.49
- Bag of cauliflower, $3.24
- Cream of wheat hot cereal, $4.99
- 2 cucumbers, $1.38
- Corn tortillas, $1.49
- Honeycrisp apples, $5.54
- All-purpose flour, $3.99
- Canned mackerel, $1.99
- Eggs, $1.34
- Canned black beans, $2.37
- Canned kidney beans, $2.37
- Rolled oats, $3.99
- Mexican-style cheese blend, $3.59
- Tomato paste, $1.69
- Frozen green beans, $2.89
- Turkey breast lunch meat, $5.49
- 2 avocados, $0.78
- Cottage cheese, $3.59
- Organic green onions, $1.49
- Parsnips, $1.29
- Ground beef, $9.98
- Everything hummus, $3.79
- Grape tomatoes, $1.99
- Red bell pepper, $1.59
- Russet potatoes, $3.49
- Chicken breast, $17.17
- Organic extra-firm tofu, $1.69
- Fun-size Snickers variety pack, $4.19
- Baby bella mushrooms, $2.49
- Yellow onions, $2.19
Total: $139.98 (includes a $4 discount on produce)
- Organic milk, $3.99
- Bananas, $1.14
- Avocado oil, $7.99
- Acorn squash, $1.49
- Gnocchi, $1.99
- Cinnamon raisin bread, $4.99
- Halloween goodie bag, free
Grand Total: $161.57
Tuesday: Pumpkin Pie, Deli Sandwich, Salad, Latke, Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, Warm Apple Cider, Italian Sausage and Orzo Soup, Cheese Roll, and Soup
My day starts with brewing coffee and cutting the pumpkin pie I made yesterday (my favorite pumpkin pie recipe from Smitten Kitchen) for my friend who is leaving today.
We drop into Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries and snacks for my friend’s trip home and some gifts for friends and family. I also buy some groceries. At the checkout, we receive a nice little Halloween packet for my toddler.
We stop by Zingerman’s Deli for lunch, which is an Ann Arbor institution. We split a sandwich and a salad, and get a latke with sour cream that is meant to entice the toddler. I only pay for the latke ($6.99 including tip); the rest is my friend’s treat. While there, I warm up the apple cider we bought at a cider mill last week with mulling spices. We enjoy it with some mixed nuts.
My husband is on campus, where he gets a chicken and wild rice soup and chicken salad sandwich ($7.41) at Panera and a free coffee through his subscription. Our lunches go toward our eating out budget.
I get started on some Italian sausage and orzo soup as soon as we get back from dropping my friend off at the airport. I use pantry staple veggies (onions, carrots, celery), freezer-staple sausages, and some leftover pasta sauce and cream. I add a bit of baby spinach for good measure (pulled from a salad mix), and we have some pie afterwards. Our toddler eats a cheese roll that I baked last week with her soup. She also gets raspberries and apples. We always have a variety of fruits on hand because of her enthusiasm for them.
Wednesday: Greek Yogurt with Cereal, Turkey and Cheese Quesadilla Lunch Box, Cinnamon Raisin Toast, Hard-Boiled Eggs, Leftover Soup, Salad and Pumpkin Pie, Lunch at Grad School, Peanut Butter and Raspberry Toast, Chili, and Sweet Potatoes
My toddler always wakes up hungry, so she gets her breakfast of Greek yogurt mixed with cashew butter and Cheerios first. I feel off, so I only have a few pretzels to start the day. I finish packing my toddler’s lunch and snack, which contains a turkey and cheese quesadilla, grapes, cherry tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes and chickpeas, a pumpkin baked oat cup, half a banana, mandarin oranges, and a cinnamon raisin toast with cream cheese.
I work from home, so I boil some eggs and make coffee. I have a late breakfast of cinnamon raisin toast, hard-boiled egg, and coffee with half-and-half. My husband finishes our toddler’s yogurt and has his own toast and coffee.
For lunch, I have the leftovers of yesterday’s salad and soup, as well as decaf coffee, with the pumpkin spice creamer my friend has bought and left for us. I’m not even hungry for the piece of pumpkin pie I planned as part of my leftovers lunch, so I eat that later in the afternoon. My husband has a free lunch at his department. Oh, the perks of grad school.
After school pickup, my daughter has her snack of peanut butter toast, raspberries, and milk. I plan another pantry dinner: chili using up some frozen bison. I’m not at the height of my normal planning schedule, so I only realize that I’m out of canned beans when it’s too late. I work with what I have on hand, so it’s bison and lentil chili, with some of the last of our garden peppers. We enjoy it with roasted sweet potatoes, cheese, and avocado. Our post-dinner snack is Pringles and mint tea.
Thursday: Cheese Rolls, Cinnamon Raisin Toast, Ham and Jammy Eggs, Rye Toast with Salami, Turkey Sandwich Lunch Box, Snacks, Leftover Soup, Lunch at Grad School, Almond Butter Waffles, Grapes, Roast Chicken with Saffron Rice, Salad, and Leftover Pumpkin Pie
I try to diversify my toddler’s breakfasts, so this morning she has some homemade cheese rolls, raspberries, and milk. She takes a turkey sandwich, roasted sweet potatoes, avocado, and raspberries to school in her lunch box. Her snacks are cinnamon raisin toast with cream cheese, an applesauce donut, and a mandarin orange.
My husband has a breakfast of rye bread and salami and his usual coffee. I have a late breakfast of eggs with horseradish, cream cheese toast, ham, and garden peppers. I had an early morning blood test, so I’m really hungry by that point, hence the jammy eggs. I enjoy these while working.
After my generous breakfast I’m still ravenous, so I have some nuts, cheese, and grapes with a few pretzels for a second breakfast. No wonder I’m not very hungry for lunch, so I only have the last of the sausage and orzo soup. I enjoy my decaf afternoon coffee with pumpkin spice creamer again.
My husband has a free lunch on campus again. I have a cheese roll, a string cheese, and some lingering grapes in the afternoon. My toddler has a waffle from the freezer stash with almond butter, grapes, and milk for her after-school snack.
We do our big grocery shopping today, so we roast some chicken we just bought with smoked paprika and garlic and serve it with saffron rice and salad. Our toddler gets mixed veggies instead of a salad and finishes dinner with some apples. We also enjoy leftover pumpkin pie and white wine.
Our evening snacks are fun-size Snickers and peach tea. I’m still hungry in the evening so I supplement that with an apple and pretzels.
Friday: Oatmeal with Cherry Compote and Almond Butter, Nut Bar, Cinnamon Raisin Toast, Fruit, Leftover Chili, Pesto Flatbread Pizza, Sunbutter Energy Balls, and Roasted Squash and Tofu
This morning I make oatmeal for the rest of the family. They enjoy the warm breakfast, but I don’t feel like having it. I serve the oatmeal with cherry compote made by my mom and almond butter. I have a nut bar later in the morning, along with a coffee.
Everyone is home today, so we all eat cinnamon raisin toast with cream cheese and apples for a morning snack. I’m working so I only have time to assemble a plate of leftovers, with chili, sweet potatoes, tortillas, salad, avocado, and cheese.
Our daughter is off to her nap, but the adults are still hungry, so my husband makes a pesto mozzarella flatbread pizza on some leftover flatbread. It stays in the oven a bit too long, but it only gets irresistibly crispy. I have it with some cherry tomatoes, including the last one from our garden.
In the afternoon, I eat the last piece of the flatbread pizza, while my daughter has some yogurt and a Sunbutter banana energy ball for her afternoon snack. We mixed up the oat-based batter before lunch, so I just rolled them into balls. She loves these no-bake snacks and they are a great addition to her lunch boxes, too.
For dinner, I make roasted acorn squash and tofu with ginger (courtesy of Smitten Kitchen). We serve it with brown rice and my husband has a wheat ale to go with the dinner.
I go swimming late in the evening and am naturally hungry again afterwards. I have a mini Snickers bar on the way home, have a medjool date and some nuts, and share a small bag of chips with my husband.
Saturday: Cereal, Cottage Cheese Pancakes with Cherries, Cold Cuts with Spreads, Vegetables and Bread, Leftover Pumpkin Pie, Energy Balls, Creamy Mushroom Gnocchi with Broccoli, and Fruit
I want to start the morning with some pancakes, but my toddler is too hungry to wait that long, so she gets Cheerios and milk. No complaints from her. I make cottage cheese pancakes, whipping up the batter of cottage cheese, eggs, and oats in the blender. We eat it with cherry compote and coffee. Even my daughter has a bit — mostly cherries.
Saturday mornings are usually very busy, so we have an assortment of cold cuts, spreads, and vegetables for lunch with bread. We call this “eating cold” in our home country and it is often the quickest option for busy weeknights. I try to limit it because of all the lunch meats and cheese, but also because I prefer warm meals. We also have some apples and coffee afterwards.
The afternoon snack consists of kid leftovers (which is a common occurrence, as we have a toddler and don’t prefer food waste), as well as the last of the pumpkin pie and some tea. Our daughter has Sunbutter energy balls and apples.
For dinner I make a creamy mushroom gnocchi with steamed broccoli. We all really enjoy this cozy meal. The fruit to accompany dinner is a pomegranate that is our toddler’s first. She likes it a lot — no surprises here.
After the kid’s bedtime, we wind down with a beer (an IPA for my husband and a non-alcoholic IPA for me). We snack on some mini bags of chips with our beers.
Sunday: Greek Yogurt Granola Bowls, Goulash Soup, Kaiserschmarrn with Apricot Jam, Protein Shake, Peanut Butter Toast, Energy Balls, Leftover Pancakes, Niçoise Salad
I have a Greek yogurt and protein granola bowl with some frozen blueberries. I prepare a peanut butter yogurt bowl with raspberries for our girl, who wants Cheerios. I hold out and she settles for the yogurt bowl and actually enjoys it. I have some coffee, most of which was spilled out by our toddler in an attempt to deliver it to me. She’s very helpful these days.
My husband prepares the goulash soup for lunch. It simmers for the entire morning, resulting in a perfectly rich broth and tender beef. I make Kaiserschmarrn, which is an Austrian torn pancake, but using wheat farina instead of flour. We eat it with Grandma’s apricot jam and powdered sugar.
I come back hungry from my afternoon workout, so I have a chocolate protein shake and a slice of peanut butter toast, using homemade oatmeal wheat bread from the freezer.
The rest of the family has Sunbutter balls and leftover cottage cheese pancakes for a snack. My husband picks up a coffee from Panera for me, using his subscription.
We need a lighter lunch after the rich Central European fare, so we assemble a Niçoise salad-esque dish, with boiled potatoes and eggs, green beans, baby greens, tomatoes, anchovies, tuna, and mackerel. It’s light, but very filling. We finish the pomegranate opened yesterday, much to the toddler’s delight.
In the evening, I bake morning glory muffins for the next couple of days’ breakfasts. I don’t feel like having anything sweet after all the very sweet pomegranate, but my husband brings me a fun-size Snickers, which I take with some raspberry tea.
Monday: Cereal, Morning Glory Muffins, Turkey and Cheese Quesadilla Lunch Box, Leftover Kaiserschmarrn and Squash and Tofu, Turkey Wrap, Salad, Fruit, Nuts, and Japanese Curry Shrimp
The day starts with Cheerios and milk for my toddler. I have two of the morning glory muffins with coffee at work. I have another coffee, provided by my employer, later in the morning, as well as some leftover Halloween candy, courtesy of coworkers. My husband has coffee and morning glory muffins at home.
Our toddler enjoys the usual lunch box and snacks throughout the day. This time it’s turkey and cheese quesadilla, green beans, pomegranate and raspberries, and a Sunbutter ball. The snacks are leftover Kaiserschmarrn with cherry compote and a pumpkin oat cup with half a banana.
I have leftover squash and tofu with a spicy turkey wrap for lunch, followed by a little more coffee. My husband assembles the leftover salad ingredients for another salad and eats the leftover Kaiserschmarrn.
I snack on some Korean barbecue-flavored almonds and Fuji apple in the afternoon. I also pick up a lite Arnold Palmer to move me over the afternoon slump ($2.29).
After school pickup, our toddler finishes her lunch box for a snack and gets a bit of my apple. My husband snacks on some apples and mixed nuts.
For dinner we whip up a quick Japanese shrimp curry with rice. This is our first time using the pre-made curry roux cubes. It’s comforting and easy to make. We round out the dinner with some fruit (apple and pear). Later in the evening, I bake apple oatmeal cups for our toddler’s breakfast and snacks for the week ahead.
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