Grocery Diaries

I’m a House Cleaner Living on a Remote Alaskan Island — Here’s What I Make with a $144 Grocery Haul

published Aug 10, 2023
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Grocery haul on table framed in an arch on a colored graphic background
Credit: Janet

Name: Janét
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Age: 32
Number of people in household: 1
Occupation: I’m self-employed; I mostly do residential cleaning. Occasionally, I work on construction or remodeling projects with my uncle (I have my handyman’s license); I’m also a part-time barista at a local coffee shop. On an island, you do whatever you have to to make ends meet.
Salary: Being self-employed, my income varies quite a bit; generally it’s under $35,000 a year
Where you shopped: Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative and Safeway
Weekly food budget: $140
Amount spent: $144.24

Credit: Janét

Where did you shop?

On Wednesday I got my weekly small produce box from the Kodiak Harvest Co-op and I also bought groceries at Safeway over the weekend. Although next week I will probably only get my produce box and skip Safeway.

Credit: Janét

What’s your grocery strategy?

Budgeting and meal planning are really difficult, as I live on a remote island in Alaska. Everything is subject to change — work, income, how I’m spending my time, weather, and what is available to purchase. There really aren’t many restaurants on Kodiak, so I budget mostly for groceries and have a lot of amazing cooks for friends.

I try to average around $400 a month; my income drops during the winter so I’m usually cutting more corners then and during the summer I’m more willing to go a little over budget. Whenever I’m off island I like to stock up on things at Costco and Trader Joe’s that I know I can use throughout the year. Any extra money, like larger tips than anticipated or work bonuses, also tend to go towards food. 

Kodiak’s grocery prices are among the highest in the country. When Safeway or Walmart are out of something (which happens a lot) there isn’t another place to look for it. We are frequently skipped by the barge that brings groceries to the island due to extreme weather. This means a lot of empty shelves, sad produce, and limited dairy options. 

Credit: Janét

It also means I try to have a well-stocked pantry and freezer. I always try to buy things on sale and pick up shelf-stable or frozen items when I see markdowns. Safeway does something called “$5 Friday”; the discounted items on those days are usually very good deals, especially for here (strawberries are a good example this week). I typically pick up any groceries I need on Friday to take advantage of those deals. 

Credit: Janét

How do you meal plan? 

I don’t create strict meal plans — the only constant is that things don’t really go according to plan. When I get my produce box Wednesday evening I look it over and think of some general ideas of what I might want to eat and which things should be used first (vs. the ones that will stay fresher a bit longer). There are usually some locally grown greens that I make into a salad in the first day or so after I get them. 

I also take a look at the Safeway deals and add that to my mental plan. It’s all subject to change based on mood, what my week looks like, and grocery availability.

What did you buy?

Kodiak Harvest Co-op

  • Beets
  • Local greens
  • Cilantro
  • Organic blueberries 
  • Organic tomatoes 
  • 2 organic avocados 
  • 7 organic Fuji apples
  • 7 little peppers 
  • Organic cauliflower
  • Orange
  • Bearfoot Bakery 8-grain sourdough

Total: 53.50 ($42.80 for the small produce box + $10.70 for sourdough)

Safeway

  • Popcorn, $4.69
  • Mango chili bears, $3.49
  • Oat milk, $6.29
  • Organic whipping cream, $7.29
  • 2 pints strawberries, $5.00
  • Romaine lettuce, $6.49
  • Kombucha, $9.00
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese, $5.00
  • Pizza cheese blend, $4.99
  • Hummus cups, $4.99
  • Pita chips, $5.99
  • Honey BBQ wings, $14.09
  • Heavy whipping cream, $7.49

Total: $90.74 (includes tax)

Grand Total: $144.24

Credit: Janét

Wednesday: Oatmeal with Greek Yogurt, Blueberries and Almonds; Coffees and a Cookie; Quesadillas; Baby Carrots; Sliced Bread; and a Big Salad

For breakfast I eat some instant oats. I’d had them in the cupboard for a while and wanted to use them up. I mix in some blueberries, Greek yogurt, and almonds. I make coffee with steamed oat milk, like I do most mornings. Afterwards, I volunteer and get more coffee with friends (Americano and chocolate chip cookie $9.42 + $2 tip). 

Credit: Janét

For lunch, I make little quesadillas and use up some taco meat I made earlier in the week. I also eat some baby carrots I already have in the fridge. I have a cleaning job in the afternoon and then I pick up my produce box on the way home. I also buy a loaf of eight-grain sourdough from a local baker that sells at the Co-op. I eat a piece of bread with butter while I put away my produce and wash my greens so they can dry. 

Credit: Janét

I have an evening meeting and then I make a big salad when I get home. I use the greens and peppers from my box and I have some homemade Caesar dressing left over from a couple of days ago. I eat this with another slice of bread.

Credit: Janét

Thursday: Oatmeal with Bananas, Blueberries and Almonds; Baby Carrots; “Air-Fryer Situation” for Lunch and Dinner; and Iced Teas

I work all day Thursday. For breakfast I eat oatmeal with bananas, blueberries, and sliced almonds from Trader Joe’s. (I stock up on TJ’s stuff when I visit my mom or grandparents in the lower 48). 

Credit: Janét

I come home for lunch and make what I call an “air-fryer situation” — basically whatever veggies I want to use up from the fridge and some chicken sausage all chopped up and thrown in the air fryer. Today I also have some gnocchi in the freezer that I throw in. While I wait for it to cook, I eat the rest of the baby carrots and drink some iced green tea. There are leftovers. 

Credit: Janét

Later in the afternoon the sun comes out and this is a VERY BIG DEAL; despite the long days it’s been a very rainy summer and we haven’t seen the sun for WEEKS. I grab an iced matcha from the coffee shop I work at and sit in the sun at the beach for a little while. I preload my account every so often so I just put it on there. For dinner I eat the rest of the “air fryer situation.”

Credit: Janét

Friday: Coffee, Toast, Greek Yogurt and Blueberries, Coffee and Popcorn, Kayaking Snacks, Hot Dogs, and Mango Chili Bears

In the morning, I drink my coffee and eat some toast, Greek yogurt, and blueberries while I make a list for Safeway. We have forecasted sun for the ENTIRE weekend and the island collectively loses its mind in an effort to fit an entire summer’s worth of outdoor activities into three days — myself included (things derail a bit from here). In the morning a friend brings me an Americano and I drink that and eat some Trader Joe’s peanut butter popcorn, which my mom had sent in a care package, while I run around doing errands. 

Credit: Janét

In the afternoon my family decides to go kayaking. I kinda forget to eat while I’m getting my kayak on my car and we drive out to the spot we pick. I throw a jalapeño beef stick, some Gardetto’s, cookies my aunt made, and some green tea in my kayak and spend several hours out on the water. 

Credit: Janét

When we got back from kayaking we cook the hot dogs my aunt brought over the fire and I have the mango chili bears to share. They were unexpectedly good.

Credit: Janét

Saturday: Coffee, Avocado Toast, Strawberry Shortcake, Cherries, Cold BBQ Chicken, and Other “Boat Trip” Snacks

I start Saturday morning with coffee and half of one of the ripe avocados from my box on toast. I also eat an apple in an effort to get some fruit and veg in before another day of taking advantage of the sun and eating random food.

Credit: Janét

Some friends ask me to go out on their boat with them to another island nearby. I run to the store to grab a few more things for this trip. I also want to bring strawberry shortcake to share so I make my favorite scone recipe as the base, cut up the strawberries, and make whipped cream as well as pack up other snacks for the boat trip. 

Credit: Janét

It was another afternoon of eating random foods, including the strawberry shortcake, cherries I had from last week, and some cold BBQ chicken I picked up at Safeway.

Credit: Janét

Sunday: Scone, Greek Yogurt with Strawberries and Blueberries, Big Salad with Leftover Chicken and Avocado, Gin & Tonic, and Popcorn

For breakfast I eat a scone (because who could resist?) and some Greek yogurt with strawberries and blueberries. 

Credit: Janét

For lunch I make a big salad with the leftover BBQ chicken from the beach and the other half of my avocado and a simple oil, vinegar, and Dijon dressing. 

Credit: Janét

I’m not super hungry later so I have a gin and tonic and popcorn for dinner while I finish my book.

Credit: Janét

Monday: Oatmeal with Almonds and Banana, Protein Bar, Beef Stick, Coffee, and a Bagel with Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese and Microgreens

Monday is consistently my biggest workday; I have a cleaning job in the morning and then I close at the coffee shop in the afternoon into evening. I start my day with oatmeal, almonds, and a banana. 

For lunch I eat a protein bar and a beef stick I had from a previous shop. 

Once I get to work I make an Americano and end up eating a bagel with housemade smoked salmon cream cheese and local microgreens.

Credit: Janét

Tuesday: Smoothie, Italian Sub, Birria Tacos, and Cider

Tuesday I have to work the morning shift at the coffee shop starting at 6:30 a.m., so I prepack the ingredients for a smoothie (pineapple, spinach, banana, matcha protein powder, and coconut water).

Credit: Janét

I am starving after my shift and our shop has a new Italian sub; I cave and try that for lunch. 

Credit: Janét

Friends invite me over for a dinner of cider and amazing birria tacos later that night.

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