Grocery Diaries

I’m a Full-Time Student and Shop Mostly at Trader Joe’s and Imperfect Foods — Here’s What I Spent on Groceries for the Week

published Apr 6, 2023
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Trader Joe's grocery haul on green graphic background
Credit: K.T.

Name: K. T.  
Location: Washington, D.C.
Age: 26
Number of people in household: 1 (really 4, but we all cook separately)
Occupation: Graduate student
Salary: $0, currently living off $30k/year, excluding tuition but inclusive of all other expenses 
Where you shopped: Imperfect Foods, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s
Weekly food budget: $125
Amount spent: $124.55

Credit: K.T.

Where did you shop?

I shop primarily at Trader Joe’s, but when I get offered a good deal from Imperfect Foods, I will put in an order there. This week I received a 50 percent-off code for up to $25 and purchased enough items to also get free shipping. I also shop at Safeway for the items I can’t get at Trader Joe’s, and I sometimes buy bread at Tatte, the coffee shop and bakery nearby. 

In this week’s box I received a pork chop and an extra steak, instead of the chicken wings I ordered (for $4.29 — the same price I paid for the would-be wings!). In previous orders I’ve received extra items, like salmon and a pork chop, but this was the first time an item has been swapped for something else. While I wasn’t notified of the change beforehand, I am completely happy with the switch. (If it was an issue, I could reach out through the company’s website.)

Credit: K.T.

What’s your grocery strategy?

I plan out meals over the weekend, double check what I have, and then make a grocery list. When ordering Imperfect Foods, I’m required to complete my order in the allotted time slot. In my neighborhood in D.C., it’s between Thursday at noon and Saturday at noon. The box then gets delivered on Mondays. I usually go to Trader Joe’s and Safeway on Sunday and get what else I need. 

Credit: K.T.

How do you meal plan? 

I have about two-dozen meals that I cycle through. I generally look at what I have in the fridge, think about what I want to eat and what I have the effort to make that week, and then go from there. I try to have a fruit, protein, and carb in every breakfast, and a vegetable, protein, and carb in every lunch/dinner. I don’t eat a ton of processed snacks. 

I also have some health-based food restrictions. I can’t eat alliums or large amounts of fats or dairy. I also tend to avoid super-fibrous vegetables. I don’t consume caffeine or alcohol, and mostly avoid refined sugar, although I eat fruit. 

What did you buy?

Trader Joe’s

  • Pita bread, $1.59
  • Dried apples, $3.99
  • Dried strawberries, $2.99
  • Truffle almonds, $5.99
  • Brioche buns, $3.99
  • Marinated olives, $1.79
  • Pink lady apples, $2.99
  • Ground turkey, $3.99
  • Dill pickles, $2.99
  • Frozen blueberries (2), $4.58
  • Tea tree shampoo, $3.99
  • Roma tomato, $.29
  • Linguine, $.99
  • Lettuce, $1.99
  • Arugula, $2.49
  • Toilet paper, $4.99

Total: $50.07 (includes tax and reusable bag credit)

Imperfect Foods

  • Organic butternut squash, $1.99
  • Organic mushrooms, $3.99
  • Bacon ends, $4.99
  • Goat cheese (2),  $4.98
  • Organic lemons, $3.99
  • Chicken wings, $4.29 (received a pork chop and an extra steak instead)
  • Sirloin steaks (2), $11.98
  • Vanilla & chamomile coconut yogurt (3), $7.47
  • Olive oil, $6.79
  • Eggs, $4.39
  • Blackberries, $3.49
  • Cherry tomatoes, $3.99
  • Cilantro, $1.99
  • Carrots, $1.99

Total: $41.32 (includes $25 discount)


  • Ginger root, $.10
  • Clementines, $5.99
  • Trash bags, $7.99
  • Laundry detergent, $11.99
  • Spring roll wrappers, $3.39

Total: $31.66 (includes tax and donation)

School’s Vending Machine

  • Cheez-It crackers, $1.50

Grand Total: $124.55

Credit: K.T.

Sunday: Scrambled Eggs, Apple, Drop Biscuit Scones, Turkey Roll-Ups, Carrot Sticks, Turkey Burger with Leftover Fries, the Tiniest Salad, and a Smoothie

This is the last day of my spring break. I was seeing family for a few days, had an academic competition over four days, and also managed to get the stomach flu, so it was not an altogether relaxing time. Also, my food situation was kind of all over the place, so I’m trying to get back on track! I put in an Imperfect order yesterday, which will arrive tomorrow, so I will be trying to eat down what I have in the fridge before I do meal prep, likely on Tuesday. 

For breakfast I have scrambled eggs, apple, and drop biscuit scones (biscuit dough: flour, baking powder, salt, olive oil, water, plus frozen blueberries pressed in and cinnamon on top). 

I end up eating more biscuits for lunch, with a few slices of rolled-up turkey and carrot sticks because I am running around trying to get my life organized, including the above-listed grocery shopping. 

For dinner I make more of a fulfilling meal and start meal prep for the week. I have french fries left over from a delivery I got over the weekend. I make a turkey burger with Swiss cheese, pickles, tomato, and lettuce; warm up the french fries; and make the tiniest salad. I make a “milkshake” (a smoothie) with frozen blueberries and unsweetened vanilla almond milk. 

I also make peanut sauce (peanut butter, tamari, rice vinegar, scallions, and ginger) and granola (slivered almonds, shaved coconut, and dried apple all toasted with cinnamon and olive oil) for tomorrow. I pre-slice tofu and veggies, because I have class until 7:30 p.m. half of the week and am rarely inclined toward any meal-related effort on those evenings. 

Credit: K.T.

Monday: Cashew Yogurt with Granola, Clementine, Turkey Burger and Snacks, Empty-the-Fridge Dinner

I have cashew yogurt from Trader Joe’s (was already in the fridge) with my granola and a clementine. I pack another turkey burger with the same fixings for lunch, plus a clementine, freeze-dried strawberries, popcorn, and some of the truffle almonds for a snack. 

I have a meeting with my mentor and get an herbal tea from Tatte (I pay $4.35). 

I eat lunch at 2 p.m. and save the snacks for around 6 p.m. when I head to my last class and usually get hungry. 

I get home at 8:15 p.m. and am starving. I eat an extreme empty-the-fridge meal of half a portion of pasta left over from last week with tomato sauce with a turkey burger broken over the top, a cheese sandwich on a bun (conveniently keeping the numbers even with the turkey burgers), a few french fries with vinegar, and an arugula and kale salad. I have managed to finish the kale, the cheese, the pasta, and consolidate the burgers and fries into one container — massive win for the space in my fridge. I’ll be meal prepping tomorrow, which will make subsequent meals more planned out. 

Credit: K.T.

Tuesday: Fried Eggs, Toast, Fruit, Turkey Pitas, Pickles, Popcorn, Spring Rolls, Pasta with Mushrooms and Bacon, and Yogurt and Dried Apples

I make two fried eggs, a piece of toast with Trader Joe’s seeded bread from the freezer, blackberries, and a clementine. I pack two halves of a pita with roasted turkey and lettuce and bring tomatoes and pickles and popcorn for a snack. 

I have some additional popcorn and a clementine when I get home in the late afternoon (my early day). I have calls scheduled, so I don’t get to dinner and meal prep immediately. 

For dinner I make spring rolls (also called summer rolls) with tofu, the peanut sauce, mint, cilantro, carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce in the wraps. They are a little avant-garde looking. I also make pasta with mushrooms and bacon ends and chop up and cook up the steaks for kebab-like sandwiches later this week. I have coconut yogurt and some dried apples for dessert. 

Credit: K.T.

Wednesday: Yogurt with Granola, Clementine, Leftover Pasta and More Snacks, Spring Rolls, and Dried Fruit for Dessert

I have yogurt and granola and a clementine for breakfast. 

I chop some parsley and put Parmesan cheese on a portion of the pasta and pack that for lunch with a clementine, carrot sticks, and popcorn for a snack. 

I get hungry at 6 p.m., at the start of my final class, and get Cheez-Its from the vending machine. When I finally get home I make the last batch of spring rolls, slightly less visually appalling this time around. I have dried apples and freeze-dried strawberries for dessert. 

Thursday: Fried Eggs, Toast, Fruit, More Leftover Pasta and Fruit, the Last Turkey Burger and Fries, and Post-Dinner Snacks

I have two fried eggs, toast, clementine, and blackberries for breakfast. I again pack pasta for lunch — this time just bringing a clementine on the side. 

I eat the pasta at midday. My last class is canceled so I can blessedly get home early. I have an apple as a snack when I get home to tide me over before dinner. 

I eat the last turkey burger, as prepared previously and the final french fries. I am going to be hungry this evening, I can already tell, because I’m eating so early. 

I eat an apple, a clementine, some olives, and some almonds after dinner while I continue working. 

Credit: K.T.

Friday: Soft-Boiled Eggs, Freshly Made Biscuits, Fruit, the Remaining Pasta, Arugula and Tomato Salad, Snacks, and Steak Pita

I was so hungry yesterday, I try to front-load the day with plenty of food. I make soft-boiled eggs and drop biscuits again — a batch of four. I also have a clementine and blackberries. I don’t have classes today so my day is Zoom meetings, life admin, running, and piles of reading. 

Credit: K.T.

I eat the other half of my biscuit batch as a late-morning snack and then warm up the last of the pasta for lunch, with an arugula and tomato salad, and watered-down apple juice on the side. Finish that off with a clementine. 

I still snack throughout the rest of the day as I’m working; I have dried apples, popcorn, and another clementine. 

For dinner, which I eat late, I warm up the steak and put it in a pita with yogurt, tomato, cut-up pickles, and lettuce. This meal should be elevated by mint but I forgot to buy it to replace what I used in the spring rolls. 

Credit: K.T.

Saturday: Fried Eggs, Toast, Fruit, Deviled Eggs, Another Batch of Biscuits and an Arugula Salad, Steak Pitas and More Meal Planning

I eat a piece of seeded toast, two fried eggs, the last of the blackberries, and a clementine, as well as a cup of ginger lemon tea. 

For lunch I make deviled eggs and another batch of biscuits. This is a very biscuit-heavy week, but it’s been rainy and it feels cozy to have homemade snacks. I have another arugula salad on the side. 

For dinner I warm up the last of the steak and make the same meal as the night before. I have breakfast foods for tomorrow, but it is time for groceries again! I have squash already, steak, and pork. I also have rice. I’m thinking I might make roasted squash and carrots with the steak and a rice and pork dish. I also put together my Imperfect Foods order for next week, to take advantage of the second discount code I received. 

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