Grocery Diaries

We’re a Family of 3 in Illinois and Shop Mostly at Aldi and Costco — We Spent $205 on a Week’s Worth of Groceries

published Dec 29, 2022
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Collage showing the writer Megan with her husband and daughter with broccoli, cantaloupe, bagels, and apples from their grocery list for the week
Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Megan; Food: Shutterstock; Design: Kitchn

Name: Megan
Location: Chicago, IL
Number of people in your household: Three; myself, my husband (referred to as C), and my daughter (who will be known as G)
Age: I’m 43, my husband is 46, and my daughter is 8
Occupation: I’m a teacher; my husband is an attorney
Where you shopped: Aldi, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and a local produce market
Weekly food budget: No set budget
Amount spent: $205.04

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Where did you shop?

I split my shopping up between several stores. I take weekly trips to Aldi for various basics, including coffee, canned beans and tomatoes, cheeses, cereal, flour, sugar, tortillas, and snacks, like crackers and tortilla chips. (I’ve been shopping there since graduate school in 2004 and I have loved watching the store evolve!). I’ll also visit a local produce market for the bulk of our fruit and vegetables for the week, plus any miscellaneous items I need. This week, it was a bag of lentils.

I also make twice-monthly trips to Costco for bulk items — milk, oats, eggs, etc. — and shop at Trader Joe’s once or twice a month to pick up pasta, pizza dough, and other specialty items.

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

What’s your grocery strategy?

We eat the same-ish things for breakfast and lunch on weekdays, and I cook nearly every night for dinner unless we go out or order the occasional takeout. For dinner, we are also creatures of habit and often eat variations on the same 10 meals, so I’ve been pushing myself to try a couple of new recipes a month, with varying success.

We also love to have friends over for dinner, drinks, and snacks often. I typically make soup and bread or homemade pizzas for guests — easy and kid-friendly! It’s also worth noting that we don’t eat meat and my daughter is allergic to peanuts. 

Although we don’t have a set food budget, I really enjoy being frugal and try to use everything up in some way. I realize that makes us very fortunate, to not have to worry about the price of food during this time of high inflation, so we donate regularly to the Greater Chicago Food Depository (a nonprofit organization working to end hunger) and the One Acre Fund (a nonprofit organization providing resources to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa). It feels like a great way to use some of the money I save on groceries. 

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

How do you meal plan?

I meal plan a day or so before shopping, keeping in mind what we have on hand already and what we’ve eaten recently. I often buy dry beans and batch cook and freeze them, so beans are nearly always part of the menu, as is pasta, pizza, and salad. We are all pretty big eaters, and my husband, who works from home, enjoys leftovers for lunch, so I generally cook extra servings for us to have throughout the week.

As I mentioned, breakfast and lunch are pretty routine: My husband (C) and daughter (G) have cereal for breakfast mixed with a scoop of raw oats to add some heft to the bowl (try it!) — hers with whole milk, and his with almond milk. He nearly always has an egg sandwich somewhere in the morning and snacks a bit during the day.

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

With the exception of school pizza day on Tuesdays, G’s lunch is usually a variation of an almond butter sandwich or bagel and cream cheese, Goldfish, sliced apples or pears, nuts and dried fruit, and either a homemade baked good or a hunk of dark chocolate with almonds. It’s not perfect, but it all gets eaten and that’s what I care about. As a teacher I see so many kids not eating their lunches and ending up hangry all day, so my lunch philosophy is to pack what she will eat and do my best.

I pack Greek yogurt with flax seeds, nuts, and fruit and either a big salad in warmer months or a veggie and bean-heavy soup in colder ones. I also usually pack sliced apples, string cheese, and a nut bar for snacks. There is nearly always food around, so occasionally I supplement with items from the teacher’s lounge or my principal’s office, which is always fully stocked with bubbly water and treats.

On this particular week, which began the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the goal is to go back to simpler, non-holiday meals, so I plan for us to eat at home all week.

What did you buy?


  • Crunchy granola bran cereal, $2.29
  • Strawberry vitality cereal, $2.45
  • Cocoa rice cereal, $2.19
  • Fuji apples, $3.59
  • American cheese slices, $1.89
  • Swiss cheese slices, $2.19
  • Sugar, $2.11
  • Flour, $2.12
  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt, $3.39
  • Black beans, $0.71
  • Cream cheese, $1.59
  • Avocado, $0.59
  • Flax seed, $3.39
  • Meatless meatballs, $4.49
  • Shredded pepper jack cheese, $2.99
  • Frozen corn, $0.79
  • Coleslaw, $1.59
  • Tortilla chips, $3.49
  • Bread, $2.49
  • English muffins, $1.39

Total: $46.30 (includes tax)

Local Produce Market

  • Spaghetti squash, $1.69
  • Cantaloupe, $2.98
  • Yellow onions, $2.00
  • Baby carrots, $1.00
  • Garlic, $2.00
  • Bananas, $0.92
  • Russet potatoes, $1.79
  • Head of cauliflower, $6.02
  • Brown lentils, $1.59
  • Bagels, $2.00

Total: $22.26 (includes tax)


  • Whole milk, $12.79
  • Prosecco, $14.98 
  • Frozen broccoli, $9.59
  • Plain Greek yogurts, $11.58 each
  • Cinnamon, $4.79
  • Dish pods, $11.79
  • Half and half, $6.89
  • Nut bars, $16.49 
  • Cleaning wipes, $14.99

Total: 111.49 (includes tax)

Trader Joe’s

  • Pound Plus chocolate bars, $10.00
  • Refrigerated pizza dough, $4.00
  • Almond milk,  $3.00
  • Dark chocolate almond butter pretzels,  $5.00
  • Salad kit, $3.00

Total: $25.00 (We lost the receipt and paid cash, so these prices are to the best of my recollection.)

Grand Total: $205.05

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Saturday: Coffee, Cereal, Brunch Out, a Lunch Mish-Mash, No-Knead Bread, and Fridge Clean-Out Soup, and Evening Drinks and Snacks

We all have our usual breakfasts: cereal for G and me, a slice of pear chocolate chip bread for me, coffee for C and me. C and G go out for brunch later in the morning, where C gets a veggie skillet, and G gets French toast with berries (They bring some of the leftover French toast home). While they’re gone, I make a loaf of quick no-knead bread — a favorite of ours. 

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Lunch is a weekend mish-mash. G finishes her French toast (standing up, no utensils) and I have broccoli-cheddar soup from the night before and buttered toast from the loaf of no-knead bread. I also snack on pretzels and some tortilla chips; G shares a couple of Cuties (leftover from last week’s shop) with our dog.

We go to a holiday festival and plan to eat dinner there, but the food lines are long and we aren’t really feeling it. We debate heading to a nearby brewery with friends for beers and hot pretzels, but ultimately decide to come back home and get cozy.

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

I really try not to waste food, so while I didn’t originally plan on making dinner, I’m glad I get to use some odds and ends — three big Idaho potatoes, a head of cauliflower, and half a bag of frozen corn — to make a quick soup. It all comes together with plenty of onion I sauté in butter and olive oil, along with cheddar cheese and a big shake of cayenne. We all devour it, along with the last of the no-knead bread.

C and I split a Christmas ale and he also has a bourbon. G eats a cheese stick, a soft pretzel stick from the freezer, and two pieces of Halloween candy (how do we still have so much of this?). The rest of the soup goes into a container for lunch tomorrow. C has his usual late-night snack, a few pieces of chocolate, after I go to bed.

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Sunday: Coffee, Bagels, Yogurt, Leftover Soup, Popcorn at the Movies, Grilled Cheese, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars, and Black Bean Bowls

I wake up around 5:30 a.m. and make coffee in the French press (we converted to a press about five years ago and I am so glad because I love the rich taste). We both drink coffee with half-and-half; this is a regular Costco purchase for us.

In the spirit of the holidays, I have been using festive mugs. These are much smaller than our usual giant ones and I am realizing we may have been drinking too much coffee. I don’t feel jittery after one of these smaller cups the way I do after one of our usual ones. Note to self: Don’t pour so much coffee into the big mug.

My daughter has a bowl of cereal when she gets up around 7:30 a.m.: Cocoa Crisps with a scoop of oats. She eats the whole thing, plus a Cutie. I run to our local produce market to get our weekly produce, plus dried lentils and four fresh bagels (two everything, one sesame, and one chocolate chip). 

About an hour later, G picks at a chocolate chip bagel with Nutella spread on it. She doesn’t love it, but says that no one else should eat it because she “might want it later.” (I am not sure exactly what happens to this bagel.) My husband C drinks coffee and reads the paper, does a workout, and eventually eats an everything bagel with cream cheese before walking the dog.

I do my workout in the basement and then have my Greek yogurt, flax, nuts, and fruit mix. I then meal prep red lentil soup for my lunches. It has diced onion, garlic, fresh ginger, cayenne, a bit of curry powder, a bag of chopped baby carrots, a diced sweet potato, and two cups of dry red lentils. I set it for four hours in the slow cooker and tidy the kitchen. 

After getting ready for the day, I realize I am hungry again so I reheat the last of the soup from the previous evening and eat it for lunch along with half of a sesame bagel with butter. 

My daughter has a friend over and they each eat grilled cheese and apple slices for lunch. Then we pick up two more of her friends and go to see A Christmas Story at the small movie theater in our town. It’s free with the donation of non-perishable food, so I drop a big sack at the door for the five of us, buy each girl a small popcorn, and settle in. The movie is dated and at times slightly inappropriate, but the kids laugh and have fun. My husband is at his friend’s watching the Chicago Bears game and reports eating “snacks.” 

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

When we get home, I make oatmeal chocolate chip bars, reducing the two cups of chocolate chips called for in the recipe to just one cup, while the girls play. They come down and eat the bars with milk before resuming playtime.

I pack the soup into smaller containers for my lunches this week and head out on a walk to contemplate dinner; I’ve been planning to make sheet pan nachos with corn and black beans, but for some reason the thought of all that melted cheese isn’t doing it for me. I settle on DIY black bean bowls with rice, avocado, tortillas, chips, and salsa for an easy Sunday night dinner.

We all clear our plates, clean up, do some prep for the next day, and cozy up on the couch by the tree and watch Sunday night football. Chocolate is consumed, as per our nightly tradition.

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Monday: More Coffee and Cereal, Greek Yogurt, Egg Sandwich, Lentil Soup and Crackers, and Frozen Ravioli and Meatless Meatballs

Another day, another round of coffee for adults and a bowl of cereal for G. I packed my breakfast (Greek yogurt, flax, oats, nuts, and fruit mix) and lunch (soup, fruit, and string cheese) the night before, which helps the first morning back after Thanksgiving break go smoothly. I drink my coffee while I pack lunch for my daughter (sandwich, Goldfish, chocolate oat bar, and a Cutie).

Once at work, I eat my breakfast midmorning while my students are in PE (physical education), and then have my meal prepped soup, along with crackers, a mini York Peppermint Patty, and a Pellegrino I grab from my principal’s office for lunch. I generally just try to refuel for the afternoon. Teaching is a really fun, high-energy job and I love the pace of the day, so I am definitely not complaining.

My husband eats an egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich along with a bowl of cereal and some snacks, while my daughter goes to a friend’s house after school and eats pears and Cheez-Its. 

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

I stop at Costco on my way home for a mini stock-up. Once home, I unload and begin to prep a very simple dinner: frozen cheese raviolis with marinara and vegetarian meatballs. I have perfected the cooking process for the meatballs by nuking them in the microwave for a minute before putting them into my countertop oven on double convention at 375ºF for 10 minutes; it keeps the meatballs from turning mushy in the marinara. I do this while I boil the ravioli. For good measure, I sauté a bag of the frozen broccoli in garlic and olive oil. 

I accidentally fall asleep on the couch at 7 p.m and wake up early the next day.

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Tuesday: Coffee and Cereal Again, Bagel, Yogurt, Egg Sandwich, Hummus and Pita, Pizza Day, Vegetarian Curry with Jasmine Rice and Naan, and Halloween Candy

I’m wide awake at 3:15 a.m., so I read in bed for a while until the thought of coffee gets me up. I pack my daughter a sliced apple and a chocolate chip oat bar for snacks (she will have pizza at school today), then do a little work and read. I eventually pack my own meals — mainly just a repeat of yesterday’s food, plus a cheese stick and half a nut bar. My husband and daughter have their usual cereals and coffee for C.

On my way out the door, I grab half of a sesame bagel and eat it in the car; the early wake-up really messed with my appetite! Once at work, I immediately eat my yogurt-flax-nuts-oats combo standing up and doing 10 other things, then half of a nut bar for good measure. It’s going to be a long day.

Meanwhile, my husband has an egg sandwich mid-morning and then hummus and pita for lunch. My daughter eats her pizza, plus the oatmeal chocolate chip bar and a Cutie I packed her for lunch. G has a friend over after school and my husband reports that they eat graham crackers for a snack, but were mainly focused on playing with their dolls.

I get home around 4:15 and start dinner; tonight is an example of a dinner I call “kinda homemade.” We have a curry made with Mayura Tikka Masala; it comes in a two-pack from Costco and I have a jar left from a previous shop. I simmer it with chickpeas from the freezer and the chopped head of cauliflower. I make some jasmine rice and heat some frozen naan. After about 20 minutes, I throw in some frozen peas to round out the meal. C and I eat hearty helpings (he has two) and G has a plate of plain chickpeas, peas, and cauliflower minus the curry sauce, plus naan, hummus, and rice.   

After dinner, G has two pieces of candy, and I eat half a bag of M&M’s (also from her Halloween candy, don’t tell!) and my personal favorite, a Tootsie Roll. My daughter then eats another dish of rice and peas; she’s asleep by 8:30 p.m. and I am not far behind. 

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Wednesday: Coffee and Cereal, Egg Sandwich, Leftover Soup, Bagel, Sliced Fruit, Leftover Curry and Raviolis, and a Mix of Dessert

I wake up around 5 a.m. and do the usual coffee-lunch packing routine, followed by a lower body workout around 5:45 a.m., and then get ready for my day. G and C wake around 7 a.m.; G has two bowls of cereal and C has coffee. I slice the cantaloupe and pack a small container to bring to work and put the rest in the fridge. On my way out, I grab the end of a loaf of pear bread from the freezer and eat it in the car; my workout left me extra hungry this morning.

I eat my cereal at work when I arrive and don’t think about food until 12:15 p.m., when I sit down and eat my soup, along with half a bagel, a string cheese, the cantaloupe, and half a nut bar. Back at home, C does his workout and has a bowl of cereal and oats with a banana for breakfast. He later has an egg sandwich with two eggs, a piece of cheese, and everything bagel seasoning for lunch. He also has cantaloupe. 

My daughter eats cantaloupe and an oatmeal chocolate chip bar when she gets home as she does her homework. I get home around 4 p.m. and, after looking in the fridge, realize we need to eat up some leftovers. I munch on a few pretzel sticks that I buy a few times a year, forgetting that none of us really loves them unless they are covered in chocolate.

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

After my snack, I pop the spaghetti squash in the microwave, as I plan to have it with the leftover ravioli and red sauce. While that’s happening, I boil water for fresh rigatoni for G, who is on a strict no-leftover diet, and heat up leftover curry and naan for my husband and some leftover ravioli and veggie meatballs for me. I also turn the leftover beans and rice from Monday into freezer burritos with Jack cheese; those are one of our favorite grab-and-go weekend lunches. 

Once everything is done reheating/cooking, we sit down to eat. G has a few pieces of candy while she works on a project and I sneak a few more of those M&M’s. After evening routines, we settle on the couch to watch a holiday show. G eats more cantaloupe and I eat an oatmeal chocolate chip bar. C reports eating some chocolate after I head to bed around 8 p.m. 

Credit: Courtesy of Megan

Thursday: Coffee and Cereal, Bagels at the Book Fair, Leftover Soup and School Pizza, Bourbon with a Neighbor, Pasta, Egg Rolls, Leftover Curry, and a Mix of Dessert

As usual, the thought of coffee gets me out of bed; it’s also December 1, which means I need to do some advent preparation, including finding the chocolate calendar I got at Aldi and making sure our Elf, Tilly, has arrived! I do that, plus the usual morning food routine. I light a snickerdoodle-scented candle while I do this, to set the December mood.

I do an upper body workout, get ready for the day, and wait for my daughter to wake up; I am excited for her to see her chocolate calendar and the arrival of the Elf on a Shelf. She wakes up five minutes before I need to leave and is super excited to see her Elf and eat a piece of chocolate. My husband and daughter each have a bowl of cereal before heading to her school early for “Books and Bagels” at the book fair; G has a plain bagel with cream cheese and orange juice, while C has another cup of what he calls “school coffee.”

I eat my cereal the moment I get to work; I also rustle a Tootsie Roll Midgee and a mini York Patty out of the office chocolate drawer. By lunch, I am starving; it’s been a really busy day and I need to eat. I put my soup into the microwave and remember it’s pizza day at school; I make a mental note to come back down to the lounge for leftover pizza this afternoon.

A few minutes after I finish my soup and am preparing for the afternoon, a kind coworker brings me a piece! I thank him and immediately eat it in five huge bites. I then remember I was supposed to take a photo of the large, greasy New York-style slice (whoops!). 

C reports that he eats “the same exact things as yesterday,” but that he did go to Trader Joe’s, our treat store. He eats some chocolate-covered almond butter pretzels on the way home. 

I get home around 4 p.m. and my daughter claims to have a stomach ache; I know there are lots of little bugs going around so I tell her no basketball tonight because we have a huge weekend. My neighbor and good friend texts; she is on her way over for a visit. Both of her kids are on the tail end of a bug, so she is ready to get out. We end up having a glass of bourbon and when she leaves around 6 p.m., I have no energy left to prepare an elaborate meal.

My daughter has rigatoni with butter and salt, per her request; my husband has mini egg rolls from the freezer, and I reheat the last of the curry with some naan and then eat a huge hunk of chocolate. G eats a few almond butter chocolate-covered pretzels, then she asks for a banana. We do our evening routine and put G to bed early.

Friday: Coffee and Cereal, Egg Sandwich, Greek Yogurt, Leftover Soup, Homemade Pizza, Pasta, and a Dessert Mix and a Movie

I have been teaching for nearly 20 years and I still get excited for Fridays; there is nothing like the buzzing energy of a school on Fridays. It’s a busy day leading into a busy family weekend, too.

I pack the lunches and my breakfast while I drink my coffee, then sit down to read for a bit before heading to do a very quick workout; it’s mostly just me swinging my arms around and marching in place. I get ready for the day and am out by 7:30 a.m.

Back at home, the standard cereal and coffee routine ensues and C eats his usual lunch (an egg and cheese sandwich with some type of fruit). I text him to get the pizza dough out around noon; I have been making pizza with Trader Joe’s dough for years and I think it needs several hours at room temp to work best — the suggested 20 minutes is just not enough, IMO. 

At work, I eat my usual breakfast around 8 a.m. (Greek yogurt mix) and then lunch around noon. I have student council in my room on Fridays at lunchtime, so I eat in between helping the students make videos for morning announcements. I am really over this soup; I eat it with some Cheez-its, and a Kirkland nut bar. 

Around 2 p.m., I feel a headache coming on and am a little worried I am getting sick; I have four students out. I make some tea and decide to leave a bit early to get some extra rest; I get home around 3:30 p.m and relax until my husband and daughter get home an hour later.

The weather is pretty nice, so they stayed on the playground for about an hour, her playing and him chatting with other parents. She comes in and immediately has the last dish of the chocolate almond butter pretzels.

I preheat the oven and begin to prepare the pizza; I roll the dough onto parchment, slather it with Trader Joe’s garlic spread, which we always have in our freezer, and add mozzarella, sauce, and some chopped broccoli from the freezer. G comes in, sees it, and declares that she wants pasta again. That’s three nights in a row, but it’s a Friday, so who cares. 

We sit down to eat and talk about the week, then do our nighttime routines and watch a holiday movie. G eats a few blocks of the giant milk chocolate bar and a banana on the couch. I fall asleep and wake up for the end of the movie to discover that despite all the holiday hijinks, everything turned out OK. It’s lights out for me and G by 8:30 p.m. C stays up and eats his usual hunk of chocolate.

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