Grocery Diaries

How a Couple in Midland Park, NJ, Spend $150 a Week on Groceries (and Eating Out)

published Jun 5, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Christina Auriemma; Design: The Kitchn

Welcome to Kitchn’s Grocery Diaries, where a real cook like you shows us what they bought, cooked, and ate over the course of a week.

Name: Christina
Location: Midland Park, New Jersey
Age: 27
Number of people in family: 2
Occupation: Art therapist
Household income: $115,000/year
Weekly grocery budget: $150
Ingredients to use this week: Rotisserie chicken, black beans, corn, tortillas, avocado, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, brown rice, broccoli rabe, grape tomatoes, lemons, garlic, linguini, peppers, tuna, breadcrumbs, tomato paste, raviolis, red sauce, salad, deli turkey, kale salad kit, chickpeas, mayo, celery
Grocery store of choice: Shop Rite and Trader Joe’s*

Day 1: Sunday

Grocery shopping: Our Sunday morning routine is hitting the gym and food shopping for the week. My favorite grocery store is Shop Rite. They recently built a new one in the next town over and the aisles are wide so you can move easily throughout the store. Nothing worse than a cart traffic jam on a Sunday! The key is to go early in the morning to beat the crowds. Since it’s Easter morning, the Shop Rite was closed but the Giant Farmers Market was open and this is where I buy most of my produce for the week. Just $16.44 later and I got a big haul of healthy goods for the week.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

Breakfast: For breakfast Ralph and I battled over whether we should have a good NJ bagel or homemade omelettes; we decided to save the $8 and make an omelette with four eggs, leftover sliced peppers, spiral ham, and provolone/shredded cheese mix. This omelette turned into a scramble served with a side smoothie made from half an avocado, half a banana, and whole milk with five ice cubes. Also, Ralph can’t go a meal without a dinner roll so he snuck a Martin’s potato roll for breakfast.

Credit: Christina Auriemma

Dinner: We held off on lunch because our Italian Easter family festivities began at 2 p.m. at my parents’ place. The meal consists of an entire day of eating, featuring antipasto (Italian sliced meats, mozzarella, provolone, giardinera, olives, artichokes), homemade pizza, meat pies, and pickled eggplants/stuffed mushrooms. After a slight break from appetizers we dig into the main course: veal soup followed by spiral ham, stuffed shells, braciole, meatballs, fresh pork, and salad with purple radishes (and lots of wine). Easter ended with homemade vanilla Bundt cake, brownies, and Peeps cupcakes. Safe to say we feasted.

Day 2: Monday

Monday morning Ralph surprisingly got me out of bed at 5:45 a.m. to hit the gym — I never thought I’d utter those words. We returned home and made two PB&Js with my Skippy (a pantry staple) and Welch’s grape jelly on whole-grain bread. After that, I used the other half of a banana and half an avocado to make another smoothie for the both of us. I prepped lunches consisting of Easter leftovers: two mini dinner rolls with Italian meats and cheeses (prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone, and mozzarella), with a side of baked ziti (from my mother-in-law). And off to work I go!

Breakfast: I commute into Manhattan for work every day so I need quick, on-the-go breakfasts, which is why smoothies are great in my stainless steel cup with a straw! When I get to work I usually sit down and check emails while simultaneously eating a PB&J and then I’m on the move for most of my day.

Lunch: I take my break for lunch where I usually eat in a large atrium with indoor trees and floor-to-ceiling windows that make me feel like I’m not actually at work. I recommend getting away for a little bit, making time for a bit of self-care throughout the day.

Dinner: I get home between 6:30 and 7:30 each night, so quick easy dinners are our go-tos during the week. Ralph picked me up from the train station and we head to Acme to grab more eggs and almond milk for the week. It’s around the corner and convenient for when we just need a few things. Tonight we made plates of Easter leftovers to finish off the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and ham and some arugula, beet, and goat cheese salad.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

Tuesday: Day 3

Breakfast: I woke up early and prepped breakfast and lunch for myself and Ralph. I made the avocado/banana smoothie, this time with some of the almond milk I picked up last night. I often substitute whole milk when I don’t have almond milk — but the almond milk gives it a bit more sweetness, which I prefer. I also made two PB&J sandwiches and packed up the last of the leftovers for lunch: Mashed potatoes, baked ziti, ham, and arugula-beet-goat cheese side salad, plus green grapes for snacking that I picked up at the market over the weekend.

Lunchtime in Central Park: The perks of working on Central Park East is enjoying the beautiful weather with lunch on the park benches when it’s 75 degrees and sunny.

I head home from work on the train and Ralph picks me up. We stopped at Shop Rite to pick up a few necessities for the rest of the week. Just $15.64 later and we are all set for ingredients for cooking for two.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

Dinner: Tonight’s dinner is creamy sun-dried tomato pasta with mushrooms and spinach. I was inspired by this recipe but did not follow it exactly. Ralph approved!

Credit: Christina Auriemma

Day 4: Wednesday

Breakfast: Wednesday morning we headed to the gym and I took the 6 a.m. yoga class then headed home to get ready for work and prep breakfast and lunch for us. I made yet again another batch of the avocado-banana smoothie with the leftover halves of both from the day before (it’s always a big hit), followed by another set of PB&J sandwiches. I packed up the leftover creamy sun-dried tomato pasta from the night before, and put grapes in containers and we are all set for lunch! For breakfast I drank my smoothie on the train to work and ate my PB&J while checking emails to get a boost of energy for the morning.

Credit: Christina Auriemma

Lunch: I quickly ate lunch between meetings today. It was one of those days! I heat up my pasta and it’s just as good the second day. I also snacked mid-afternoon on these Sargento Snack Breaks with cheese, chocolate-covered nuts and cashews — perfect food to tide me over before dinner. I bought them this week because they were on sale (but I sometimes DIY it with some sliced cheese and nuts from Emeralds bags; my favorite are the honey-roasted almonds or cashews).

Dinner: The plan for dinner was for me to get home and prep the turkey meatballs for the Greek pitas, but I accidentally missed three trains from Manhattan. My husband has never made the Greek meatballs before, but I called him and told him to start prepping the dinner or we wouldn’t eat until 10 p.m. He FaceTimed me so I could check the consistency of the meatball mixture before he put them in the oven (ha!). They were a big success, so props to him for a great meal.

Day 4: Thursday

Credit: Christina Auriemma

Breakfast: For breakfast I made (yet again) two PB&Js for my husband and me, along with these amazing protein-packed muffins by Kodiak. The box is usually $4.99 and comes in different flavors including chocolate chip, double chocolate, and blueberry lemon. I made the double chocolate and they are phenomenal. I take two and wrap them up for on-the-go eating. I also prepped our lunches: leftover Greek meatball pitas. I got to work and ate my PB&J while checking emails and my coworker said “I love that you’re eating PB&J now it makes me so happy” … so the day is off to an amazing start.

Lunch: For lunch I quickly heated up my food and ate the leftover meatball pita. I got so many compliments on my lunch from my coworkers, so naturally I raved about them and shared the recipe. They told me it looked gourmet so WIN. I then ran to enjoy the conservatory gardens in Central Park because my boss told me today was a peak day and I needed to go! I should’ve brought my lunch to-go because there were so many benches to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Credit: Christina Auriemma

Dinner: The dinner plan tonight is eggplant Parm. My husband is a pro at making it, therefore we didn’t need to FaceTime while I was on the train for quality control … I totally trust his process. He calls it one of his specialties and I’ll have to agree. He takes it very seriously and salts the sliced eggplants to remove the moisture and lets them sit for an hour. He used this eggplant Parm over linguine recipe from Kitchn!

Day 6: Friday

Breakfast: Friday morning I whipped up two more PB&J sandwiches and grabbed two protein muffins and a banana to eat on the ride to the train. I prepped lunch (leftover eggplant Parm and fried plantains) and off to work we go. I ate the PB&J while sitting at the computer yet again … can you tell I like routine? I smacked on the protein muffins in between sessions with patients for a morning boost of energy.

Lunch: I thoroughly enjoyed eating and reminiscing with one of my coworkers about our college days with my leftover eggplant Parm. Everyone wanted some, so of course I told Ralph his Parm got rave reviews and his head grew 10 sizes. Boosting his ego one Parm at a time!

Dinner: Friday nights are almost always date night, so tonight we joined our other couple friends for a Mexican dinner at Blue Moon with margaritas and burritos. It was a pricier dinner than we would normally have, but we decided to cut ourselves a break after cooking all week. Ralph and I shared a fajita burrito filled with grilled steak, peppers, onion, refried beans, rice, guacamole, and sour cream. I couldn’t imagine consuming one of these alone … we made the mistake one time of ordering our own burritos and let’s just say it was such a waste! We’ve become masters of ordering the right amount of food, sharing apps, and sticking to our budget.

Blue Moon total: $64

Day 7: Saturday

Breakfast: Saturday morning we grabbed bagels from our local bagel shop: sesame with veggie cream cheese and an everything bagel toasted with cream cheese. Nothing is better than a Jersey bagel. I also ate some sour cream and onion Pringles that my mom put in my Easter basket (yes, still receiving Easter baskets at 27 and I’m fine with it). Also had some midday protein muffins to tide us over before our night out in the city.

Dinner: We headed into Manhattan for an early sushi dinner with friends at Momoya. Ralph and I shared the Boston roll, Philly roll, and spicy tuna roll with edamame as an appetizer.

Momoya total: $50

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

1. How did you set your food budget?

  • We set our Monday through Thursday budget for the grocery store at around $30 to $60 per week, and save Friday and Saturday for date nights/going out with friends to give ourselves a rest from cooking and to treat ourselves after a long work week!
  • Ralph and I plan the week in advance and write down what we will have for dinner each night on a shared iPhone Note. Together we plan a grocery list to avoid overbuying.

2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?

  • Olive oil, shredded cheese, and red sauce! (Can you tell we’re Italian?)

3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?

  • I love a good Greek pasta salad with any type of pasta, feta or goat cheese, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, sliced peppers, and a simple vinaigrette. Sometimes I’ll add grilled chicken or even rotisserie chicken if i’m crunched for time. You can always substitute pasta for pearl cous cous or quinoa to change it up.

At Kitchn we believe setting a food budget for you and your family is an essential part in getting your financial life in order. Don’t know where to start? We have a guide for that. Want to share your Grocery Diary with Kitchn? See how here.