Grocery Diaries

How a Colorado Family of 5 Spent $179 on a Week of Groceries at (Mostly) Trader Joe’s and Came in $71 Under Budget

published Apr 17, 2024
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Tiffany Nieslanik and family, Trader Joe's receipt.
Credit: Courtesy of Tiffany, Trader Joe's

Name: Tiffany
Location: Denver, CO
Number of people in household: 5; my husband and me, plus three kids (ages 6, 9, and 11)
Age: 46
Occupation: I’m a freelance writer and homeschooler; my husband is an SVP of Product and Engineering.
Household income: $300,000
Where you shopped: Imperfect Foods and Trader Joe’s
Weekly food budget: $250
Amount spent: $178.54

Credit: Tiffany

Where did you shop?

We have a recurring order from Imperfect Foods (recently acquired by Misfit Markets), which is delivered to our home weekly. We generally get most of our produce and bakery items from Imperfect Foods.

This week I also went to Trader Joe’s for items that Imperfect Foods doesn’t have or are cheaper. Sometimes, I’ll go to King Soopers or Safeway, but I didn’t need to this week. I go to Costco about once a month to stock up on bulk items — frozen fruits, canned goods, bread, and snacks for the kids, like ZBars or trail mixes — and get meat from Butcher Box delivered every eight weeks.

Credit: Tiffany

What’s your grocery strategy?

I start by surveying what we already have at home in our fridge and pantry. We often have a few things left over from the past week that need to be used sooner than later, in addition to our pantry and freezer staples from Costco/Butcher Box. 

From there, I place my Imperfect Foods order for the week. I always order fruits and veggies, if they are available. For other items, like canned goods or meat, I’ll compare prices with other nearby grocers to see which is cheaper. As I fill out my Imperfect Foods order, I add items we still need to a grocery list in the Cozi Family Organizer app. (It’s one of the best grocery list apps). We use it because my husband, who does most of the cooking, can also add things to the list. So I can see whatever we need in any given week.

How do you meal plan? 

I have to plan our meals ahead of time due to Imperfect Foods’ ordering process: Our shopping window closes on Sunday night at 11:45 p.m., but our groceries aren’t delivered until Thursdays. So I sit down on Sunday to plan a week’s worth of meals for that coming Thursday to the following Wednesday. 

I’ll look at our family calendar to see if we have any activities to accommodate. Then I factor in two standing dinners. First, we always have “Family Night Fridays,” where one of us gets to pick what we all do together, and that includes dinner. Usually, that means we eat out, so that’s one night I don’t have to plan for. Also, my oldest child recently chose to cook dinner for the family on Sundays as one of her house responsibilities. I work with her to find out what she wants to cook for everyone. 

From there, I fill in what we need to cover breakfast, lunches (we eat a lot of leftovers and sandwiches), and snacks (I almost always make a batch of muffins, and we have a lot of options from Costco). We homeschool our kids, so we have to take into consideration their needs for lunches and snacks when they are home and when they go to enrichment programs or our co-ops. 

What did you buy?

Imperfect Foods

  • 1 dozen organic large pasture-raised eggs, $5.99
  • 2 pounds grass-fed ground beef, 85% lean, $15.98
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, FREE (with “perk points”) 
  • 8 ounces tzatziki dip, $3.49
  • 6 ounces Greek honey yogurt, $1.69
  • 12 ounces organic heirloom tomato pizza sauce, $4.99
  • 1 pound organic orange baby carrots, $2.49
  • Organic bunched broccoli, $3.79
  • 6 ounces organic blueberries, $4.99
  • 1 hydroponic butter lettuce, $2.99
  • 7 to 10 organic mini Hass avocados, $5.89
  • Organic bunched red radishes, FREE (with “perk points”) 
  • 2 pounds organic pink lady apples, $4.99
  • 1 pound organic green beans, $5.49
  • Organic English cucumber, $3.29
  • 8 ounces organic cremini mushrooms, $3.99
  • 3 organic tri-color bell peppers, $6.99
  • 2 pounds organic mandarin oranges, $5.99
  • 2 honey mangos, $2.69

Total: $85.72 

Trader Joe’s

  • 4 ounces fresh basil, $2.79
  • Pineapple, $2.99
  • Shredded carrots, $1.29
  • 6 bananas, $1.38
  • Soy sauce, $3.79
  • Pink lady kombucha, $3.49
  • Raspberry preserves, $4.49
  • Pitted black olives, $2.29
  • Chocolate-covered caramels, $4.99
  • Sublime ice cream sandwiches, $4.99
  • Applesauce, $4.99
  • Manzanilla olives, $0.99
  • Turkish dried figs, $2.99
  • Dark chocolate orange sticks, $3.69
  • Sliced ham, $4.99
  • Sliced salami, $5.29
  • Carnitas (fully cooked), $5.99
  • Dried mandarins, $2.99
  • Mild California cheddar cheese block, $3.19
  • Coconut protein bar, $2.69
  • Dark chocolate protein bar, $2.69
  • 5 mango fruit leather buttons, $2.95
  • 5 grape fruit leather buttons, $2.95
  • 2 strawberry fruit leather buttons, $1.18
  • Port Salut cheese, $5.28
  • Almond butter cups, $4.49
  • Hamburger buns, $2.99

Total: $92.82

Grand total: $178.54

Credit: Tiffany

Thursday: Eggs, Toast, Cottage Cheese, Cereal, Leftovers, Sandwiches, Snacks, and Thai Quick Beef with Rice and Veggies

My husband always wakes up first and usually has two cups of coffee and eggs and two slices of Dave’s Killer Bread Good Seed (bought in bulk at Costco) by the time I wake up, around 7:30 a.m. 

My morning starts with a cup of Tulsi Ashwagandha tea and journaling. We have a Nespresso coffee maker that I use to make a cup of decaf coffee after my tea (I like the taste but can’t do caffeine these days). For breakfast, I have Good Culture cottage cheese (leftover from last week) with salt and pepper and a slice of avocado toast

Our kids tend to sleep in a bit because we don’t have a school start time, so they wake up between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. They all have cereal, which is fairly standard for them. They rotate between Honey Nut Cheerios, Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls, and Raisin Bran. Two of the kids have their cereal with almond milk (we buy in bulk at Costco), and the other uses our local delivery lactose-free milk ($5.29 each week, billed monthly) from Royal Crest. 

Lunch is a mash-up of leftovers and sandwiches. My husband has leftover chili from last night while I eat a leftover bahn mi sandwich from Tuesday’s dinner. The kids all opt for PB&Js with apples (everyone), broccoli (my oldest), bell peppers (my middle), and carrots (my youngest.)

Credit: Tiffany

Our kids eat both morning and afternoon snacks — ZBars, applesauce, Fruit Dots, and trail mix. I have a Paleovalley beef stick and mandarin. We all have afternoon tea with star cookies I bought a while ago at Costco.

Dinner tonight is this Thai quick beef that our family really likes. We make it with rice cooked in the Instant Pot, avocado, shredded carrots, and sliced cucumbers.

Credit: Tiffany

Friday: Cereal, Eggs, Toast, Turkey Sausage, Leftover Chili, a Medley of Sandwiches, Snacks, Burgers, and Mac and Cheese

Friday is one of the days our kids go to an enrichment program, so breakfast is a little more hurried for them. My husband has his standard coffee, eggs, and toast. I opt for avocado toast with turkey sausages and a mandarin with tea. The kids all have cereal again.

My husband packs the kids’ lunches because he’s awake so early, and he always lets them pick. My youngest chooses a sandwich that is kind of like a baked cheese toastie, carrots with ranch sour cream dip, and apples. My middle child asks for a small pizza, apples, and sliced cucumbers. My oldest wants a PB&J, broccoli, and apples. 

My husband eats another bowl of leftover chili. I have lunch out at a local deli with a friend who is visiting from out of town. I order a side salad and a sandwich called St. Jude, which has turkey, salami, tomato, pickles, romaine, Italian vinaigrette, caper mayo, and provolone. (It’s $21 and isn’t included in our grocery budget.)

The kids also eat snacks during their enrichment program, which are packed into their lunch boxes. The snacks vary between the kids and include a mixture of dried banana chips and mandarin slices, goldfish, Lara Bars, and pistachios. My husband doesn’t eat many snacks during the work week because he spends a lot of time in meetings. I have Mega Omega trail mix and an almond milk protein shake, along with cottage cheese with cucumbers throughout the day.

Tonight is family night, and it’s our 6-year-old’s week to choose. He wants to spend time in the backyard, playing and eating dinner outside before watching a movie together (we’ve had a string of nice spring days where we live). He’s been obsessed with macaroni and cheese lately, and picks Good Times Burgers. He gets the kids’ mac and cheese with a mango shake. My oldest orders a hamburger (she is very against cheese), fries, and a caramel shake. My middle gets a kids’ cheeseburger, fries, and mango shake. My husband and I both also order burgers and fries. We have a separate “family night” budget for food/activities. This order costs $53.19 and is less than what we set aside each week.

Credit: Tiffany

Saturday: Eggs, Toast, Lemon Zucchini Muffins, Snacks, a Medley of Sandwiches, Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night, and Salad

My husband once again has his go-to breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee. I have my tea followed by a slice of Dave’s Killer Bread topped with sun butter and blueberries, along with half an avocado. Our kids tend to sleep in a bit later on the weekends and ask for eggs and toast when they are awake and hungry.

Credit: Tiffany

Today, I make a big batch of lemon zucchini muffins. I put half in the freezer and leave the other half to have for the rest of the week. (The kids love muffins and would eat an entire batch if I let them.) They have some for snacks, along with popcorn. My two older kids play basketball on Saturdays, and they each have snacks provided by rotating parents after their games. This week, they have fruit snacks, Gatorade, and Chex Mix. My youngest has a ZBar, Fruit Dots, applesauce, and trail mix from home. 

For lunch, I eat the second half of my sandwich from yesterday (it was huge) and a mandarin. My husband and the two older kids have grilled ham sandwiches, while my youngest has his version of a cheese toastie. They have apples, bell peppers, and carrots with their sandwiches.

Credit: Tiffany

Dinner is make-your-own-pizza night. My husband makes the dough for the pizzas using ingredients from the pantry and our KitchenAid dough hook. He then cooks the pizzas in this cool outdoor pizza oven he received as a gift a while ago. The two youngest kids want plain cheese pizzas, and the oldest wants pepperoni with very minimal cheese. We let them put their own sauce, cheese, and toppings on. My husband and I share a pizza with an olive oil white sauce, black olives, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and pepperoni. He also makes a side salad with lettuce, shredded carrots, and cucumbers for us to eat with dinner.

Credit: Tiffany

Sunday: Eggs, Toast, Cereal, Muffin, Cottage Cheese, Leftover Pizza and Salad, Snacks, Dinner Out

Like most mornings, my husband has coffee, eggs, and toast, and the kids have cereal for breakfast. I have a zucchini muffin with cottage cheese and cucumbers, along with my tea and decaf coffee.

Credit: Tiffany

For lunch, we all eat leftover pizza and salad from dinner last night. After lunch, we hop in the car to drive to Great Wolf Lodge for a one-night stay, which was a gift for my middle child’s recent birthday. Snacks for the kids today include zucchini muffins, ZBars, applesauce, goldfish, and Pirate’s Booty. I have a Paleovalley beef stick and an oats-and-honey granola bar. 

We spend an inordinate amount of time on the Magic Quests and climbing the ropes course during the afternoon and early evening, but we do break for dinner at one of the restaurants in the hotel. I order a chicken Caesar salad for dinner, my youngest gets mac and cheese (to no one’s surprise), and everyone else chooses burgers. The kids’ meals all come with orange slices, cucumbers, and carrots, which do get eaten, to my surprise. We also ordered bruschetta, onion rings, and fries. (This dinner isn’t part of our weekly grocery budget, but we did make an effort to spend less on groceries to accommodate the extra dinner out this week.)

After dinner, we promised a visit to the candy store — each of the kids to get one small cup-size of bulk candy. The kids eat some of the candy they’ve chosen while my husband has a beer and I have a margarita.

Credit: Tiffany

Monday: Toast, Bacon, Donuts, Chicken Nuggets, Fries, Veggie Tray, Snacks, Ice Cream, and “Snack Plate Dinner”

I wake up first in our hotel room and sneak down to the lobby to drink tea and read a book in the quiet while everyone sleeps for another hour or so. While I’m down there, I order avocado toast with bacon and a decaf latte from Dunkin Donuts. My husband texts me when everyone wakes up, and I offer to bring donuts for everyone. They all want chocolate or white frosted donuts, and I get a black coffee for my husband and a few donut holes for myself. (It’s $23.95 for the donuts and coffee, which isn’t included in the grocery budget.)

We get lunch from the waterpark-area restaurant. The kids and my husband opt for chicken nuggets/tenders with fries. I also order a veggie tray with carrots, cucumbers, celery, and ranch dip for everyone to share. I eat the veggies and leftover fries and chicken from the kids’ meals ($49.91 for the lunch).

I brought snacks with me from home, so the kids eat more zucchini muffins, popcorn, applesauce, and ranch veggie straws throughout the day. We also all have ice cream in the afternoon before we head home.

We get home pretty late, around 6:30 p.m., so I pull together one of our easier dinners, which the kids call “Snack Plate Dinner.” It’s a mixture of a veggie tray, fruit, cheese, and charcuterie that everyone chooses from. This week, I use bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, blueberries, apples, salami, pepperoni, sliced cheddar, and Port Salut cheeses with Bitchin’ Sauce, ranch sour cream, tzatziki dip, Wheat Thins, and Crunchmasters multi-grain crackers. After the heavier meals from last night and today, the cool, fresh veggies go over so well; I have to refill the “snack plate” three times.

Credit: Tiffany

Tuesday: Eggs, Toast, Cereal, Turkey Sausage, a Medley of Sandwiches and Snacks, Leftover Pizza, and “Snack Plate Dinner”

Back at home, and we are back to our usual breakfast routine. Coffee, eggs, and toast for my husband, and cereal for the kids. I eat avocado toast with turkey sausages, a mandarin, and my tea and decaf coffee.

We keep lunch simple today. My youngest wants the cheese toastie, and the other two want Uncrustables. (We have a box in the freezer for occasions when we need to have something fast and easy.) The youngest eats his sandwich with carrots, blueberries, and apples. The middle has mango, bell peppers, and cucumbers. The oldest has pineapple and broccoli. My husband and I eat leftover pizza.

Snacks for the kids today include Goldfish, muffins, applesauce, Fruit Dots, and trail mix. I eat one of the protein bars from Trader Joe’s.

Dinner tonight is a tactical mistake. My oldest starts soccer tonight, and her practice is right at dinner time. Because I have a prior obligation, the rest of the family has to go with her, which means we have to do something fast and easy. Last night’s snack plate was such a hit, so we make individual versions for everyone in bento boxes. The two younger kids and my husband can eat theirs picnic-style at the soccer field, and my oldest eats hers on the car ride home. I eat mine at home before heading out to see a play with a friend.

Credit: Tiffany

Wednesday: Eggs, Toast, Cereal, a Medley of Sandwiches, Snacks, Leftover Pizza, and Sheet-Pan Chicken Sausages and Veggies

At this point, I’m sure you can guess what everyone is eating for breakfast at my house. My husband has coffee, eggs, and toast. The kids have cereal. I eat a slice of Dave’s Killer Bread with sun butter and blueberries with coffee and tea.

My middle child goes to an enrichment forest school program on Wednesdays (my youngest goes on Mondays, and my oldest on Thursdays). For lunch, my husband packs him a Nutella and apple sandwich, bell peppers, and the rest of the apple slices. My youngest and I also go to a co-op on Wednesday, and he asks for yet another snack plate, so I pack him blueberries, carrots, cheese, a zucchini muffin, and the ranch sour cream dip. I eat a sandwich using some of our salami and cheddar cheese, along with a clementine and a small bit of salad. My oldest stays home with my husband, who is working from home. She has tuna fish with wheat thins, a mandarin, and broccoli. He has the last of the leftover pizza.

Snacks are the usual assortment of Fruit Dots, ZBars, and ranch veggie straws, along with the last of the muffins I didn’t freeze. Plus, I make everyone smoothies today with coconut water, almond milk, kale from our garden, and frozen fruits (blueberries, cherries, and bananas.) I eat my second and last protein bar.

Tonight’s dinner is my eldest’s choice. Usually she cooks on Sundays, but wants to cook tonight because we were away at Great Wolf Lodge. She chooses a sheet-pan meal of roasted chicken apple sausages and veggies. We use a mix of veggies we have on hand, like sweet potatoes and carrots, along with the green beans, mushrooms, and bell peppers I ordered for the meal.

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