Grocery Diaries

A Couple with a Toddler Had to Double Their Grocery Budget During the Pandemic. Here’s What They’re Buying.

updated Apr 29, 2020
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Credit: Courtesy of Maria
  • Name: Maria
  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Number of people in household: 3 — myself (33); my husband, Troy (34); and our son, Dax (2.5)
  • Occupations: International alumni relations for a university; restaurant manager; professional toddler
  • Grocery shopping for how long? 7 to 10 Days
  • Where did you shop? Costco and Kroger
  • How much did you spend? $251.70 (Costco: $132.23; Kroger: $119.47)

We’re changing up our Grocery Diaries column to reflect what grocery shopping looks like during the coronavirus outbreak. Want to share your story? See how here.

Credit: Courtesy of Maria

How did you choose where to buy groceries?

Familiarity is really important for me right now — knowing exactly where things are in the store so I can get in and out as quickly as possible — which is why I continue to shop at my local Kroger and Costco. Grocery delivery time slots were hard to come by, and I anticipated needing to make substitutions on the fly, so I opted to go to the store in person.

What time did you shop, and what was it like?

Costco: Monday afternoon, about 2 p.m. Costco had us line up outside the building and were only letting in a certain number of people at a time in order to maintain social distancing. Employees were wiping off carts as people were entering. Once I was inside, it was pretty weird to see it so empty — normally it’s very crowded, even on a weekday.

Kroger: Thursday afternoon, about 4 p.m. Kroger had begun requiring aisles to flow in certain directions to lessen interactions, so it took a little bit of maneuvering. Both customers and employees were wearing masks and gloves, but far fewer than I expected. I definitely noticed more employees filling pick-up orders, but without knowing what would or would not be in stock, I am glad I opted to go in person.

Credit: Courtesy of Maria

How did you meal plan?

Meal planning these days means being flexible. I know the grocery stores won’t have everything in stock like they usually do, and I can’t go to multiple stores to find what I need. When I’m meal planning, I try to keep alternative ingredients in mind for a recipe if something ends up not being in stock. But that doesn’t always work either. For example, I ended up not finding an important ingredient (almond flour) for one meal on my meal plan and had to scrap the idea altogether.

Because we’re not shopping as often, I also had to think about which foods will go bad the quickest (use those first) and what will last until we need it. We also generally eat a high-protein, low-carb diet with lots of fruits and veggies — that hasn’t changed during the pandemic. I also make sure to buy a few kid-friendly meals in case what the adults are eating doesn’t appeal to the toddler.

Your husband is a restaurant manager. How does that change how you shop?

Pre-pandemic, my husband’s job was definitely a factor in how I planned our meals and shopped for groceries — I actually kept track of the nights he wouldn’t be home right in my meal planner so I knew when I could make recipes he doesn’t prefer, and I liked to designate simple, low-prep meals for nights when I’d be solo parenting. We’d also frequently visit the restaurant or get carry-out on nights when I didn’t feel like cooking. 

Currently, the restaurant is completely closed, as they opted not to remain open for carry-out orders. I’m still working full-time from home, so most of the childcare and cooking has fallen to him (I still do the planning and shopping). Luckily, he’s a fantastic cook, and we’ve been eating very well during the stay-at-home order.

Another benefit of his job has been his knowledge of food costs, prep, and safety. For example, he can easily determine when buying in bulk is a better deal than smaller quantities. And he’s great about portioning out veggies, flash-cooking them, and then packaging them to freeze until we need them.

Credit: Courtesy of Maria

What did you buy?

  • Produce: Bananas, Brussels sprouts, peppers, raspberries, mangoes, limes, apples, broccoli, green onions, garlic, white onions, pineapple
  • Pantry: Peanut butter, honey mustard, soy sauce, salsa, pickles, canned tomatoes, Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks
  • Frozen: Waffles, ice cream, single-serving kid meals (chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese)
  • Dairy: Eggs, yogurt, milk, cheese, ricotta
  • Meat: Sliced deli meat, chicken breasts, ground beef, breakfast sausage, chorizo, bacon
Credit: Courtesy of Maria

What couldn’t you find?

Anything on sale. Normally I shop the store circulars and use coupons I receive in the mail, but lately there aren’t any deals — which is totally understandable. My grocery budget during the pandemic has more than doubled — usually I try to stay under $100 per week.

Kroger was out of almond flour, everything bagel seasoning, and bagged frozen veggies. Costco was well-stocked. At both stores customers were limited to certain quantities (mostly meat and paper products). 

Credit: Courtesy of Maria

What do you plan on making?

Breakfasts

  • Smoothies
  • Sausage and egg scrambles
  • Frozen waffles for the toddler

Lunches

  • Deli meats and cheeses
  • Leftovers

Dinner

How is this different from how you normally shop?

I’m buying a lot more than usual because our grocery trips are less frequent (every 10 to 14 days instead of once a week). The three of us are also eating all of our meals together; before the pandemic, we were averaging two to three dinners together per week due to my husband’s work schedule. Rarely did we eat breakfasts or lunches together besides the occasional Sunday he would have off. Now, feeding three people full-time has required a fully stocked kitchen, every day of the week.

We’re also using this time to try new recipes and cook more time-consuming meals since the rush of the normal work week has slowed substantially. I don’t have to worry about preparing foods that would travel well to work or daycare. Actually, not having to pack lunches might be the unexpected silver lining of the pandemic for me.

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.