Grocery Diaries

How a Woman in Delaware Spends $75 a Week on Whole30-Compliant Groceries

updated Jul 16, 2019
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Credit: Photos: Shutterstock, Design: 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: Alicia
Location: Greater Wilmington area, Delaware
Age: 32
Number of people in family: 1
Occupation: Biotechnology
Household income: $78,000/year
Weekly grocery budget: Usually between $50 and $75
Ingredients to use this week: Coffee, almond milk, collagen peptides, RXBars, chia seeds, dried figs, frozen blueberries, zucchini, a partial bag of spinach, carrots, pantry supplies (olive and sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar, frozen ginger, spices)
Grocery store of choice: Walmart, Aldi

Disclaimer* This is the week I started my first Whole30. In preparation, I spent most of May slowly tapering through non-compliant food I had on hand and converting my dietary habits to be more aligned with the Whole30 method. To my knowledge, I am trying to be as compliant as possible, but please be kind, I’m not an expert!

Pre-Grocery Diary Grocery Shopping

I don’t typically shop on Friday evenings, but Saturday is looking busy for me and I don’t think I will be able to fit in my larger shop, so I grab my reusable grocery bags and head out for some errands. I spent some time last weekend meal planning, devising a grocery list and scouting coupons on the Ibotta app to feel as prepared as I could for this adventure, which worked out for the most part!

I hit a few walls while shopping that I had to work around.  One was discovering that a pork loin that I was banking on had added sugar, due to the curry paste rubbed onto it, therefore it was a no-go. The other unseasoned pork loins available were too large for just me, so I skipped it, and decided to figure out my third source of protein on the fly.

The other issues were related to condiments. First I noticed Walmart has begun carrying Tessemae’s brand, so I was stoked to know that I wasn’t going to have to go completely sauceless this week (because most bottled sauces contain sugar). I had planned on prioritizing BBQ sauce and ketchup, because I find I reach for them the most, and seeing them for under $4 each was unexpectedly thrilling!

However, while zipping around the grocery department, I remembered that the almond butter I already had at home was probably not compliant. So I deviated from my budget to get the only one that was sugar-free (and also salt-free). Nearly $7 was more than I wanted to spend on almond butter and also was unplanned on my list. As a trade-off, my sugar-free Tessemae’s ketchup had to go back on the shelf just to keep a budget buffer for my Aldi trip tomorrow.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock, Design: Kitchn

TOTAL: $37.73

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

I get home and unpack. All of the grocery shopping and hilariously agonizing decisions over sugar and condiments worked up an appetite so I have some mango and a spoon of the new almond butter while I watch some Netflix. I tried to quenelle the nut butter to make it look more enticing, but it’s not the greatest-tasting thing. Pairing with mango helps slightly, though.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Day 1: Saturday

Coffee: I have some time before doing yard work at my mom’s to hit Aldi.  I make myself an iced collagen peptides latte with almond milk so I can get out the door quickly. My meal-prepped food is out, so finishing my shopping is pretty key right now.

I have an old Nespresso with an Aerocinno milk frother, which are arguably my favorite kitchen appliances. I put the unsweetened vanilla almond milk on to froth, scoop out the collagen powder into a coffee cup, and brew a capsule over it to dissolve the protein. When the milk is done frothing, I combine everything over ice to serve it up.

Grocery shopping: At Aldi, I deviate slightly from my plan when I discover how cheap their frozen riced cauliflower and wild-caught boneless, skinless frozen salmon fillets are. I also find that for certain produce like blueberries and strawberries Aldi can sometimes be cheaper than Walmart.

I pick up a dozen of the cage-free organic eggs, but can’t find the dates I spotted last week anywhere! In light of this, I impulsively buy a bag of spinach and an avocado to fill my now date-less void. Maybe I can hack the snack with the dried figs that have been languishing in my cupboard for what feels like ages?

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock, Design: Kitchn

TOTAL: $18.70

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Breakfast: After I come back from shopping, I scramble two eggs, two egg whites, and spinach in a tiny bit of olive oil. I test out the BBQ sauce and find it more palatable than anticipated. I eat and then I head out to help my mom with her yard.

Snack: This is how I know I’ve gotten “old”: I secretly really love yard work, so even though its mowing the grass, spreading mulch, and cleaning off the deck, it’s a good time. Afterwards I have an apple at my mom’s and we make plans for dinner later.

Lunch: At home I bake up the salmon fillets. There were five in the bag (for $3.99!) and I season them with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a Tandoori spice blend, which — as far as I can tell — is compliant. To go with it, I roast off one of the bags of riced cauliflower and frozen broccoli on a separate sheet pan. Budget Bytes gave this tip years ago that it’s super cost-effective to use frozen veggies where you can in your cooking — they’re cheaper, still nutrient-dense, are just as tasty roasted.

Halfway through cooking, I stir up the cauliflower rice and broccoli so that steam is released and it can start caramelizing. The rice is seasoned with cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper — I also spread some of the BBQ sauce onto two of the fish fillets. My plan is to make BBQ salmon bowls, garnished with green onion and cilantro.

After lunch, I package up the leftovers. I get two bowl meals and an extra salmon filletm which gives me a jump on meal prep for the week.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Dinner: My mom and I tend to do a movie and dinner when we hang out and she wanted to treat me to sushi for helping with the yard. At dinner we ordered chicken satay. The chicken is grilled and I bypass the dipping sauce, but eat the raw cucumber slices served as an accompaniment. For mains I order some sashimi, a house salad, and a club soda with lime. The salad comes out dressed in what looks like a mayo-based dressing, but I feel bad sending it back, so I try to eat around the dressing and share the rest with my mom. For the movie I have the RXBar I put in my purse earlier. Halfway through the movie I wonder if the chicken was marinated in anything, and then am distracted by thoughts of popcorn (I abstained) and the movie.

When I get home I eat some strawberries and a spoonful of almond butter that I sprinkled with salt and some cinnamon to try to help it out.

Day 2: Sunday

Breakfast: I drink a huge container of ice water and then have an iced almond milk latte. I’m mildly hungry from not feeling full going to bed the night before. As I decide what I’m going to do today I snack on some blueberries and then make two crispy fried eggs in olive oil (à la Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen). I also sauté spinach to finish last week’s leftover bag. While eating, I psych myself up to call my internet company’s tech support to figure out why I lost internet on Friday. I’m pretty sure the problem is beyond my capabilities to fix, and someone is going to have to come service some part of the setup.

I get off the phone close to noon, after setting up a tech service appointment, and decide that I’m still relatively hungry. So I try my dried fig-almond butter concoction out. Spoiler: It’s not what I imagined it would be, but it gets the job done and I head out for a run.

Post-run coffee: Post run, I’m hot, sweaty and I feel the coffee kick in. I need gas (literally and figuratively!) and there’s a Starbucks along my route, so I pop in for an iced Americano — a shot of espresso over ice, diluted with water, so no added sugar or emulsifiers to be found! I can safely say I miss stevia, but this is not bad and hits the spot.

My coffee trips aren’t really budgeted into my groceries. I use the Starbucks app/ rewards program. In this case I cashed in on some points, so the drink was free.

TOTAL: $0.00

Lunch: At home I pull out one of yesterday’s salmon bowls and decide to repurpose it as fried “rice.” I break the salmon up into large chunks and heat it up with the cauliflower rice and broccoli in a wok. I add grated ginger from a frozen knob I have around (another Budget Bytes tip!) and garlic powder, and finish with a drizzle of sesame oil from my pantry. I enjoy the salmon fried “rice” for lunch with a sparkling water while I type up yesterday and today’s food notes.

Mid-afternoon: I start thinking about food prep for the week. My plan was to make a veggie egg bake for breakfast using up leftover zucchini, and add spinach for bulk. I also have chicken breasts that are destined for my slow cooker, plus sweet potatoes and frozen green beans to roast up. That with my salmon should cover breakfast and at least two to three days of lunch and dinners. I do like variety with my meals, so I prefer to prep components that I can mix and match.  

Later, I blend up some almond milk, almond butter, and frozen blueberries with a tiny bit of salt, cinnamon, and ice. I’m happy to report back it’s really, really delicious and hits that ice cream spot for me (even though it’s 100% not — it’s just icy and a rich purple color and slightly creamy with an earthy cinnamon punch).

Meal prep session 1: I elect to bake up half of my 1.5-pound package of chicken, and save the other two breasts for the slow cooker. I also prick holes into two medium-sized sweet potatoes and rub the exteriors with some olive oil. Both the chicken and potatoes go into the oven at 350 degrees F. I will swap out the chicken for a sheet tray of green beans later. After I can get a knife through the potatoes, I split them in half and roast them face-down until the beans are finished, which makes the insides creamy and lush.

Dinner: I have a baked chicken breast, a sweet potato half, and a not small amount of green beans. For the first time today I feel satiated. I haven’t felt hungry per se, but I definitely haven’t felt completely full either. I package up a portion of the sweet potato and green beans with the leftover chicken breast and add another portion to the extra salmon fillet from yesterday for two complete meals. The leftover portions of potatoes and beans will be consumed with whatever slow cooker chicken idea I come up with.

After dinner I hit the gym to do a lower-body lifting session.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Meal prep session 2: I get home and have energy to whip up the egg bake, two portions of chia seed pudding (I’ve had these chia seeds forever, now seems like the right time to work through them), and slow cooker chicken, and pack a lunch for tomorrow. When I’m done, I pack my lunch and snack on some strawberries and blueberries while watching Outlander on Netflix.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Day 3: Monday

Breakfast: I have my first coffee of the day while I get ready for work. Before leaving, I take the chicken crock out of the fridge, put it in the pot, and then turn the whole thing on low to let it do its thing.

I’m not sure what happened in the hour or so between coffee one and hitting work, but I’m ravenous. I heat the veggie frittata up and have it with a 1/4 avocado, chia seed pudding, and coffee number two (my work’s free coffee with the almond milk I buy periodically for work). I also start the many volumes of water I consume over the day.

Lunch: My worksite has a cafeteria that I walk over to on a regular basis. Usually I grab some kind of fruit, nuts, or sparkling water, and settle in at my desk to eat. For lunch I brought the salmon, green beans, and sweet potato half to have with my orange. I also decided to be bold and get the grapefruit flavor Bubly today. I have to say, I feel like I’ve directly pivoted my raging diet soda addiction directly over to sparkling water.

TOTAL: $1.80

Snack: I have my Mixed Berry RXBar about an hour or so later. I think I need to bump up my calories and water intake in response to having lifted weights yesterday; I feel unusually hungry.

Dinner: I get home from work and I immediately hit the almond butter for a spoonful; the impulse is so strong that I don’t really care about it being a wan flavor. Normally I would delay eating until slightly later, but today I see no reason to, so I start my dinner off with my nut butter snack.  

I turn off the slow cooker and take a leftover sweet potato half and some of the green beans out of the fridge. I heat them up in the oven. When I’m ready I shred one of the crochicken breasts and season it up with chili powder and cumin. I find the only thing the balsamic brine did was stain the exterior of the chicken breast, but once shredded the color is not really apparent. I top it off with some green onion and cilantro for a Southwestern-inspired stuffed sweet potato with some of the BBQ sauce on top, plus a sparkling water.

Snack: A rogue obsession with making cabbage chips takes hold. A quick Google search tells me this is very much a thing, and the idea of dipping the purple leaves into a salt and vinegar solution before baking them up crispy-like sounds like a fun experiment, so I decide to give the cabbage chips a whirl. I slice the head in half, core it, and break it down into large, leafy chip-sized pieces which I swish through a mixture of apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and onion powder. I bake them at 400°F on parchment paper, checking every so often. They don’t go full chip mode, as the thinner pieces almost burned through their crispy stage and the thicker pieces are just cooked through the middle, but they aren’t bad either. I think the vinegar coating steamed them somewhat.

Evening: I belong to a local amateur sports league and our monthly meeting is tonight so I package up the cabbage and take them with me for my snack. I also bring a case of diet cherry limeade seltzer I had — that wasn’t compliant — to share (it had aspartame in it). I also would go out on a limb and say that I’d share the cabbage chips, but well … the recipe needs refinement, if I’m honest.

At the meeting, I eat my cabbage chips and they’re … fine. I spy some beer, which I’m surprised I’m not tempted by. I do love a drink to wind down from the day. I expected the letting go of alcohol would be a really hard part of Whole30 for me, but I’m finding I don’t miss it yet. It’s also early in the 30 days for me, and I haven’t done much socializing, so only time will tell.

Day 4: Tuesday

Breakfast: I have my internet tech support appointment scheduled for this morning, so I eat breakfast at home. However, I delay eating a bit later than usual and just enjoy a collagen coffee. I’m almost out of the peptides and am debating re-upping the supplement. I do enjoy it, as it dissolves into the coffee and is flavorless, which makes the experience of using it much more palatable as a protein supplement.

Then I have two crispy laced eggs fried in olive oil, a ton of sautéed spinach, and a quarter of an avocado with some blueberries. I quite enjoy the BBQ sauce condiment so I throw some of that on the side to dip the crisped eggy edges in and cut the flavor of the fat. I’m glad I grabbed it over the ketchup as it’s been more versatile than I expected.  

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Lunch: Tech support is running behind — of course! They’re going to be here for almost an hour later than the quoted window, but that means I also get to eat my lunch at home. Despite drinking water, I’m feeling peckish and like I need a bigger meal. So, I take the last portion of the sweet potato and green beens and add them to the last salmon BBQ bowl I have. I definitely feel full afterwards, and have a few strawberries to balance everything out.

As I make a second coffee while I wait, I notice my almond milk is low, so a shop is definitely in order. I’m thinking of getting almond milk, eggs, onion, more sweet potatoes, maybe an actual white potato, and another fruit of some kind.

Dinner: I find some carrots in my fridge from a leftover bag I always seem to have kicking around, so I peel two larger ones and munch on them when I get home.  About an hour later — around 6 p.m. — I decided to cook up the last of the carrots (it was their time) and my last zucchini (finally!). The carrots get a quick sauté with tandoori spice powder and pepper, and the zucchini gets dusted with chili powder. It makes quite a lot and I eat half of the veggies with my last chicken breast, and save the other half for later.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

As I’m sautéing the zucchini I remember a recipe from Smitten Kitchen about zucchini carpaccio, and I make a mental note to try it sometime. It seems easily adaptable to the Whole30 ethos, and would be good for when it’s hot and I want to give my stove a break. I round out the meal with a few blueberries.

Grocery shopping: I prefer to workout at night, so I indulge myself in my routine and plan to get supplies on my way home. After my gym session, I head to Walmart and pick up the few items I need to get me through the end of the week and into the weekend. While there I find, on a bottom shelf in the chip aisle of all places, whole pitted dates! So of course I bought them, and scurried home to see what it would taste like with almond butter.

My plan was to pivot off RXBars by eating dates, almond butter, and hard-boiled eggs as snacks (an idea I gleaned from the many, many Whole30 blogs on the internet). The bars have their place and are handy, but as I’ve been further educating myself about what Whole30 is about, I feel like the deconstructed snack pack is a better use of money and more in line with how I should be approaching my experience.  

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock, Design: Kitchn

Total: $9.97

Day 5: Wednesday

Breakfast: At the risk of being boring, I follow my morning routine. I have my morning coffee and then I head into work, where I eat my breakfast at my desk with another coffee. I packed a double portion of the chia seed pudding, a regular serving of the veggie frittata, and 1/4 of the avocado. I opt for hot coffee today, as my desk is pretty chilly. Maybe it was the combo of the hot coffee and the extra chia seeds, but I feel satiated and energized after breakfast.

Before I left for work, I took out a package of ground turkey and two bags of chopped spinach to thaw.

Lunch: I have to run an errand at noon, and when I return I eat my packed lunch. It’s a leftover baked chicken breast from Monday with green beans and half a sweet potato. About an hour later I have a hot tea.

I am generally not a very savory carb loving person. I can do without bread, chips, fries, etc. I tend to trend towards sugar and dessert (cookies, ice cream, and, to a lesser extent, candy) if I’m going to have junk-food cravings. So it’s unsurprising to me that I’m kind of over the sweet potato and am looking forward to different foods coming from tonight’s cooking. I have my lunch with water, and while eating realize I probably also need more eggs.

Grocery shopping: On my way home I stop in at Aldi to grab eggs, sparkling mineral water, and impulsively grab sunflower seeds at checkout for a snack. I prefer the quality of the eggs I can get at Aldi — especially because I find that I work them into so many parts of my diet now.

I feel off when I get home so I take a short power nap. Then I have some mango and a date/almond butter combo before I start prepping dinner.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock, Design: Kitchn

Total: $4.98

Meal prep: Without quite realizing it, I set myself up for a pretty heavy meal prep session by planning to make roasted potatoes, turkey burgers, and spinach balls. However, my stock of prepped food is gone so I go for it.

The yield from this session is one dinner and two lunches. I found the turkey burger to be dense upon consumption, so breaking up the patty for lunch seemed reasonable, plus I have an extra burger to use for something.

Dinner: Dinner is a turkey burger patty, four spinach balls, and a quarter of the potatoes, and it’s making me realize I kind of really miss ketchup. I also boil four eggs while I eat. I am exceptionally full, and while I had plans to go run and lift, the lure of the couch is too great and I hang out with my cat watching Netflix until I get up and pack my lunch for the next day.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Day 6: Thursday

Breakfast: I have my morning coffee at home while I get ready. I have meetings running from nine until noon, so when I get into my desk I wolf down my frittata and avocado. I still feel full from the night before, so I bypass the chia seed pudding and leave half of my avocado for later or tomorrow’s breakfast.

Lunch: My work has a heavily sponsored wellness program onsite, and one of the benefits is free lunchtime yoga classes. Since we’re scrimmaging at practice later this evening, I take the opportunity to go work some kinks out and get a little loosened up from sitting all morning. I swing by the cafeteria, but the fruit selection is sad, so I return to my desk. Lunch is half of a leftover turkey patty, roasted potatoes, and spinach balls. I also have this morning’s chia seed pudding for dessert.

Snack: I packed my deconstructed RXBar (two hard-boiled eggs, almond butter, four dates) that I have with a hot tea and some more water. I’m not the biggest fan of hard-boiled eggs, but when they accompany the dates and almond butter, it’s alright.

Dinner: Hash sounds like a good idea, so I take the prepped dinner-sized meal from yesterday and repurpose it. I sauté a bit of yellow onion with some green pepper in a pan with olive oil before I add the potatoes and chopped spinach balls. Once that has gotten a bit of a chance to heat, I break the leftover turkey patty into chunks over the mixture and finish cooking. It comes together pretty quickly and I garnish with green onion. I watch some Outlander, which seems to be my latest Netflix obsession, with my cat while I eat. Later, before I leave for practice, I have two more date/almond butter things to make sure I’m fueled to play.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

Post practice: After scrimmaging, usually there’s a team hang-out, and someone brought non-alcoholic flavored seltzer, so I indulge in one. When I get home I feel a bit hollow so I have the last of the strawberries before bed.

Day 7: Friday

Breakfast: I’m ravenous when I wake up. I figured this would happen and I’m glad I opted to have potatoes plus extra dates for dinner or I definitely wouldn’t have had the energy for last night. I have my standard almond milk latte, and get ready for my day. At work I have the last of my frittata and the leftover avocado from yesterday’s breakfast with another coffee. About an hour later I side-eye my snack pack, and have half of its contents (one hard-boiled egg and two almond butter/dates).

Lunch: The café has fresh fruit cups today!  So of course I have one — it’s Friday and I’m getting wild — and purchase a seltzer. At my desk I wolf down the fruit cup before I go to a meeting. When I return I eat my packed lunch of turkey burger, potato, and spinach balls.  

TOTAL: $2.75

Snack: I eat the other half of my snack pack. It’s slightly satiating and I know that I’m going to need to have a big dinner tonight, but I feel OK for now and plan to go workout after work.

Dinner: I went a little harder than I expected at the gym, which is fine, but on the drive home I fantasize about a burger topped with slaw and a crispy egg. Conveniently, I have all of the components to make that a reality and I can’t wait to get home.

At home I make a quick slaw with the cabbage using green onions, cilantro, and bell pepper. I marinate it in a simple vinaigrette with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger while I heat up my last turkey burger and the side of carrots and zucchini I saved from earlier in the week. When I finally assemble everything, I have a delicious-looking plate and I can’t wait to eat. The crispy egg was a perfect touch on top.

Credit: Courtesy of Alicia

My evening ends with some almond butter, mango, and frozen blueberries. I was supposed to go out with a friend, but the plans fell through, so I relax at home and continue watching Outlander.

Credit: The Kitchn

1. How did you set your food budget?

My food budget is set semi-flexibly. I’m not as strict with it as I could be, but it’s set based upon how much I feel is reasonable to spend on food given my standard diet. Usually, I shop in sync with a pay period where I have one large shop that’s usually in the $75 to $80 range at the start of the pay cycle, and then a second supplementary shop the following week for necessities that’s in the $20 to $40 range. So, the average over two weeks is about $50 to $75. If I’m replacing spices or pantry staples, this fluctuates a bit higher. I also like using Ibotta for coupons, and I have a mental set point of what I’m willing to pay for items. Generally, if it seems too expensive, it most likely is, and I can go without it.

I did some research into doing a budget-friendly Whole30 and what I found fell in line. That being said, I am actually considering increasing my grocery budget for the rest, as my mid-week shopping was fueled out of a mini-freak out that I was running out of compliant food (and also unanticipated fluctuations in my hunger levels) and I would just rather avoid that mental stress.  

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

Frozen veggies (broccoli, green beans, spinach), a stocked pantry (oils, vinegar, spices), frozen salmon, almond milk, frozen blueberries, spinach, oranges, nuts, eggs, ketchup (next week you’ll be mine, Whole30-compliant ketchup!), canned tuna, cilantro, green onions, garlic, red onions.

If I was not on Whole30, this list would also include corn tortillas, tortilla chips, cheese, popcorn, wasabi-flavored almonds, peanut puffs, and ice cream.

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

Sheet pan bakes using frozen vegetables, for sure. They’re minimal effort, you can season them how you like, and there’s minimal waste from preparing them. You just chuck it on a sheet pan, season it up, give it a stir occasionally, make sure your protein is cooked through, and you’re done! It’s also pretty hands-off.

I also love using my slow cooker to cook chicken breasts and pork tenderloins; the meat ends up in a moist, easily shreddable texture and goes great on salads. Generally, I’m game to try anything Budget Bytes puts out — Beth Moncel is incredibly creative and budget-savvy, plus she tends to cook with a lot of bold flavors I find really tasty. I also get a lot of technique inspiration from Smitten Kitchen.

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.