How a Couple Eats for $120 a Week in Woodbury, Minnesota

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Welcome to Kitchn’s Food Budget Diaries series, where we show you how people around the country spend money on what they eat and drink. Each post will follow one person for one week and will chronicle everything that person consumed and how much it costs them.

Name: Jack
Location: Woodbury, MN
Age: 22
Number of people in family: 2 (my girlfriend Jessi and me)
Occupation: IT consultant (me) and clinic registrar (Jessi)
Household income: $80,000 (combined)
Weekly food budget: $120 ($70 for groceries, $50 for eating out)

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Day 1: Monday

4:30 a.m.: Jessi wakes up and eats a bowl of cereal for breakfast. She grabs the lunch she packed last night (stir-fry and an apple), packs up some pretzels and a piece of banana bread for a snack, and heads off to work.

6:55 a.m.: I wake up five minutes before my first meeting of the day, grab a quick bowl of cereal, and make it to my computer with one minute to spare. That’s plenty of time to boot my computer and connect to the meeting. I eat my bowl of cereal during the meeting (while I’m on mute, of course). If it wasn’t clear yet, I work from home.

9:30 a.m.: Jessi eats the pretzels she brought as a quick snack before lunch.

10:45 a.m.: Jessi eats leftover stir-fry and an apple for lunch. We made this stir-fry last night for dinner. Although we don’t follow a recipe, we do basically follow the formula outlined by Epicurious. It’s a great way to use up a bunch of vegetables and make something (mostly) healthy fairly quickly.

11:30 a.m.: I also eat leftover stir-fry for lunch with a leftover croissant as a side. I made homemade croissants for the first time last weekend using this recipe from Chef John’s Food Wishes blog. Here’s the YouTube video with accompanying blog post. They took a long time to make, but they turned out great!

12:30 p.m.: After lunch, I run some errands, including dropping off lacrosse equipment to the club’s equipment manager, getting gas, stopping by the bank, and grocery shopping for the week. We use Trello to keep track of meal plans, grocery lists, and general to-do items. Once I’m at the grocery store, I open up the grocery list we made last night and whip through the store. Here’s what I got.

Cub Foods

White beans, $.69
Diced tomatoes, $.99
Green chiles, $.99
Orzo pasta, $1.29
Chicken broth, $1.99
All-purpose flour, $1.99
6 pounds chicken breasts, $18.03
Celery, $1.99
2.23 pounds asparagus, $6.67
Cauliflower, $2.99
Medium yellow onion, $1.11
Green bell pepper, $.79
Ginger root, $.66
Baby spinach, $3.29
Strawberries (2 packages), $6.98
Lime juice, $.99
Skim milk, $2.79
Butter, $3.29

Total: $57.52

1:15 p.m.: Jessi eats a piece of the banana bread that I made last week as another snack. I’m pretty sure this is a family recipe, and I couldn’t find it online anywhere. Sorry!

4:30 p.m.: We each eat an Oreo. They’re sitting on the counter, and they’re hard to resist as we start making dinner. For dinner, I’m making a new chicken and orzo skillet recipe that I found (new to me, anyway). I’m using fresh spinach instead of frozen, and Jessi is making roasted asparagus as a side.

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We definitely eat dinner earlier than most, but it’s how I grew up. Old habits die hard, as they say. After dinner, Jessi and I pack up leftovers to eat for lunch tomorrow and clean up the dishes.

6:00 p.m.: We each eat a cheesecake cupcake from Nadia Cakes for dessert.

Nadia Cakes

2 cheesecake cupcakes, $3.75 each

Total: $7.50

11:00 p.m.: I occasionally have late-night meetings with our off-shore development team when there’s something urgent to discuss. I know I really shouldn’t be eating this late, but I chow down on the last leftover croissant as I bring the team up to speed. (Just to be clear, I only eat while I’m on mute; no one wants to hear that.)

Day 2: Tuesday

4:30 a.m.: Today starts the same way as yesterday. Jessi wakes up and eats a bowl of cereal for breakfast. She grabs the lunch she packed last night (leftovers from dinner and strawberries), packs up some pretzels for a snack, and heads off to work.

6:55 a.m.: I wake up five minutes before my first meeting of the day, grab a quick bowl of cereal, and make it to my computer with one minute to spare (again). I ended up talking for a lot of this meeting, so my cereal gets soggy. That’s a risk I’m willing to take, though. I also grabbed a little piece of the Danish puff that I made last week. The recipe makes two puffs, so I gave one to my mom. However, that still means that I have a whole puff to myself (Jessi doesn’t like the taste of almond extract). It’s going to take me a while to get through it.

9:30 a.m.: Jessi eats the pretzels she brought as a quick snack before lunch.

10:45 a.m.: Jessi and I both eat leftovers for lunch, albeit in different spots. Jessi eats hers in the break room at work, and I eat mine while watching a TV show. I also eat more of the Danish puff I mentioned earlier.

4:45 p.m.: Jessi and I meet my grandparents at their house to go out for dinner with them. We try to see my grandparents at least once a month. Last time we saw them, my grandma was telling me about a pub that just opened nearby; apparently their corned beef is excellent, so we decide to go there for dinner.

5 p.m.: We’re at the restaurant now. On Grandma’s recommendation, I get a BLT with corned beef on it. Jessi gets a beef dip sandwich — this is an Irish pub, so apparently they don’t want to call it a French dip. To be honest, I’ve had better corned beef, but our sandwiches are pretty good overall. Grandma pays.

Day 3: Wednesday

4:30 a.m.: Jessi wakes up and eats a bowl of cereal for breakfast. She didn’t pack herself a lunch last night, so she has to pack it this morning. There aren’t any leftovers from the pub, so she grabs the last of the stir-fry from a few days ago and some strawberries. She also packs up some pretzels for a snack, and heads off to work.

6:55 a.m.: I wake up five minutes before my first meeting of the day, open the cupboard to grab a quick bowl of cereal. Oh, that’s right … I ate the last of my cereal yesterday. I grab a granola bar and some water instead, then head downstairs to my office and get to work.

10:45 a.m.: Jessi eats the last of the stir-fry for lunch. She also has some strawberries and a few Oreos.

1 p.m.: There are no leftovers for me to eat today since we went out to dinner last night, so I go out to eat. I try to only go out to eat for lunch once a week. I much prefer grabbing leftovers anyway, so that’s usually not too hard. I go to Piada for lunch and get their eponymous piada for lunch. In case you’re curious, a “piada” is basically an Italian burrito, and the restaurant is essentially an Italian Chipotle.

Piada Italian Street Food

Piada with sausage, $9.30

Total: $9.30

3:30 p.m.: I prep vegetables for dinner. I decided to get started now because I have a phone call for work at 4 p.m., and I’d like to get dinner started as soon as it’s done (again, I prefer to eat early).

4:30 p.m.: I make white chicken chili for dinner. I’ve only made white chicken chili once before. It was a disappointment last time, and Jessi has been reluctant to let me try again. It definitely turned out better this time, but I still feel like I could make some improvements.

Day 4: Thursday

4:30 a.m.: Jessi wakes up and eats a bowl of cereal for breakfast. She grabs the lunch she packed last night, packs up some pretzels for a snack, and heads off to work. As you might have noticed by now, breakfast is usually a quick affair. We keep telling ourselves that we should make something healthier for breakfast (like eggs), but it hasn’t happened yet.

8 a.m.: The Danish puff that I made last Saturday is getting past its prime, so I decided to finish it off for breakfast. Dessert for breakfast!

10:45 a.m.: Jessi has lunch, including chili from last night and a vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting from work. The clinic where she works brings in treats every other week or so, which helps break up the monotony of having leftovers every day.

1:30 p.m.: Today was a pretty busy day, so I’m eating a bit of a later lunch. The white chicken chili was much better today than it was last night. Food always tastes better when it marinates overnight. I ate lunch today while watching food videos.

5 p.m.: I make General Tso cauliflower for dinner. I attempted to make it using this homemade chili sauce that someone gave me. It’s only been in my fridge for a bit, so it should be fine, right? Nope. I’m not sure whether it was spoiled or just poorly made, but the sauce that I made with it had a terrible aftertaste. We each ate a bite then promptly threw the rest away and got pizza instead. And yes, Domino’s isn’t the best pizza out there, but it’s the fastest.

Domino’s Pizza

8-piece mild wings, $6.99
Medium pizza, $5.99

Total including delivery, tax, and gratuity: $21

7 p.m.: Since we already screwed up eating healthy for tonight, we decided to also make Oreo milkshakes. We don’t do anything fancy to make milkshakes — just toss some Oreos, vanilla ice cream, and milk in a blender.

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Day 5: Friday

5:42 a.m.: We’re out of cereal now, so Jessi stopped by Caribou on her way to work for breakfast. Also, it’s Friday so treat yo’ self.

Caribou Coffee and Bagels

Sparkling tea, $3.79
3-pack Shmearfuls, $3.99

Total including tax: $8.33

6 a.m.: I have to go to a client site for a few meetings today, meaning I have to get up a bit earlier. Since we’re out of cereal, I grab a granola bar and head out the door. Every time I drive through rush hour, I’m reminded of how great it is to work at home.

10:30 a.m.: Since dinner didn’t turn out, Jessi didn’t really have any leftovers (and she refused to eat the white chicken chili again). She ordered Jimmy John’s for lunch.

Jimmy John’s

Club Lulu sandwich $6.99
Add avocado $ 0.79
Cookie $1.49

Total including delivery, tax and gratuity: $14.47

12 p.m.: I eat the leftover pizza from dinner last night as soon as I get back from being on site at a client. I’m taking the afternoon off, though, since I have to work Saturday morning.

5 p.m.: My parents are having Jessi, my brother, and I over for dinner, so I offer to make them homemade linguine with Alfredo sauce. This is my first time making homemade pasta, and it turned out pretty good. I’m sure it will get better as my technique improves.

Day 6: Saturday

10 a.m.: Unfortunately, I have to be available to support a production deployment for one of my customers this morning. On the plus side, they’re based in Arizona, so even though they’re starting bright and early (6 a.m. AZ time), it’s not that early for me (8 a.m. MN time). Now seems like a good time to take a break and make pancakes since Jessi’s up.

I’m still working on finding the perfect pancake recipe. Last weekend, I tried this recipe. It was pretty good, but not exactly what I’m looking for. Today, I tried this recipe. They’re buttermilk pancakes instead. They were also pretty good, but I still feel like they’re not quite what I’m looking for in a pancake recipe. Oh well, I’ll try a different recipe next weekend (maybe this one?).

4 p.m.: I make jerk chicken tacos for dinner. They turn out really good, but next time I’m going to cut the chicken into strips rather than trying to cook the entire breast at once. It will cut down on cook time, and I’m shredding them anyway.

Day 7: Sunday

11 a.m.: For breakfast (more like brunch) today, we reheat leftover pancakes from yesterday in a toaster oven. I’ve found that reheating pancakes in the toaster oven yields a much better result than doing so in the microwave. The microwave makes them soggy.

4 p.m.: For dinner, I make balsamic chicken with roasted carrots and asparagus. During dinner, we plan out our meals for the next week. Here’s what we’re planning, but no promises that we’ll stick to it.

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1. How did you set your food budget?

When we first started living together, we didn’t set a food budget; rather, we kept track of what we spent for a few weeks and used that as a starting point. After tracking food spending for about two months, the average was around $120 per week. This fit quite well into our budget, so we decided to stick with it.

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

Cayenne pepper, pasta, onions, and chicken.

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

Our favorite budget recipe is tacos. We always seem to have tortillas, salsa, and cheese in the fridge, so the only thing we have to buy to complete the meal is the meat. It’s also an easy recipe to dress up or down depending on how much effort or budget you want to put in. The lowest-effort and lowest-budget version is just cheese and meat with salsa on the side, but there are a bunch of ways to improve it from there.

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 food budget diary with Kitchn? See how here.

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