How a Family of 2 Eats for $250 a Week in Washington, D.C.
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.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Number of people in family: 2 (my husband and me, plus our dog)
Occupation: I’m a buyer for a grocery chain, and my husband Harry works in business development for a tech company.
Household income: $206,000 (combined)
Weekly food budget: $250
Day 1: Friday
6:30 a.m.: It’s almost the weekend! Up and getting ready for work. It takes me a bit to get going: two espresso shots consumed on the sofa while staring into space and a prenatal gummy candy (my husband and I are beginning IVF soon).
7:30 a.m.: I bring my husband, Harry, a coffee to gently wake him (I’m a morning person, he SO is not) and make lunches for the day. I use the Prepd bento box system — it’s fun to be creative within the parameters of what fits in the boxes. Lunch today for Harry: leftover smoked trout salad, two Medjool dates, and some almond butter and crackers. I have lunch plans today with coworkers.
7:45 a.m.: I walk our very old cocker spaniel and head to work.
8:30 a.m.: Arrive at work and eat breakfast — Siggi’s yogurt and granola. My favorite granola is Kashi but my job in the grocery industry provides a LOT of random free food so I’m using up granola from a giveaway. I fill up my water bottle and settle into work.
10 a.m.: I sample a product I’m working on and take notes.
11:30 a.m.: I try a new beverage that a coworker is developing and we decide to leave for lunch with another friend. My husband and I realized a couple of years ago that one of the best ways to save money on food is to bring lunch as much as possible. I have some great friends at work, though, so I usually end up out for lunch once a week or so.
12 p.m.: Sweetgreen! I bring my own water and spend $11.83 on a chicken pesto Parm grain bowl. My friends and I have a good time gossiping and catching up.
Chicken pesto Parmesan grain bowl, $10.75
Total including tax: $11.83
3:30 p.m.: It’s super hard to work in the food world and not eat everything in sight. I let my guard down to sample some new bakery items.
5 p.m.: A work friend (who is now an all-the-time friend) and I go to a whisky bar in Chinatown. We hang out for a couple of hours and I have an old-fashioned and a gin and tonic. My friend treats us both to a bowl of fries. My husband and I moved back to D.C. about two years ago. He went to grad school here and so came back to friends. I’m so lucky to have made my own friends here, too.
Crimson Whiskey Bar
2 cocktails, $18
7 p.m.: We walk over to a nearby speakeasy to make a 7 p.m. reservation and meet some other friends. I’m close to middle-aged and I don’t usually go out like this (or spend this much money on booze), but I’m having so much fun. I order a Sazerac and drink it slowly.
Denson Liquor Bar
Total including tax: $15.40
9:30 p.m.: Head home and I’m STARVED. The whiskey bar was under a hipster diner — why did I not order a burger? I greet my husband and eat the rest of the smoked trout salad. Harry ate a frozen Buffalo chicken pizza that had been sitting in the freezer for who knows how long.
11 p.m.: My husband and I love watching certain shows over and over — it’s so comforting. We are working our way through Parks and Recreation for the umpteenth time. We watch an episode and fall asleep.
Day 2: Saturday
7 a.m.: I’m an early riser, even on the weekend. I wake up and drink coffee while reading a tabloid some angel left in my building’s lobby. It’s a relaxing way to start my weekend.
8 a.m.: Eat the last of the cherries from last week’s farmers market haul and make my grocery list for the week. I love to cook and I rarely make a grocery list starting from scratch — I usually have odds and ends in the fridge and freezer that I’m trying to use. What I’m starting with this week:
- Half a block of tofu
- Chile crisp oil that I made last weekend
- Jar of kimchi
- Bag of white rice
- LOTS of frozen salmon in the freezer
- Bag of frozen shrimp
I save interesting recipes in Pinterest and have a good time figuring out what we’ll be eating next week. I grab my stash of reusable bags and walk over to my gym before grocery shopping.
9 a.m.: I go to what’s basically an adult gymnastics class and when I flip myself upside down I feel every drop of last night’s cocktails. This is why I shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach!
10 a.m.: I walk five blocks to Whole Foods and then five blocks back carrying my bags — this counts as more cardio, right? Drop off the food, pick up my dog, and go to the farmers market.
Chicken sausage, $8.57
Siggi’s yogurt, $6.36
Corn tortillas, $1.15
Plugra butter, $3.99
Pita bread, $3.49
Kosher salt, $2.49
Dishwashing liquid, $2.11
Yellow onions, $1.43
Navel oranges, $1
Serrano chiles, $.72
Total including tax: $50.18
11 a.m.: I love having a farmers market right next to my house. My shopping in the summer is much different than in the winter — I build the whole week’s menu around what I think I can find at the market. I buy cheddar scallion biscuits from a local bakery, and some various fruits and veg. Bonus is that my dog loves all the attention she gets.
11:30 a.m.: I’m starved and I eat a favorite snack — toasted pita with some olive oil and roasted red pepper flakes, sprinkled with flaky salt. I go shower and get ready for the day before my husband gets home from the gym.
1 p.m.: Make a late brunch of scrambled eggs, biscuits from the farmers market, and sliced donut peaches from the farmers market. Harry and I decide to do one of our favorite local activities: walk to a food hall that has a movie theater attached. We’ll see a movie and get a burger afterward. We spend the rest of the afternoon lounging on the sofa and reading. I even sneak in a nap.
5 p.m.: Arrive at the movies a bit early — just in time for some amazing gelato at the place next door. Harry and I each get a scoop of caramel sea salt.
2 scoops caramel sea salt ice cream, $5.50
7 p.m.: We saw the newest Mission Impossible and it was so entertaining. We go to the food hall and get burgers and wine. We pass an arepa stand on our way out and buy one to split — I lived in Miami for awhile and can’t resist. We can’t finish it and take it home to incorporate into tomorrow morning’s breakfast.
2 burgers, $20.50
2 glasses of wine, $16
Total including tax and gratuity: $49.15
1 arepa, $7
Total, including tax & tip: $8.70
9 p.m.: Home and sitting on the balcony, drinking rosé and listening to the cicadas. We save a lot of money on not going out by having lots of cheapish vihno verde and rosé around. We made sure to have a nice balcony when we bought our apartment and we use it all summer. We’re Floridians so the hot humid D.C. summers feel like home.
11 p.m.: Harry takes the dog for a last walk, then we watch Parks and Recreation before bedtime.
Day 3: Sunday
7 a.m.: Get up, coffee, gummy, head out for a run before it gets too hot. Get home and take my dog to a local splash pad — she loves running around in the water.
9 p.m.: Do some meal prep for the week and make red lentil falafel.
11 a.m.: I make scrambled eggs with the chicken from our leftover arepa, some black beans I found in the freezer, cilantro, scallion, and top them with some guacamole I found at work. I’m trying not to eat too many carbs, but Harry has some corn tortillas on the side.
2 p.m.: My husband and I recently finished Ken Burn’s Vietnam and decided to begin another documentary. We watch an episode of The West.
4 p.m.: Balcony wine time — we split a bottle of white wine and eat some Sicilian potato chips I found at work. My husband keeps an herb garden on the balcony and our basil is bolting! I make a mental note to use it up before it wilts.
6 p.m.: For some reason about a year ago we started listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors every Sunday and now it’s a traditional end to the week. We turn it on while I make a celery/green bean/tofu salad. I top it with chile crisp and, using some of the tomatoes I bought at the farmers market, I make a favorite summer recipe: a tomato tart.
8 p.m.: We go out to the balcony and have a final glass of wine while the sun is setting.
9 p.m.: Watch a couple of episodes of High Maintenance and go to bed.
Day 4: Monday
6:30 a.m.: It’s the beginning of what I know will be a crazy week. Have coffee and a gummy.
7:30 a.m.: Bring Harry a coffee and walk the dog. I make our lunches using leftovers from last night: tomato tart, celery and bean salad, and cut-up peaches from the farmers market. Head to work.
10 a.m.: We have a presentation at work tomorrow and a coworker and I drive to the closest store of the grocery chain I work for to get samples. I buy a few personal items: a pretzel from the bakery (I can never resist), a bottle of Rueda Verdejo, and a brush for our building’s communal grill that my husband has requested.
2 p.m.: Finally get back to work and I’m starved. Eat my lunch with a sparkling water I found at work.
4 p.m.: I have some almond butter with a couple of Wasa crackers that I found at work a few weeks ago.
5 p.m.: Cookie tasting at work!
6:30 p.m.: Get home and start dinner while Harry is at the gym. I make pan-roasted salmon with fennel salad. I add some baby kale, falafel, and pita on the side and top with pistachios I found in the back of my pantry. To drink we have sparkling water. A few years ago Harry bought me a Sodastream for Christmas and I love having sparkling water around all the time.
7:30 p.m.: Harry cleans up and takes the dog for a walk. We spend some time reading and chatting.
9 p.m.: We’re really into Succession on HBO right now. Watch an episode and go to bed.
Day 5: Tuesday
6:30 a.m.: Wake up, coffee, gummy.
7:30 a.m.: Wake Harry with a coffee and make lunch for us both. Lunch is leftovers from last night and a peach. Walk the dog and go to work.
8:30 a.m.: Arrive at work and have my morning yogurt and granola.
9 a.m.: Run around all morning getting ready for our presentation.
1 p.m.: Finally eat lunch along with some blue corn chips that I find at work.
4 p.m.: My team and I are leaving early to throw our coworker a “Dachelor Party” — a party for a dad right before his first child is born. We go to a cute beer garden. I don’t drink beer but get an old-fashioned to start, then split a smoked fish plate and mussels with a coworker. I order a rosé to go along with it. Everyone has a great time!
Heritage Brewing Company
2 drinks, $14
2 burgers, $26.50
1 pretzel, $.50
Total including gratuity: $45.17
8 p.m.: Say goodbye to everyone and head home. Harry texts to say he’s just leaving work and wants to go to the taco place near our house — he’s been interviewing for a new job and wants some comfort food. I meet him and keep him company while he has a couple of tacos and chips and guac.
Tacos, chips and guacamole: $15
9:30 p.m.: We go home and walk the dog. We spend a long while discussing the pros and cons of his possible new position. Since we are hoping to start a family soon there’s a lot to consider.
11:30 p.m.: Watch an episode of Parks and Recreation before we fall into bed.
Day 6: Wednesday
6:30 a.m.: Wake up and am so tired. Make a triple espresso, eat my gummy, and attempt to get going for the day.
7:30 a.m.: Try to rouse Harry with a double espresso. Make lunch for both of us — falafel sandwiches (pita, falafel, baby kale), the rest of the blue corn chips I found yesterday at work, and a peach.
8:30 a.m.: Walk the dog and head to work.
9 a.m.: Eat my yogurt and granola and try to get some work done.
12 p.m.: Join my coworkers in our cafeteria for lunch. I add a bottle of Perrier from the stash I keep in the communal fridge.
1 p.m.: Harry and I usually eat whatever we’ve packed for lunch the night before. Today, though, he’s taken out to lunch at a fancy D.C. steak place by his boss. He texts me to let me know he won’t need lunch tomorrow.
4 p.m.: Have a snack before I go to a core and flexibility class at my gym: seaweed I got from work, and a date.
6:30 p.m.: Spend most of my class in a handstand — so much fun and so hard!
7:30 p.m.: Husband got the job offer! I make some more comfort food: gnocchi skillet with tomatoes, chicken sausage, and basil. I use the cherry tomatoes I bought at the farmers market and some basil from Harry’s balcony garden. We split a bottle of wine and talk about his offer.
8:30 p.m.: We clean up and Harry walks the dog.
9:30 p.m.: We talk some more, watch Parks and Recreation, and go to bed.
Day 7: Thursday
6:30 a.m.: Coffee, gummy, so tired.
7:30 a.m.: Bring husband a coffee. Harry’s boss took him out to lunch yesterday and nicely paid so I only need to pack lunch for myself. He’ll eat his lunch from yesterday today. I take the leftovers from last night, a peach, and some seaweed sheets.
8 a.m.: Walk the dog, leave for work.
9 a.m.: Have my granola and yogurt and get to work.
12 p.m.: Lunchtime! I think the gnocchi dish is actually even better reheated. Eat lunch in the office kitchen and chat with coworkers.
3 p.m.: I need some items for work and drive over to Trader Joe’s. As per usual I buy a couple of things for myself — more Vinho Verde and a bottle of red pepper flakes.
Red pepper flakes
8 p.m.: Harry cleans up and walks the dog. We both spend some time reading.
9 p.m.: Harry and I are both exhausted. We watch an episode of Succession and go to bed.
Editor’s Note: Harry ended up taking the job!
1. How did you set your food budget?
In our late 20s and early 30s, our food budget was out of control. We ate out all the time, ran up bar tabs, and went to Bloody Mary brunches on weekends. It was crazy! Once we got a little older, we started getting our financial ducks in a row. We consulted a financial advisor (who we still talk to whenever we are thinking about making a big financial move), bought our first house, and started aggressively paying off my husband’s student loan debt.
We have a big budget spreadsheet and to set this portion of our budget, we took a look at our grocery and dining spending and started talking about what we could cut. Our grocery budget has always been fairly reasonable, but we’ve had to better manage our dining out. We have a rule that we only eat at nicer restaurants when we are with friends or family and that helps us manage our food budget quite a bit. It also helps that eating at home is almost always healthier for us than eating out.
2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?
Olive oil, of course. Eggs, kimchi, rice, scallions, some kind of beans. I can always make something good with those items, Sriracha, and soy sauce.
3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?
Things like the eggs I made on Sunday, or a lovely dish called “trash salad” keep me from wasting food. If I have some interesting condiments, grains or greens, beans, and something with crunch (like nuts, fried bread cubes, or panko) I can make something filling, healthy-ish, and delicious.