Grocery Diaries

How a Family of 3 Eats for $200 a Week in Ketchikan, Alaska

updated May 24, 2019
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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: Katie
Location: Ketchikan, Alaska
Age: 30
Number of people in family: 3 (me; my husband, Leif, 39; and our 21-month-old son, Canyon)
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom; my husband is a high school science teacher
Household income: $50,000 a year
Weekly food budget: $200

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day 1: Tuesday

6 a.m.: My son is up, and I nurse him in hopes we might get another hour of sleep. My husband, a high-school science teacher, gets up for work. He makes himself an espresso with half-and-half and eats a bowl of steel-cut oats I made last night. I make the same breakfast five or six mornings a week: steel-cut oats in a mini slow cooker with cinnamon, ginger, coconut oil, and finished with either dried fruit or frozen berries. Quick, easy, toddler-friendly, and perfect fuel for my marathon training. My husband eats it topped with either Greek yogurt or whole milk; I go for a mixture of seeds for extra protein; and our son eats all the berries.

7:30 a.m.: My son and I start our day. I have two shots of espresso with heavy cream. I make a quart of decaf green tea to share, and he drinks a cup of whole milk. Between morning chores, reading books, and playing, we eat breakfast and clean ourselves up for the day ahead. I also take time to review the grocery circular and plan our week’s meals.

Living in a small town on an island, our grocery options are limited. I tend to do one big shop for the week at a locally owned store with good produce, and a smaller supplemental shop at Safeway. I shop and meal plan based entirely on the sales for the week, especially in terms of proteins and produce. Chickens are on sale this week, so I know I will roast a bird and stretch the meat and carcass for a few meals.

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: I drop my son off with my mother-in-law so I can run. She is the best support a girl can ask for — she watches my son every weekday for an hour or more so I can run in the daylight, rather than early in the morning or after my husband gets home from work. While he plays with Grandma, he eats a piece of buttered toast.

I brought six pint jars of canned salmon to share, and we make salmon salad sandwiches with one jar of fish, dill pickles, green onion, and mayo for lunch after I return from my run and a grocery trip. My father-in-law joins us, and we each have a sandwich and share a navel orange and Honeycrisp apple. After Grandpa and Grandma go to work, my son and I head home for his nap.

At school, my husband drinks a cup of coffee with half-and-half (he supplies the half-and-half from home, and different teachers in his department buy coffee as needed) and eats leftovers from last night’s dinner. We are all about leftovers for lunch, and I often scale recipes up to provide additional meals.

Alaskan & Proud

Blueberries, $3.98
Strawberries, $4.69
2 containers of whipping cream, $5.96
Honey, $18.35
Yeast, $5.98
Yams, $3.40
Cauliflower, $3.63
Navel oranges, $4.31
Napa cabbage, $3.13
Ritz crackers, $4.35
Steel-cut oats, $3.48
Rolled oats, $2.89
Bananas, $4.22
2 whole chickens, $10.63
Red peppers, $1.67
Black plums, $2.64
Garlic, $4.60
Green onions, $.50
Zucchini, $.73
Mushrooms, $1.67
Avocados, $5
Ground pork, $2.30
Asparagus, $6.08
Limes, $1.38
Tomatoes, $.59
Apples, $3.32

Total, including gratuity and bag credit: $116.40

2 p.m.: While my son naps, I put away groceries, stretch and strength train, and make mini banana muffins for us to snack on for a few days. I skip the milk and sub a blend of almond flour and King Arthur white wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. I also throw in five small, overripe bananas because, duh. I have yet to put too many bananas into banana bread, and I’m not certain it can be done. I use a mini muffin tin and a two-teaspoon cookie scoop and bake for 13 minutes.

Get the recipe: How To Make Banana Bread

I finish my quart of green tea, make another, and eat a handful of Ghirardelli chocolate chips.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

3 p.m.: My toddler is up! He eats a few banana muffins and we share about a cup of fresh blueberries. My husband comes home around 4 p.m., and he eats some berries and muffins too. Much play and fun ensues. While the boys are busy, I roast six heads of garlic for future pizzas and two enormous sweet potatoes for future lunches or dinners.

6:30 p.m.: Dinner is ready. I use the pork sausage and Napa cabbage I bought today to make a meal like this egg roll skillet. Instead of a packaged coleslaw mix, I shred Napa cabbage and a couple carrots, and add frozen peas. I also garnish with some cilantro and fresh lime juice and serve the mixture over brown rice. I pack up a tote of leftovers for my husband’s lunch tomorrow.

Get the recipe: Egg Roll Skillet

In addition to the egg roll skillet and rice, our toddler eats even more blueberries and full-fat Greek yogurt. It’s been a long time since we had fresh berries, and he’s loving it! He also drinks a cup of whole milk with dinner.

7:30 p.m.: My son is still hungry! Since sleep training about a month ago, I found that he is more likely to sleep through the night with a full tummy, so we do a bedtime snack sometimes, especially if he doesn’t eat much dinner. We usually offer yogurt, milk, or peanut butter toast, but tonight my men share half an orange. I’ll clean the other half up later tonight.

8:30 p.m.: After a nursing session, my son puts himself to sleep. I finish the orange and drink a quart of Sleepytime tea with a scoop of collagen peptides. I am studying to take my real estate license exam, and I’ll peck away at reading and taking notes of our state laws and regulations tonight. My husband has his nightly dose of ice cream (vanilla tonight). We almost always have a tub of both vanilla and mint chocolate chip on hand, and things get a bit desperate if we run out.

Day 2: Wednesday

6 a.m.: My son is up. We snuggle and nurse for a while, while my husband wakes up and gets ready for work. This involves grinding coffee and making a cup of espresso with heavy cream, eating steel-cut oats for breakfast, and bringing leftovers to school for lunch. My son and I make it out of bed at 6:45 and I pound my two espressos with heavy cream. Now I’m ready for the day.

Since we nurse first thing in the morning, my son isn’t usually hungry right away. He does, however, ask for a “popsicle,” which is just water frozen in a popsicle mold. He loves them, especially with his two-year molars talking to him. I worry about the moment when he eats his first real Popsicle and realizes I’ve been lying to him his entire life, but for now, they work just fine.

While he plays and eats his “popsicle,” I do the dishes and prepare of loaf of no-knead bread. I bought fresh yeast yesterday and am excited to use it, since I’ve been making do with old and lackluster yeast for a long time. I sent the tired yeast to school for science projects with my husband, and crack open the new jar today. Instead of following the recipe and cooking the bread in a hot Dutch oven (which yields a beautiful loaf), I use a 10-inch well-oiled cast iron skillet for the second rise and cook the bread in that for about 24 minutes. I also use a blend of bread flour and white wheat flour, add a few tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary, and generously salt the top of the loaf with coarse sea salt right before baking. This yields a focaccia-like loaf. I bake one loaf a week, and will repurpose any leftovers into a meal or make soft breadcrumbs that live in the freezer.

Get the recipe: No-Knead Bread from The New York Times

8:30 a.m.: Breakfast time! I eat my steel-cut oats with fresh berries and seed blend; my toddler eats all the berries and leaves his oats behind, naturally. He drinks a cup of whole milk, and we wrap the meal up with a FaceTime call to my dad.

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Time to visit Grandma. I run a hard nine-mile workout while they share a plum we brought over and play with balloons. Right after my run, I eat a Picky Bar — we don’t do a ton of store-bought snacks, but these bars are where it’s at for quick post-run/workout fuel. I love their Moroccan- and chai-flavored bars, and save a bit of money by purchasing every two or three months on a subscription.

It’s a beautiful sunny and calm day, so we venture down to their beach to throw rocks and sticks. We eat some leftovers for lunch with Grandma and Grandpa, although my toddler isn’t a huge fan of the pancit we made last weekend. On the drive home, he eats a few banana muffins and drinks water.

When we get home at 1, my son eats some full-fat Greek yogurt, has a few bites of orange, and nibbles on a piece of toast with butter. I throw all his current favorite foods at him and see what goes down — it’s that kind of meal. I put him down for a nap with a little bit of nursing, then drink a quart of decaf green tea and finish the orange, stretch, strength train, and tackle a bunch of chores.

Around noon, my husband eats his leftovers at school. He also has a cup of coffee in the morning, doctored with half-and-half.

4 p.m.: My son has been up for an hour when my husband gets home from school. They share the last of the fresh blueberries and eat some more of last night’s leftovers. I put the focaccia in the oven while they finger paint, then get in on the art action. We resist for about half an hour after the bread comes out of the oven, then everyone in the family has a slice of warm bread with loads of butter.

7 p.m.: For dinner tonight I spatchcock and roast a five-pound bird, seasoning it with a spice blend of equal parts salt, smoked paprika, sugar, and black pepper. I keep a big jar of this on hand at all times, and it’s my go-to spice blend for chicken when I want something quick, easy, and tasty. I always rub the blend under the skin since we’re not big skin eaters.

Get the recipe: Spatchcock Chicken from Hilah Cooking

Every part of the carcass goes into the Instant Pot with an onion, a carrot, a celery stalk, three smashed garlic cloves, and four quarts of water. I set the Instant Pot for 240 minutes (the longest time it allows) and let it rip. The stock will finish after I’m asleep, so the pressure will release naturally and keep warm. In the morning, I’ll set it for another round, then strain and cool. Most of the stock will end up in the freezer, although I’m sure I’ll use some this week.

In addition to the chicken, we eat roasted asparagus and mashed red potatoes, which are left over from a grocery trip a couple of weeks ago. My toddler eats roughly his body weight in asparagus — score for a new favorite food! I’m glad I snagged another bundle at the grocery store.

8:30 p.m.: My son just finished nursing and is on his way to sleep. I have a quart of Sleepytime tea with collagen peptides to work on while I read more real estate laws and regulations. My husband and I share a few handfuls of Ghirardelli chocolate chips (we must be out of ice cream).

Day 3: Thursday

8 a.m.: Weird! My son is still asleep. (Of course, as soon as I type this sentence, he is guaranteed to wake up.) My husband got out the door about an hour ago after eating his oats and drinking coffee. He brought leftover meatballs and pasta from last weekend for lunch, which desperately needed to get eaten. I make a quart of decaf green tea to sip on, but hold off on coffee until after my son nurses. I know it’s okay to share a little caffeine while breastfeeding, but I just feel better if I don’t.

9:30 a.m.: My son wakes up about 30 seconds after I finish the above paragraph, naturally. We nurse, drink two espressos (me) and warm whole milk (toddler), and eat steel-cut oats with cinnamon, ginger, and raisins. Now off to the library for toddler story time. I pack water for each of us, banana bread muffins, Cheerios, and a sandwich made with a single slice of bread, homemade almond butter, and homemade fig jam with no added sugar. It is essential to be armed with snacks, and lots of them, in case of a hangry toddler situation. So powerful.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1 p.m.: Bummer, the library was closed for inventory. We walk through downtown Ketchikan and visit Grandma instead. After snacking on the last of the banana bread muffins with her, we head home for lunch and a nap. We eat the almond butter sandwich and smoked Coho salmon straight from the jar, ending our meal with fresh strawberries and cold decaf green tea from earlier this morning. I nurse my son right before he takes his nap, and he falls asleep by 2.

I am taking today as a complete rest day, which means no running or strength training. I have so much extra time on my rest days! While my son naps, I bake a batch of Superhero Muffins from the Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook. Although it hasn’t happened for me yet, I remain convinced that if I eat like her, one day I will run as fast as Shalane Flanagan. I also strain and cool my chicken stock from last night, eat a handful of raisins and an ambrosia apple, and drink another quart of decaf green tea.

Get the recipe: Superhero Muffins from Run Fast, Eat Slow

At work, my husband has a cup of coffee and eats leftover pasta, red sauce, and meatballs.

4 p.m.: My son woke up about an hour ago from his nap, and got busy as soon as his eyes opened. After an hour of play, I talk him into a smoothie. We work together to put a banana, about a cup of whole-fat Greek yogurt, a bit of whole milk, a handful of spinach, and a handful of our frozen blueberry-huckleberry blend into a jar. Smoothies are such a great way to cram a ton of nutrient-dense and delicious food into my family. My son drinks close to three-quarters of a pint and I take care of the rest in the jar.

5 p.m.: My husband has meetings after school, then picks up a 12-pack of Alaskan Brewing Company beer, plus a few other odds and ends I forgot to pick up earlier at the grocery store. He neglected to buy ice cream for himself, which I’m sure he will rectify as soon as he can. That man can’t function without a nightly dose of ice cream!


Beer, $15.99
2 organic Greek yogurts, $11.98
Celery, $2.49
Yellow onions, $2.33
Swiss chard, $2.99

Total, including tax: $38.11

He eats a muffin as soon as he gets home, and steals the last dregs of smoothie from our son’s sippy cup.

6:30 p.m.: I use a breast from last night’s roast chicken, plus a pint of stock, to make a mashup of chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie. Or maybe I just made chicken pot pie with a mashed potato top? Either way, it was tasty! I spent all day planning to throw a pie crust together, and at the last minute decided to wrap up last night’s mashed potatoes instead. This recipe inspired my pot pie-style filling, although I used fresh carrots, added about a teaspoon of dried sage, and skipped the milk. This was my first rodeo with plopping mashed potatoes on top of anything other than a plate, and it wasn’t pretty.

I also roast another bunch of asparagus since it was such a hit last night, and my son eats the top off every single spear. Both he and my husband drink a glass of whole milk while I wrap up a second quart of decaf green tea I made during nap time.

After dinner, my little monkey climbs up on a chair and snags an ambrosia apple out of our fruit bowl on the counter. He sits right down and takes a bite out of the apple, his first time eating a whole apple without any slicing or dicing. Big boy! We sit and snack for about 15 minutes, and he eats about a third of the apple by the time the novelty wears off. I’ll finish it once he’s in bed.

8:30 p.m.: Just finished nursing my son and he’s on his way to sleep. I can’t bring myself to study on a rest day, so I watch an episode of The Crown, drink a quart of Sleepytime tea with collagen peptides, and finish that apple. My husband joins me with a beer and we share a handful of Ghirardelli chocolate chips.

Day 4: Friday

6:30 a.m.: The day begins with a nursing session and snuggles. I am super hungry this morning, but chores and playtime keep us busy for about an hour. My son isn’t nearly as interested in breakfast as I am, and I end up eating both of our oatmeal portions standing next to him while he plays in the sink. Eventually I cajole him into eating a slice of bread with almond butter and apricot jam, which we fold in half and turn into a sandwich. About half of it goes down, with a few drinks of whole milk.

My husband eats his oatmeal and drinks his coffee, then heads out to work with leftover chicken pot shepherd’s pie (still not sure what to call that); a smoothie he made with Greek yogurt, spinach, banana, and peanut butter; as well as a few half-pint jars of salmon for emergency situations. If I don’t more or less force him to bring food to school, he doesn’t have or make time to eat and comes home a hungry, grouchy mess, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure he has some emergency contingency meals.

9 a.m.: Trying breakfast part two. I slice some fresh strawberries and my son eats a few bites. He’s just not hungry. When this happens, I make sure to offer something every hour or so and always have milk available, but I don’t push too hard. I would hate for food and eating to become embroiled in a toddler-centric power struggle, because I feel like I’ll never win.

10:30 a.m.: We go visit Grandma and Grandpa. On our drive over, my son eats two diced strawberries. While I run for an hour, he sits down to his second breakfast of scrambled eggs, avocado, and tomato with Valentina’s hot sauce. Third breakfast is the charm.

1 p.m.: We are on our way home from an hour of swimming at our local pool with a few other toddler and mom friends. My son is inevitably tired and grumpy after such a busy morning, and I make sure to have lots of snacks for our 30-minute drive home. He eats a sliced banana and strawberry, a Superhero Muffin, and sliced sharp cheddar cheese, and washes it all down with water. We skip a sit-down lunch at home and go straight to nap with a brief nursing session.

Once he is asleep, I make myself a quart of decaf green tea and heat up the last of the egg roll skillet for lunch, then stretch and strength train. We are having pizza for dinner, our regular Friday thing. I pull fresh mozzarella and Parmesan out of the freezer and set it on the counter to thaw. We go to Costco two or three times a year when we visit my folks, who live in a hub city, and bring home a tote filled with about $300 of cheese for pizza and other meals. We are getting down to the last of our cheese, and I’m looking forward to taking a trip to visit my family in a few weeks to stock up.

At work, my husband drinks a cup of coffee with half-and-half and eats his leftovers for lunch. He drinks his smoothie in the afternoon, between classes.

4 p.m.: My son has been up for about an hour. He wanted to nurse right away when he woke up, but I successfully distracted him by singing Great Balls of Fire as ridiculously as possible. We’re slowly working our way toward weaning, and it sometimes takes great measures to distract a determined toddler.

My husband gets home from work, and the weekend can begin! The boys share a muffin and a cup of milk, then we play a bit before dinner prep begins.

6:30 p.m.: First pizza out of the oven! We do my best take on Neapolitan-style pizza, which means we tend toward a thinner crust and simple toppings. I’m no expert, but we love our Friday night tradition.

Finding the ideal pizza crust has been a long journey of trial and error. My in-laws have actually visited Italy and they also love to make pizza, so they began the journey of research and we took up the torch a couple years ago. It involved watching lots of YouTube videos of Italian men working with dough, and we finally stumbled upon this pizza dough calculator that yields a crust we enjoy working with.

Below is a screenshot of the specific recipe we use. I use the bread machine to make the crust, kneading for 30 minutes on the dough cycle, and simply set the bread pan on a scale measuring in grams and tare with each ingredient addition.

(Image credit: Courtesy of author)

Margherita is our favorite, and we make two pies of that persuasion tonight, using Roma tomatoes and fresh basil from our small herb garden, along with a roasted garlic-olive oil paste directly on the dough. I know, not traditional, but completely delicious. We also make a pesto-marinated artichoke pie with our frozen homemade pesto. Unfortunately, we don’t have a wood-fired oven that reaches 1,000 degrees, so we do our best at 550°F.

My husband has a beer with his pizza, I work on a small glass of Pinot from an old, old box of wine (only able to drink about half of the glass before I can’t drink anymore, due to breastfeeding later in the evening), and our son drinks a cup of whole milk. Because I feel like a terrible person and mother when we don’t have a legit veggie at every dinner, I heat up half of a bag frozen peas on the stovetop. Becoming a mom has brought all frozen vegetables, and especially frozen peas, to a very high level of esteem in my eyes, because nothing beats instant vegetables.

Our toddler loves pizza; he even has his own special pizza night dance. This involves a lot of yelling the word pizza at the top of his lungs while he stomps his feet as loud and fast as he can while he watches the pie bake in the oven — good thing they cook quickly! He eats a few slices and a pile of peas.

8:30 p.m.: After nursing and putting my son to bed, my husband and I have a cribbage date. We wrap up our drinks from dinner and play a few rounds of cards while sharing a bowl of popcorn from the air popper topped with olive oil, salt, and raisins. No ice cream again tonight, so we go for a handful of chocolate chips.

Day 5: Saturday

9 a.m.: My son slept in until 8, then we nursed and slept on and off until 9. So much sleeping! Love the weekends. After he woke at 7:30, my husband made a coffee with heavy cream and read the news.

No oatmeal this morning. I eat a piece of toast with almond butter and fig jam and drink my espresso with heavy cream, then head out for a 14-mile run. I’m experimenting with fueling during longer runs, so I bring a few options: an energy gel, a bottle full of a starch-based carbohydrate powder mixed with water (I bought a popular product, but I’m pretty sure it’s just cornstarch), and a stroopwafel made with honey. The gel and stroopwafel are tough for me to eat for texture reasons, but I’m not convinced the starch-water slurry will provide enough energy. You must train your gut to handle specific fuels during marathon training, and this is proving to be the most difficult part of training for me. I end up drinking the starch mixture and eating about half of the stroopwafel.

While I run, my boys eat toad-in-a-hole for breakfast, share a banana and an apple, and play for a bit. They visit the grocery store to pick up eggs and ice cream, then head over to Grandma’s house. I meet them there just in time to change into warm, dry clothes and head home for lunch and nap. I eat a Picky Bar and sip water on the drive home.


Eggs, $9.29
2 containers of ice cream, $7

Total, including tax: $17.35

12 p.m.: We eat a meal of leftover pizza and peas. I drink a quart of water and make a quart of decaf green tea and get a quick stretch in before nap time. Around 1, I nurse my son for a few minutes. Once he falls asleep, I drink my tea and eat a muffin and an orange. My husband also has a muffin, and we update our 2018 budget while we review our taxes from last year, which I just completed.

3 p.m.: My son wakes from his nap and we share a blueberry, banana, yogurt, milk, and spinach smoothie. On our way to our local elementary school to play at the playground and take a short hike. We bring milk and our last muffin for the drive home.

6 p.m.: Time to get dinner happening. While my men play, I simmer canned tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and chicken broth to try out a variation on enchilada sauce. We picked up a huge can of tomatillos a few weeks ago without a real plan for them, and I hope this sauce works. After simmering everything for about half an hour, I blend it with a stick blender, season a bit, and set it back on the stove to reduce. The canned tomatillos were in a salty brine, so I add a little cumin and black pepper.

Get the recipe: Green Enchilada Sauce from Genius Kitchen

I use the sauce to make stacked enchiladas with the last of our roasted chicken and a pint of black beans I canned in the pressure cooker almost two years ago. We buy 25-pound sacks of black and pinto beans from Costco every two years, and I can cases and cases of beans once a year. I follow the recipe, but swap in frozen rather than canned corn and add red bell pepper and chopped black olives to the filling.

Get the recipe: “Stacked” Chicken Enchiladas from Gimme Some Oven

While the enchiladas cook, I grate a head of cauliflower for rice to serve under the enchiladas, dice up two avocados, and heat up the sweet potatoes I roasted earlier in the week. We eat everything in big, messy bowls, topped with fresh cilantro and squeezes of lime juice. Our son really enjoys the cauliflower.

Get the recipe: How to Make Cauliflower Rice The Minimalist Baker

8:30 p.m.: After nursing, my son goes to sleep. I read a few chapters from one of the Outlander books while drinking a quart of Sleepytime tea with collagen peptides and eating a handful of chocolate chips. My husband relaxes with half a beer and a bowl of both vanilla and mint chocolate chip ice cream topped with sliced strawberries. I have a few bites, too.

Day 6: Sunday

7 a.m.: Up to nurse and snuggle my son. After about half an hour, I make myself and my husband cups of espresso with heavy cream and unload the dishwasher. Our son drinks some whole milk.

9 a.m.: No oatmeal again today; I forgot to load the slow cooker last night. I scramble five eggs with salt, pepper, and a little sharp white cheddar cheese, and we eat them with buttered toast. I make a quart of decaf green tea and sip on it throughout the morning.

10 a.m.: The weather is super snotty this morning, so I’m putting off my run until nap time. While my boys do haircuts and paint, I make turmeric pepitas from Run Fast Eat Slow, which naturally leads to a snack as soon as they are cool enough for me to not burn my face off. My husband has a second cup of coffee with heavy cream.

Get the recipe: Turmeric Pepitas from Cooking with Aubrey

12 p.m.: The whole family shares an orange throughout the morning, eating a slice here and there. I heat up last night’s enchiladas for lunch, and we sit down to eat and admire our artwork. We give our son a quick bath after lunch to remove both lunch and paint residue, and read books until nap time.

1 p.m.: My son nurses briefly before he puts himself to sleep, and I head out for a recovery run. The sleet stopped, but I’m pretty tired from yesterday and take it easy. I stretch, eat a handful of pepitas, and drink a quart of decaf green tea when I get home 45 minutes later. My husband takes care of some chores in the garage, then comes in for a bowl of yogurt with pepitas on top. At this rate, they might last until this time tomorrow. Maybe.

3 p.m.: My son wakes up and is hungry for summer fruit. He asks for peaches, nectarines, and cherries, which are totally not an option this time of year! I placate him with some raisins and we head to the beach, since it’s a super low tide and the rain has mostly stopped. After spending an hour tide pooling and throwing rocks in the water, we share a banana and he eats a handful of Cheerios on our drive home.

5 p.m.: As soon as we get home, our son has a meltdown. After some tears and cuddles, he drinks a cup of milk and eats a few more raisins. My husband eats a slice of leftover pizza as a “pre-dinner snack.” Since everyone seems a little out of sorts, I decide that we are just going to have leftovers tonight, so we can eat as soon as our son shows signs of being hungry.

I make a quick half-batch of oatmeal raisin cookies with half the sugar called for in the recipe, just in case I need reinforcements for my grouchy son.

Get the recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Genius Kitchen

6 p.m.: We eat early; I can tell my toddler is tired and will likely be ready for bed early, too. I heat up the rest of the enchiladas, cauliflower, and peas. He puts down a ton of food, so I know he was just tired and hungry.

Between dinner and wrapping up bedtime routine, my husband and I eat three cookies each.

8 p.m.: Nursed my son and left him to fall asleep. Back in the grind of studying with a quart of Sleepytime tea with collagen peptides. And a cookie, naturally.

10 p.m.: My husband eats his nightly bowl of ice cream — this time vanilla topped with oatmeal raisin cookies.

Day 7: Monday

6:45 a.m.: My car has been having some serious trouble for the past few days, so we caravan to the shop and then use my husband’s car to drop him off at school so my son and I have wheels for the day.

I wake my son up at 6:45 and nurse him, then we hustle to get dressed and out the door. My husband makes me an espresso (love him!), and he drinks his coffee and eats oatmeal while my son and I get ready. I neglect to feed myself or my son an actual breakfast, so we remedy this by stopping off at Grandma’s house after dropping my husband at work.

9 a.m.: We share a banana, piece of toast, and two pears between the three of us at Grandma’s house. The pears are juicy and delicious, and my son eats a ton. I run for about an hour and drink a quart of water when I return.

11 a.m.: Before we head home, Grandma offers a taste of cauliflower potato soup. Since cauliflower has been a big hit at dinner the last two days, we go ahead and have a bowl each. My son loves the soup and drinks it out of his bowl like a pro. And like a person with no manners. Oops.

12:30 p.m.: After nursing my son and leaving him to nap, I make an espresso with heavy cream and eat three oatmeal raisin cookies and a small handful of turmeric pepitas. I also drink another quart of decaf green tea while I stretch, strength train, and do some chores around the house.

At school, my husband polishes off the last of the leftover pizza and drinks his usual cup of coffee with cream.

2 p.m.: My toddler wakes up early from his nap and is super grouchy, so I cave and briefly nurse him. We hustle out the door to get a quick library visit in before picking my husband up from school. I bring an apple, a Picky Bar, and a cup of whole milk along for the ride. He eats the bar and drinks milk on the drive to town, and we share the apple at the library.

4:30 p.m.: My husband and son share a smoothie made with full-fat Greek yogurt, whole milk, banana, spinach, and frozen blueberries and huckleberries as soon as we get home from our trip to town.

6:30 p.m.: My in-laws come over for dinner. I make this panade recipe and, aside from cooking it on the stove rather than in the slow cooker, I follow the recipe as written. I haven’t ever cooked anything quite like it before, but the combination of ingredients sounds delicious and I’ve been looking forward to giving it a try. I use bread cubes from the loaf I made earlier this week (I squirreled half of it away specifically for this meal) and sausage from the freezer, which I buy in bulk whenever our local grocery store’s custom blend goes on sale. I still have half a pound of sausage for tomorrow’s dinner.

While the panade cooks, we munch on sliced strawberries, shelled peanuts, turmeric pepitas, and tortilla chips. We share two Alaskan Brewing Company beers among the four of us. The panade is a hit — everyone goes back for a second (or third) scoop! As we eat, we brainstorm additions/substitutions and other ways to tweak the meal next time I try it out. My son drinks a cup of whole milk and a huge serving of frozen green beans during dinner. We each have an oatmeal raisin cookie for desert.

8 p.m.: After nursing my son and sending him off to sleep, I read with a quart of Sleepytime tea with collagen peptides. My husband works a bit in the garage, then eats his nightly bowl of ice cream — this time with fresh sliced strawberries and an oatmeal raisin cookie.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)
(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1. How did you set your food budget?

Taking a hiatus from teaching when our son was born almost two years ago freed me up to spend more time cooking and budgeting, and we’ve been working on finding a budget that meets our needs both financially and nutritionally. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to settle on a set amount of food to spend weekly or monthly that works for us, and it’s still a pretty fluid thing in our household.

The USDA recommends $600/month for a family of three in Alaska, which I use as a starting place. Food is expensive in southern Southeast Alaska — what we don’t grow or forage ourselves must be flown or barged in from either the lower 48 states or hub communities further north, which certainly adds to the grocery bill.

We have found that spending between $600 to $800/month is reasonable for us. We often end up closer to the $600 range, but planning for a bit more each month allows us to sporadically spend more, like when we visit my folks in a hub city and drop a few hundred on fancy cheeses or when our local grocery store has a great deal on meat we can use to fill the freezer. Rather than setting our budget as a strict $150 or $200 per week, I just try to keep it under $200 and know that I won’t break the bank but can still feed my family nourishing and delicious food.

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

We are fortunate to live in a place where we can gather a lot of food from the forest, and those ingredients are some of the most important pantry staples we eat daily. We pick huckleberries and blueberries in the summer and fill a freezer with gallons and gallons of berries for smoothies and baked goods all winter long. We also fish for king and silver salmon, and can majority of our catch in the pressure cooker for lunches and dinners.

We also eat a ton of beans, both dried and canned. Cheese, whole milk, full-fat Greek yogurt, bread, and almond or peanut butter make their way into our diets just about every day, and I rely heavily on frozen vegetables to feed my toddler.

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

Pretty much anything with beans or eggs! Soups are another great way to make a cheap meal that lasts and lasts and lasts. I rely on frittatas and stratas to cheaply clear out the produce drawers in the fridge at the end of the week. Bean and veggie soups like minestrone are big in our home, and meatless tacos or burritos are cheap and quick dinners that we often rely on.

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.