How a Family of 3 Eats for $250 a Week in Boulder, Colorado

How a Family of 3 Eats for $250 a Week in Boulder, Colorado

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Ariel Knutson
Dec 19, 2017
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

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: Elise
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Age: 31
Number of people in family: 3 (me; my husband, Matt, 37; and daughter, Emerson, 18 months)
Occupation: Dental hygienist (me), public school teacher (Matt)
Household income: $130,000
Weekly food budget: $250

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Day 1: Sunday

I did my "grocery shopping" today. For the last few months, I have been using Instacart, a grocery delivery service that allows me to place my order at a local store, choose my delivery time, and have groceries delivered right to our door.

This has been a great service for us for a few reasons. First, we are a one-car family. Second, being able to shop while my daughter is napping also allows me to take inventory of what we have on hand in addition to more carefully sticking within my grocery budget. I'm able to see see how much is in my cart and then add/delete items as needed according to my budget.

I previewed the week. It will be a more busy week than we normally have with activities most weeknights. I normally only plan ahead for three dinners, but this week I chose four meals to shop for. I generally plan for three dinners, knowing we often eat leftovers, have something in the freezer to use, or make plans with family or friends.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

I also double checked our breakfast supplies — we like to make green smoothies, toast, and oatmeal. We needed to stock up on multiple items this week, which made it a little more expensive grocery budget week.

Day 2: Monday

6:45 a.m. I am home from the gym. I have a Mom's Day In program later this morning and they provide breakfast, so won't eat much breakfast at home. We meet twice a month and have breakfast, and there's a speaker on some topic related to being a mom, young kids, etc. We then spend time with a table of other moms talking and getting to know each other.

I bring in the dairy delivery for the week, which is a local service.

Dairy delivery

2 Homogenized whole milk 1/2 gallon, $6.22
Half & Half, $2.57
Orange Juice, $2.75
Egg-Land's Best Eggs - Cage Free Large Brown, $4.79
2 Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Shredded Cheese, $8.58
Tillamook Medium Cheddar Cheese Sticks, $4.99

Total Cost: $29.90

7:00 a.m. Matt is up and makes us coffee. Emerson wakes up as well and has a sippy cup of milk.

7:45 a.m. Matt and Emerson's breakfast is 2 crispy eggs, a bowl of cereal, and leftover squash carbonara from last night.

Get the recipe: Baked Spaghetti Squash Carbonara

8:10 a.m. Matt leaves for work. He brings two bags of cheese for a potluck tomorrow, two salad packs (leftover from last week: rotisserie chicken, couscous, salad, and cucumbers). He also brings three ginger ales.

9:45 a.m. I have my breakfast at Mom's Day In (catered by Chick Fil-A today! Chicken, fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola), and bring home chicken and half of a banana for Emerson.

11:30 a.m. Matt's lunch today is a salad pack, a leftover squash and bacon dish, and one ginger ale

11:45 a.m. Emerson has Chick-Fil-A bites on drive home from Mops.

12:45 p.m. Emerson naps and has a bottle of milk afterwards.

1:45 p.m. The groceries arrive!

Instacart

Dave's Killer Bread Thin Sliced 21 Whole Grains and Seeds Bread, $4.99
Agave Gummy Bears, $3.85
Yogurt Covered Raisins, $5.82
Rocky Mountain Foods Omega 3 Trail Mix, $7.50
Muir Glen Organic Diced Tomatoes, $1.79
San Marzano Double Concentrated Tomato Paste in Tube, $4.49
2 365 Unsalted Garbanzo Beans, $1.58
365 Unsalted Butter, $3.49
Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter,$3.79
365 Grated Parmesan, $3.99
Noosa Mates Maple Ginger Yogurt, $2.29
The Greek Gods Honey Vanilla Greek Yogurt, $4.99
The Greek Gods Traditional Plain Greek Yogurt, $3.99
noosa Yoghurt, Honey Pretzel Peanut, $2.29
noosa yoghurt mates coconut almond chocolate, $2.29
Whole Foods Market Original Hummus, $3.99
365 Fusilli Pasta, $1.09
365 Four Cheese Thin Crust Pizza, $3.99
365 Organic Tropical Fruit Medley, $6.99
365 Shelled Edamame, $1.79
Apple Maple Breakfast Chicken Sausage, $6.22
Diestel Oven Roasted Turkey Breast, $10.99
Bananas, $1.58
Organic Gala Apples, $0.90
Cilantro, $0.69
Organic Ginger Root, $2.64
Organic Italian Parsley Bunch, $1.49
Cucumbers, $1.58
Organic Garnet Sweet Potato, $2.79
Organic Michigan Bunched Rainbow Carrots, $2.99
Organic Red Onion, $1
Organic Summer Yellow Zucchini, $0.99
Produce Organic Sweet Onions, $2.27
Zucchini Squash, $1.89
NewStar Spinach, $3.99
Organic Red Grape Tomato Package, $2.99
Jacksons Honest Sweet Potato Chips, $3.99
Annie's Homegrown Organic Cheddar Squares, $4.59
Quinn Popcorn Kale & Sea Salt, $3.69
Quinn Popcorn Parmesan & Rosemary, $4.99
Total including service fee, tip & tax: $167.49

2:30 p.m. Emerson snacks on our walk — cheese crackers, cucumber, hummus, turkey. I go for a mocha from our local coffee spot, Logan's.

Logan's

Mocha, $ 4.61
Total: $4.61

4:45 p.m. I have a yogurt at the park (Noosa).

6:00 p.m. For dinner tonight we're eating a tempeh stir-fry (had 2 packs of tempeh in fridge and a stir-fry pack that was expiring tomorrow)

7:30 p.m. Emerson has a bottle of milk before she goes to bed. When she's down I get into the kitchen and prep protein packs for Matt and me to take to work. They include hummus, cucumbers and carrots, a cheese stick, and chopped-up turkey cubes.

8:00 p.m. I end the day with hot chocolate

Day 3: Tuesday

6:15 a.m. I'm up and I make myself a coffee and green smoothie.

7:00 a.m. Matt is up and he makes coffee. He also has a green smoothie for breakfast. He leaves for work and brings four protein packs.

7:15 a.m. Emerson and I both eat yogurt and granola before I take Emerson to school.

I bring two protein packs and the trail mix to work. Normally I work four days per week, but my mom, who normally watches our daughter Tuesday to Friday, is out of town this week so I'm home a few extra days.

9:00 a.m. I snack on trail mix and eat the cheese from a protein pack.

10:00 a.m. Emerson eats her snack at school, which is some banana with a little Sunbutter.

11:00 a.m. Matt eats parts of his protein pack for a snack at work.

11:45 a.m. Matt has his lunch at school — it's a chili potluck! He provides the cheese from our dairy delivery for the lunch.

12:00 p.m. Emerson eats her lunch at school. Today it's steamed edamame with salt, half of banana, tempeh bites, applesauce pouch, and a cheese stick.

1:15 p.m. Today my boss provided lunch from Panera. I get half of a mediterranean sandwich, a small broccoli-cheddar soup, and a plain La Croix.

1:15 p.m. Before she goes down for a nap, Emerson has a bottle of milk.

2:05 p.m. Matt has a snack with his students at school. Goldfish and sliced apples.

3:30 p.m. Matt has a ginger ale on drive home from work.

3:45 p.m. Emerson goes over to a friend's house where she has cheese crackers for a snack.

4:30 p.m. When Matt picks her up from her friend's house, they both enjoy some popcorn at home.

5:45 p.m. Tonight I made a delicious sausage and apple bake for dinner. It's kind of like this recipe.

Get the recipe: Chicken Sausage Sweet Potato Bake

7:30 p.m. For dessert Matt and I nosh on some yogurt raisins.

7:45 p.m. Before she goes to bed, Emerson has her last bottle of the day.

Day 4: Wednesday

6:45 a.m. I made a green smoothie (frozen fruit, spinach, Greek yogurt, orange juice) and coffee after the gym. We are low on coffee beans so I can only make enough coffee for one of us! Matt is happy to grab something on his way to work and will get coffee beans on his way home.

7:10 a.m. Matt goes to Brewing Market to pick up breakfast for himself.

Brewing Market:

Small coffee, $2.15
Vegetarian burrito, $5.50

Total: $7.65

He also brings the sausage and apple bake leftovers to work.

8:15 a.m. I sip on my coffee while Emerson and I eat some yogurt, half of a sausage, a couple bites of sweet potato and apples, and half of a banana.

9:30 a.m. Matt has snack with his class. Today it's bagels and cream cheese.

9:45 a.m. Emerson and I enjoy some kale popcorn for a snack. Yes, you read that right: kale popcorn.

11:30 a.m. Matt has an early lunch, which is the leftover bake, some salad, and a ginger ale.

11:45 a.m. Emerson and I eat lunch, which is leftover tempeh.

12:15 p.m. I chow down on a cheese stick after lunch.

12:30 p.m. Emerson has bottle of milk before going down for a nap. During her nap I'm in the mood for cookies and find molasses in my pantry. I search for a recipe and make cookie dough. I prep lentil soup ingredients so that when Matt gets home it's fast and easy to make dinner.

Get the recipe: Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies from Gimme Some Oven

2:05 p.m. Matt has another snack at school: hummus and veggies from our prepared protein packs.

4:15 p.m. Emerson and I enjoy some yogurt, cheese crackers, and turkey cubes at home for a late afternoon snack.

Matt gets new coffee beans on his way home from work at Lucky's

Lucky's

Coffee beans, $15.57
Total: $15.57

5:45 p.m. For dinner tonight I make a quick lentil soup.

Get the recipe: Punjabi-Style Black Lentils from Smitten Kitchen

7:00 p.m. I make a few cookies from the dough I prepared earlier: two for me and Matt, and one for Emerson.

7:20 p.m. Emerson has her nightly bottle of milk before bed.

7:30 p.m. We decide to make rum and cokes to accompany our cookies. Matt picks up some coke at Home Depot, where he had to get something else anyway. We watch our favorite TV show, Law & Order SVU.

Home Depot

2 Cokes, $3.74
Total: $3.74

Day 5: Thursday

7:15 a.m. Coffee, peanut butter toast, and yogurt for breakfast for all three of us this morning.

8:00 a.m. I snack on trail mix and coffee all morning. I also snack on turkey and cheese from our snack packs.

9:30 a.m. Emerson's snack at school (provided by the school) today is cucumbers, cauliflower, and hummus.

10:25 a.m. Matt's snack at school today is more of these prepared protein packs (hummus and veggies, turkey and cheese).

11:30 a.m. Emerson eats lunch at school today. According to her daily note she only "ate some of my lunch," which was the last of the sweet potato and sausage bake, some cheese crackers, yogurt raisins, half of a banana, and yogurt cup.

11:30 a.m. Matt runs to Starbucks for lunch today.

Starbucks

Turkey Pesto Panini $5.95
Small coffee $1.95
Total: $7.90

12:45 p.m. Emerson has a bottle of milk before taking a nap.

1:00 p.m. Time for my lunch. I have some leftover sweet potato and some hummus and veggies from a protein pack.

2:05 p.m. Matt has a snack with his students (bagel and cream cheese, again.)

3:30 p.m. Emerson has some edamame and turkey bites for her snack.

5 p.m. For my daily snack I have a handful of kale popcorn and a few bites of cookie dough.

6:15 p.m. Emerson is not at all interested in dinner. She's grumpy. So, she eats a bowl of yogurt and some cheese crackers.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

6:45 p.m. Emerson has a bottle of milk before going to bed.

7:00 p.m. Matt goes to Audrey Jane's for pizza. He grabs a slice and big day-old pizza crust. I make some pasta and chickpeas for dinner with some garlic bread.

Get the recipe: Pasta and Chickpeas from Smitten Kitchen

Audrey Jane's Pizza Garage

Pizza crust, $2
Pizza slice, $3.50
Total: $5.50

8:00 pm. I drink a glass of red wine and snack on some yogurt. I make cookies and call it a night.

Day 6: Friday

6:30 a.m. I make coffee when I get home from the gym.

6:45 a.m. Matt eats a bowl of cereal — raisin bran — and has a cup of coffee for breakfast.

6:45 a.m. Em eats half of a cookie for breakfast, followed by a bowl of yogurt.

9:15 a.m. I make peanut butter toast for Emerson and myself.

10 a.m. Forty-five minutes later, I make another snack for both of us: cheese crackers, yogurt raisins, shredded wheat snack bowl. Can you tell we're a big snacking family?

11:45 a.m. I take Emerson and a friend to preschool gymnastics. After that's over they have some yogurt and turkey cubes on the drive home.

10:25 a.m. Matt finishes the last of his protein packs for the week.

12:15 p.m. Emerson eats a cheese stick and has an applesauce pouch.

12:30 p.m. Emerson has a bottle of milk before she takes her nap.

2:30 p.m. I make three cookies and eat them.

3:00 p.m. Emerson has a bowl of lentil soup, a cheese stick, and some gummy bears. Matt's snack for the day is bagels and cream cheese with students. And because it's starting to be holiday season, he got a big bag of chocolates from a family and ate three Lindt chocolates and two Ferrero Rocher balls.

4:45 p.m. Matt makes an Indian food pouch he found at work (we often do a big Costco stock up at the beginning of the semester, so on mornings he is running late or we don't have leftovers he has options at work to heat up for breakfast or lunch).

6:15 p.m. I have three Lindt truffles and then tell Matt he has to bring the rest to tonight's potluck so I don't eat the rest of the bag!

6:30 p.m. We have dinner at a friend's place tonight. They make soup, bread, and salad.

9 p.m. I grab a drink with some friends at The Bitter Bar.

The Bitter Bar

1 cocktail, $9
Total: $9

Day 7: Saturday

7:30 a.m. I wake up a little late and make myself some coffee. I make green smoothies, scrambled eggs, and peanut butter toast for our whole family to share.

9 a.m. Matt and I attended a workshop today about Enneagram hosted at a local church. We have a morning snack at the workshop: pastry, fruit, bagel and cream cheese. More coffee, duh.

9:45 a.m. Our babysitter drove Emerson to soccer. She has some cheese crackers on her way there.

11:10 a.m. After soccer, Emerson has some gummy bears.

11:45 a.m. Em has lentil soup when she gets home. She follows that up with some milk and half of a banana.

12:00 p.m. For lunch Matt and I have cheesy bread with the rest of the day-old crust. We also have some leftover pasta and chickpeas.

1:30 p.m. Emerson has a bottle of milk before going down for a nap.

4:00 p.m. Emerson has some yogurt raisins for a snack.

6:00 p.m. Dinner tonight is veggie fried rice.

Get the recipe: Fried Rice with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Parmesan from Smitten Kitchen

Day 8: Sunday

7:00 a.m. Coffee. Always coffee.

8:15 a.m. Green smoothies. But this morning I also bake scones loosely following this recipe with frozen blueberries and omit the glaze. We find bacon in the fridge!

Get the recipe: Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze from Food Network

11:45 a.m. For lunch today we dig into the freezer for frozen pizzas. We head to the pool right after for a day of fun.

1:20 p.m. For a snack we have cheese sticks, agave bears, cheese crackers, and yogurt raisins on the way home from the pool.

1:45 p.m. Emerson has a bottle of milk before going down for a nap.

4:00 p.m. For a snack, Emerson eats frozen blueberries and kale popcorn.

5 p.m. Once a month our neighbors host a community potluck, and it just so happens it's tonight. I made cookies. Normally we would have nachos and margaritas during the Broncos football game, but they are terrible this year so it didn't feel worth it. Dinner included red wine, a variety of meat and vegetarian dishes, and my ginger molasses cookies for dessert!

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

1. How did you set your food budget?

Food is very important to us. We love good meals and fortunately I really enjoy cooking. As I said in the beginning of the diary, we are a one-car family, and for the last three months we have been using InstaCart for delivery. I find this also helps a lot with the budget because I can see the tally as I go in my shopping cart. I put in the necessities for the meals I'm planning and then can top it off with extras — like bacon, nice bread, etc. — if we have room in the budget.

We also use a local dairy delivery service so this helps control and monitor our dairy spending. I try to stick with about $150 for our weekly "big shop." The rest of our food budget (about $100 per week) is for items that come up during the week, eating out, etc.

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

Ingredients for green smoothies — spinach/kale, Greek yogurt, juice, frozen fruit. A variety of snacks — this week I chose kale popcorn and cheese crackers. Items for "protein packs" for my husband and I to take to work — we both have jobs that don't lend themselves to regular breaks during the day so we like to have items we can quickly grab throughout the day. This week it was turkey and cheese and hummus and veggies.

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

We always try to have a frozen pizza in the freezer. I especially like the Whole Food 365 brand. It helps for nights that I just don't want to cook or when I'm gone and my husband is on his own. Not the cheapest, but a $5 frozen pizza is certainly cheaper than takeout. Oatmeal for breakfast. We also plan on a sausage bake of some sort — this week we did a version with sausage, apple, sweet potato, and red onion. Usually a $10 to $12 meal and it lasts for a few lunches!

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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