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: Atlanta, Georgia
Number of people in family: 4 (husband, 38; 2 daughters, 6 and 10)
Occupation: Grant writer; my husband is an affordable housing executive for a non-profit
Household income: $161,000
Weekly food budget: $200
Friday is always my planning day for the upcoming week. I take about an hour and sit down with the weekly circular, our list of food we already have in the freezer, and our family calendar. That way I can figure out what days we might need to do a slow cooker meal if we're getting home late and can plan our entire menu based on what food we already have and what food is on sale.
This is a really hectic and busy week for us. I have to drive to pick up the kids from their grandparents' house on Saturday, we're having a few people over to celebrate my youngest daughter's 6th birthday, we are leaving for a week-long vacation next Friday, and we have a lot of evening appointments this week. I also am making fun themed lunches for the kids this week to get them excited for our vacation — a Disney cruise!
Normally my husband does the grocery shopping on Saturday, but I'll have to do it this week because he has his Army Reserve drill this weekend.
Day 1: Saturday
7:30 a.m. I wake up when my husband gets home from physical training (PT) with his Reserve unit. I fill the tea kettle and get started making some bacon for my husband's favorite breakfast: bacon and fried egg sandwiches. I need to get on the road to pick up the kids in about an hour.
8:30 a.m. I finish the sandwiches and make some coffee in the French press for my husband and a cup of tea for myself. I load the hot beverages up in travel containers and my husband and I eat together. He has two sandwiches and I have one. We share a glass of orange juice.
9 a.m. He heads out for his day of work with the Reserves and I head out to pick up the kids with my travel container of tea.
12:20 p.m. I meet my father-in-law at a Chic-fil-A in South Carolina and he buys lunch for the girls. I skip lunch and we head back to Atlanta.
1:20 p.m. While we're on the road, my husband grabs McDonald's for himself for lunch.
2:40 p.m. The girls snack on some granola bars they brought with them from North Carolina and I just have water.
We're having a pretty big dinner of pizza and cupcakes for my youngest daughter's birthday and I want to save up for the calories so I don't feel guilty. In February my family doctor suggested I lose 10 pounds to prevent hypertension and high cholesterol, which runs in my family, and I have two pounds to go! I've lost the weight by walking and doing strength training in the mornings and paying attention to what I'm eating by using a calorie tracking app and making better food choices without restricting myself. If I tried to go carb-free or eliminate desserts and pizza I wouldn't last. This has been a slower process, but more sustainable long-term.
3:30 p.m. When we get home I let the girls hang out for a half an hour and then we head to our normal grocery store, Kroger. I normally don't take them, but since my husband is at work I have to. They make it really hard to stay on budget. While we were there they asked for six different things that weren't on the list but I stayed strong. Except extra-toasty Cheese-its — I did cave when my 10-year-old asked for those.
I was able to stick to the list except I had to buy pre-cut cantaloupe because there were no whole cantaloupes in the store. It's usually cheaper to buy the whole fruit and I like knowing that I've washed the outside before it's cut.
I also had to make a menu adjustment on the fly. I was going to put a brisket in the slow cooker one day, but they didn't have any cut briskets, only whole. So, I switched to beef short ribs in the slow cooker.
Salad spring mix, $3.29
1 English cucumber, $1.99
Organic kale, $1.29
1 head romaine lettuce, $1.49
1 orange bell pepper, $1.79
1 bag of red grapes, $5.59
1 container pre-cut cantaloupe, $2.49
Organic whole carrots, $1.69
Broccoli crowns, $1.86
American cheese from the deli, $1.25
Swiss cheese from the deli, $1.89
1 onion, $.64
Cajun turkey from the deli, $2.57
Honey ham from the deli, $2.41
Organic mozzarella shreds, $3.49
2 packs of short ribs, $18.95
1 1/2 pounds thick sliced bacon, $7.99
Frozen cubed hash browns, $2.99
Whole chicken, $5.65
1 watermelon, $3.50
1 tube of breakfast sausage, $3.99
1 tube pizza crust, $2.59
1 travel vanilla wafers, $1
Organic orange juice, $3.49
Whipped cream, $1.99
1 travel Oreo mini, $1
1 travel Chips Ahoy, $1
1 package peanut butter whole wheat crackers, $2.59
1 package cheese whole wheat crackers, $2.59
1 bag of sourdough pretzel bites, $.99
1 package of pepperoni, $2.49
1 package Double-Stuf Oreos, $2.99
1 box Cheese-Its, $2.99
1 bottle Sriracha, $2.99
1 jar cheese salsa, $3.49
1 travel size Famous Amos cookies, $1
Total with tax: $139.67 (My job had given me a $10 grocery store gift card for my birthday a few weeks earlier so I only paid $129.67)
The girls and I head home and unload the groceries.
5:15 p.m. My mom and dad show up about an hour later and I set my mom up with a candy mold and some candy melts to make the bows for the Minnie Mouse cupcakes for my 6-year-old's birthday dinner.
While she's doing that I order the pizzas for that evening. One large pepperoni, one large half-cheese/half-sausage, and one medium buffalo chicken. When we make our annual budget, we designate a certain dollar amount for each kid's birthday which includes any party and presents. The money for the pizza doesn't come out of our weekly food budget ($200) but comes out of my daughter's birthday budget.
5:45 p.m. Afterwards I make some chocolate buttercream frosting and frost the cupcakes, adding mini oreo cookies for the mouse ears and the candy melt bows. I made the cupcakes the night before so they would be cool enough to frost. I also make some homemade Caesar dressing and chop some romaine to toss with it for the adults. I make a double batch of dressing so my husband and I can have Caesar salads this week for lunch.
6 p.m. My husband picks up the pizzas on his way home from his Reserve duty, and my daughter's best friend and her parents show up.
6:30 p.m. We all eat pizza and cupcakes together along with some vanilla ice cream, which we always have on hand. My daughters love it for an occasional after-dinner treat.
My parents and my daughter's best friend's parents leave so it's just us with the three girls.
Day 2: Sunday
7:30 a.m. My husband wakes me up when he gets home from PT so I get up and start getting ready for the day.
7:45 a.m. I put the kettle on and make tea for the whole house. My husband takes his English breakfast tea with sugar, my youngest and I like ours with milk and sugar, and my oldest likes peach herbal tea. I also make a cup of peach herbal tea for my youngest daughter's best friend who spent the night.
8 a.m. My husband leaves for his day at the army with his tea in a travel mug and I start making pancakes and bacon for me and the kids.
8:30 a.m. We all eat and the kids disappear to play.
10:30 a.m. After my daughter's friend is picked up, we head out to run some errands.
1 p.m. We get home around lunchtime and we have leftover pizza for lunch. We missed my husband, who drove home to have leftover pizza for lunch too.
2:30 p.m. While the kids are playing I do some meal prep for the week. I make a loaf of carrot apple zucchini bread for us to have for breakfast on Monday. This loaf will also do double duty as a lunch for the girls on Wednesday. I got the zucchini from our backyard vegetable garden and we always have apples on hand for snacks.
I also prep my lunch and my husband's for the next day. We're having shrimp Cobb salads so I throw the shrimp in the oven, boil some eggs, and make a couple of pieces of bacon.
My kids are going to have soft pretzels in the shape of Mickey heads for their lunch the next day, so I make the dough for those. After they're done, I assemble their Monday lunches and stick them in the fridge. They're having the pretzels with cheese salsa for dipping, pepperoni, and some grapes.
I finish our salads and stick them in the fridge too. I also make a pot of sushi rice for their Tuesday lunches and put that in the fridge.
5 p.m. By this time it's time for dinner so I get dinner ready. We're having Philly cheesesteak stuffed shells, which is a new recipe for us. I try a new recipe at least once a week so I have a nice big repertoire. The more recipes you try, the more options you have for the meats that go on sale.
6:30 p.m. We eat dinner together and the recipe is a hit. Our youngest was less than thrilled with the green bell pepper in the meat, but she did eat. Our oldest had three helpings and my husband enjoyed it too. We all clean up and head off to bed.
Day 3: Monday
6:15 a.m. And we're up.
7 a.m. We have tea and I scramble some eggs to go along with the zucchini bread. Because I packed up the lunches the night before, it's easy to load them up in lunch boxes. I take a can of flavored sparkling water to go with mine and my husband packs a slice of zucchini bread to take for a snack. The girls fill up their water bottles and each grab a granola bar for their snack.
Every six weeks or so they spend about 40 minutes loading up a snack basket. They'll break up large containers of things like goldfish, pretzels, and Cheez-Its into Ziploc bags and put them into a basket we keep in the pantry. They'll also add individually packaged things like granola bars and peanut butter crackers. It makes leaving in the morning so much faster when they can just grab a snack for the day and toss it into their backpacks.
7:35 a.m. We leave for camp and work and I give the counselors $12 for the girls to have fruit slushies at camp three days this week. They come from an outside vendor and the girls love them.
Fruit slushies, $12
12 p.m. For lunch at work my husband and I each have our shrimp Cobb salad, which was surprisingly filling.
5:15 p.m. At the house, the girls make an afternoon snack for themselves of raisins, peanuts, and goldfish. My oldest calls it "homemade trail mix."
5:30 p.m. I clean up the kitchen and set my oldest up with the bag of sourdough pretzels and a bag of Mickey Mouse goldfish I found at Target the week earlier, along with some Ziploc bags. She packages them all up so we can take them on our road trip down to Florida on Friday.
Dinner was supposed to be sausage, white beans, and kale, but my husband had looked at the recipe that morning and vetoed it. Instead we're going to have tacos. He stopped on his way home and picked up the ingredients from our local Kroger.
2 pounds ground turkey, $6.58
Hard taco shells, $2.99
Refried beans, $1
Soft taco shells, $2.73
1 head romaine lettuce, $1.49
Total, including tax: $18.56
6 p.m. He makes dinner while I unbraid our youngest daughter's hair in preparation for them getting their hair done for vacation the next day.
6:45 p.m. We have lettuce, ground turkey, refried beans, grated cheese, and taco sauce on both hard- and soft-shell tacos.
7:15 p.m. After dinner we clean up and my husband finishes taking out our daughter's hair while I prep their lunches for the next day. I'm making chicken stir-fry, which I usually toss together in the morning. However, because they're having special Disney-themed lunches that week, I shape the rice into the shape of Olaf from Frozen. It takes me about 40 minutes to shape the sushi rice; cut out his buttons, eyes, arms ,and mouth from seaweed sheets and cheese; and put him together. I fill the other sides of the lunch box with sliced strawberries and carrots and stick those in the fridge for the morning.
8 p.m. Before bed the girls have a small dessert. My oldest has a small bowl of ice cream and the youngest has one of the leftover cupcakes.
9 p.m. Afterwards, we all head to bed.
Day 4: Tuesday
6:15 a.m. We all wake up. This is an incredibly busy morning which, as always, means cereal for breakfast for the kids.
6:45 a.m. When I get downstairs, I season the short ribs and begin searing them in a cast iron pan before putting them in the slow cooker. At the same time I dice one chicken breast for the kids' stir-fry and slice two more to make for chicken Caesar salads for my husband and me.
The girls pack up their lunches and grab granola bars again for their snacks. I pack up tea in travel containers for my husband and I along with a small cup of orange juice for myself.
7:40 a.m. I stop at a McDonald's on the way to the girls' camp and grab a sausage McMuffin for $1.50. I drop them off and head to work.
Sausage McMuffin, $1.50
12 p.m. I eat my salad at lunch but I'm starving by 2:30 p.m.
12:30 p.m. My husband had an off-site meetings that ran long so he grabbed Arby's for lunch out of his own bank account. He kept his salad in his office fridge to have later.
2:30 p.m. I pilfer the bag of snack-sized chips my officemate and I keep in our office and eat a bag of barbecue chips.
2:45 p.m. My parents pick my daughters up from camp early in order to take them to the hair salon.
5:15 p.m. I meet them at our house and they decide to stay for dinner. I put on a double batch of rice to go with the short ribs and begin to pack up the kids' lunches for the next day while it's cooking. I use the last of the zucchini bread and cut it into Mickey Mouse shapes. I add a cheese stick and Greek yogurt in one of the side containers. In the last side container I add a double-stuffed Oreo with two halves of an Oreo Mini stuffed in the cream filling to make Mickey Oreos. They don't usually get cookies with their lunches, so this is a special treat.
6:30 p.m. Once the rice is done, my husband has arrived so we all set the table and eat together. There's no dessert tonight so we clean up the kitchen.
7:15 p.m. My husband takes my oldest daughter to a friend's birthday party, where they'll have popcorn and watch a movie. My husband has a flag football game that night so he leaves and I put our youngest to bed.
9 p.m. After she's asleep I pop some popcorn on the stovetop, salt it, and watch a murder mystery with my popcorn and another can of flavored sparkling water before going to sleep.
Day 5: Wednesday
6:30 a.m. We get up and this morning my husband makes breakfast, smoked sausage, scrambled eggs, and wheat toast with orange juice.
7 a.m. While he's doing that I pack up the rest of the chicken and some romaine and croutons to have for my lunch while the girls pack up their own lunch. They put my leftover popcorn in baggies to take for their snack that day. I make tea for everyone and pack my husband's and mine in our travel mugs to drink in the car. My husband drops the girls off at camp so I'm free to go straight to work.
12:30 p.m. I eat my salad.
2 p.m. My officemate buys chocolate chip cookies for us. I only have one (yay self-restraint).
5 p.m. My parents are going to pick up the girls and feed them spaghetti for dinner and my husband and I are going to have leftovers once we get home because we both have after-work appointments.
7 p.m. After picking up the kids and heading home, I prep the food for the next day. We're going to have beer-can chicken. I get it seasoned and set up on the beer can and then slide it into the fridge so my husband can pop it in the oven the next day.
I also have my youngest head outside with a pair of safety scissors and a colander to snip the last of the green beans from our garden. I wash them and pluck the ends so tomorrow I can cook them.
The kids will have Mickey-shaped pizzas in their lunch the next day so I just get their sides ready. They'll have apple slices and carrot sticks and cucumber slices. I toss the apple slices in a little bit of lemon juice so they won't brown before putting their lunch containers in the fridge. I also roast some salmon for my husband and I to have on Caesar salads for Thursday. After cooking it I pop it in the fridge.
8:30 p.m. My husband and I eat our leftover tacos and we're done for the night.
Day 6: Thursday
6:15 a.m. I get up and get dressed.
6:45 a.m. I make waffle batter and bacon. I make Mickey head pizzas using a tube of pizza dough and a cookie cutter. While they're in the oven I make waffles and tea. We all eat breakfast while the mini pizzas are cooling.
7:35 a.m. I load up the lunch boxes, grab my lunch, and head out the door for work.
12 p.m. My husband and I both have salmon Caesar salads for lunch and I have my usual can of sparkling water on the side.
5:30 p.m. After work, I have an appointment at the nail salon so my husband puts the chicken in the oven to roast.
6:30 p.m. I get home in time to parboil and sauté the green beans and throw a couple of russet potatoes in the microwave.
7 p.m. We have roast chicken, green beans, and baked potatoes for dinner. Afterwards, the kids each have a scoop of vanilla ice cream and later we head off to bed.
Day 7: Friday
7:30 a.m. Unfortunately my husband has to work for a few hours in the morning so he makes himself a cup of coffee in the French press and heads to the office while the girls and I prep for our drive down to Florida.
8 a.m. We change the sheets on the beds and finish packing the suitcases.
9 a.m. Then I make breakfast for us using the last of the bacon and leftover waffle batter from the day before.
9:30 a.m. After we eat I start prepping our food for the road. The girls take the bag of snacks they had prepared earlier in the week out to the car while I make sandwiches and fill up the cooler. I make a ham and Swiss sandwich and a turkey and Swiss sandwich for my husband. Both also have lettuce and mayo. I get a turkey and American cheese sandwich with lettuce and mayo, while my youngest gets a ham and American cheese sandwich. I make two pieces of toast and let them cool (a good tip for how to keep bread crispy before packing it) while I'm slicing some of the leftover chicken breast from the night before. I add it to the cooled, toasted bread for my oldest daughter. Then I chop up fruit for fruit salads for the car. I add some cans of sparkling water, the sandwiches, fruit salads, and a couple of apples to the cooler and load it up in the car.
11 a.m. Before too long, my husband returns home and we load up the luggage and head out.
12 p.m. We hand around the sandwiches and fruit and eat.
2 p.m. During our drive we periodically snack from the snack bag, which has pretzels, goldfish, peanut butter crackers, and cheese crackers.
8 p.m. We pull into Florida at dinnertime and head for a seafood restaurant. My daughters split an adult steak entrée, I have blackened fish, and my husband has surf and turf. Our total comes to about $60 with tip, which puts us a little over our $200 food budget for the week.
9:30 p.m. We go to sleep so that we can get up bright and early the next day to head out for our vacation!
Total, including tip: $60
1. How did you set your food budget?
Our food budget is $200, which I determined after tracking our spending for two months. We were spending about $250 a week on groceries and I felt that if I was more mindful about getting things on sale and utilizing more free items (such as our vegetable garden and two of our neighbors who hunt and are generous), I could get our food budget down to $200. We've done really well at staying close to budget.
2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can't live without?
There are certain foods and ingredients that we always have on hand. Rice, pasta, and cans of beans are high up on my list. I also keep a very well-stocked spice cabinet that makes it easier to have a variety of different kinds of flavorful meals. Our local warehouse "farmers market" has spices that are super fresh and much cheaper than the grocery store.
3. What's the budget recipe you always rely on?
Tacos! Our kids will always eat tacos, we can have them ready in no time, and it's a fairly inexpensive meal especially because it produces leftovers, which my husband likes to eat with tortilla chips. We also cut down the cost by making a homemade taco seasoning which is easy and tasty.
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