Grocery Diaries

How a Neuroscientist and His Partner Feed Themselves on $100 a Week in Pittsburgh, PA

published Dec 5, 2019
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Credit: Trail Mix, Broccoli, Sugar Snap Peas, Person: Shutterstock; LUNA Bars: Cliff Bar & Company; Design: Kitchn

Name: Elliot
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Age: 34
Number of people in household: 2
Occupation: Neuroscientist; my partner Shannon is a Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator at a local art museum
Household income: $110,000 combined
Weekly grocery budget: $100
Ingredients to use this week: Avocado, raspberries, white beans, canned chipotle peppers
Grocery store of choice: Aldi

Day 1: Monday

Breakfast: I front-load my (four) weekly work meetings for Monday mornings to get them out of the way, meaning breakfast is simple — we both have our standard two cups of coffee and I eat a banana in the car on the way to work. Shannon drops me off.

Lunch: For lunch, Shannon’s co-worker buys her Thai curry as a belated birthday gift. I didn’t do a great job of planning ahead over the weekend, so I cobble together a lunch of black beans with leftover homemade vegan “cheese” sauce (blended carrots, potatoes, nutritional yeast, and spices), mustard greens from a friend’s garden, and tomatoes from our garden. This isn’t really enough food and I come home ravenous after spin class.

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Dinner: Shannon cooks jambalaya for dinner with canned okra that we had in the pantry. I prep overnight oats with soy milk and chia seeds for breakfast tomorrow morning. I’m thankful that I did a big grocery run at Aldi before the start of this busy week so we have mostly everything we need.

Credit: Sugar Snap Peas: Shutterstock; Design: Kitchn

Day 2: Tuesday

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Breakfast: I bring Shannon breakfast in bed with coffee. Shannon drops me off at the doctor on her way to work and I buy a cup of coffee to kill time before my appointment. ($4) Once I get to work, I have the overnight oats I prepped.

Lunch: We both eat leftover jambalaya and pears for lunch. I have a Luna Bar when I get home from work.

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Dinner: Shannon has a late night working a special event at the museum so I make rice noodles and a quick peanut sauce with blended white beans from the freezer and steamed broccoli and eat before she gets home. 

Day 3: Wednesday

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Breakfast: I wake up first and make avocado toast on rye bread with nutritional yeast. Shannon’s work day doesn’t start until noon so I take the bus in instead of carpooling.

Lunch: I pack us leftover noodles from last night for lunch and eat those as I spend my day trying to get a bit of code to work. I also have some almonds and dark chocolate as a snack.

Dinner: Shannon’s band is playing a show tonight, so I make dinner: pilaf with cashews and frozen peas. In an effort to use up the last of the green tomatoes from our garden, I make a chutney by cooking them down with the pears in what turns out to be more time-consuming recipe than I expected. I eat after 8 p.m. and set aside dinner for Shannon, who gets home after I am asleep.

Day 4: Thursday

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Breakfast: Our morning is derailed by the loss of our car key. I eat garden tomatoes on rye toast with salt and pepper before taking the bus to work. Today is Shannon’s day off; she takes our dog Scoby to the vet for his vaccinations and buys coffee beans on the way home since we are almost out ($11.99).

Lunch: We both have leftover pilaf for lunch and I snack on pistachios from my desk drawer. I forget to attend a meeting because I’m consumed by trying to get this code to work. I go to the gym after work and stop at Giant Eagle on my way home for some groceries.

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Dinner: Shannon makes mujaddara with caramelized onions. She treats me with a pint of my favorite coconut-based ice cream for dessert ($5.99). 

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Day 5: Friday

Breakfast: We both have coffee and a Luna bar for breakfast. (The usual.)

Lunch: I pack leftover lentils and pears for our lunches. I have a late afternoon meeting near Shannon’s work so I sit in the lobby while I wait for her to wrap up. I resist the urge to buy a cup of coffee.

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Dinner: We drove home together and Shannon makes ramen noodle soup with snap peas and dehydrated shiitakes. When I sit down on the couch to eat, Scoby becomes very excited and kicks the bowl of hot soup out of my hands into my lap. We spend dinner time pulling ramen noodles from between the couch cushions and vacuuming sesame seeds off of the rug.

Day 6: Saturday

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

Brunch: We have a late brunch of home fries with grilled peppers and tomatoes. I bake ciabatta most Saturday mornings, and I also attempt to make naan later in the afternoon, with mixed results.

Dinner: For dinner, I braise cabbage and make a vegan adaptation of kofta by frying dumplings made from spiced mashed chickpeas, onions, and parsley. They mostly hold together. I make gravy in our cast iron with onions, cardamom, canned tomatoes, and vegan yogurt. Shannon’s band plays a show later that night and I go out for a drink with a friend ($6).  

Day 7: Sunday

Breakfast: Shannon skips breakfast and I have the last of the vegan yogurt with raspberries and almonds.

Lunch: We finish a loaf of challah that was a gift from a friend. There is plenty of leftover gravy from last night’s dinner, which I heat up and eat over toast for lunch.

Dinner: I cook a pound of black beans in our pressure cooker to freeze for next week’s dinners. Shannon stir-fries some of the beans with a canned chipotle pepper and grilled onions. She grills a Carolina reaper pepper that my brother gave her from his garden. The pepper is so spicy that we can’t stop coughing and crying. The kitchen becomes unusable, so we eat dinner on the porch and split a loaf of ciabatta. I have dark chocolate and almond trail mix as an evening snack. 

Credit: Kitchn

1. How did you set your food budget?

When we started saving for a down payment for our house three years ago, we made a budget just using an Excel spreadsheet. We budgeted one dinner out a week and prioritized making large batches of food at home so we could eat leftovers for lunch at work rather than eating out. We meal plan on Saturday mornings and usually do the grocery shopping Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings. After some experimentation, we found that $100/week for food, including dinner out, works best for us if we emphasize a diet of beans, grains, and produce and minimize the amount of packaged foods in our diet.  

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

We keep our kitchen well-stocked with dry beans and grains. One of us typically cooks a large amount of beans and freezes them to use in recipes throughout the week. We use a lot of garlic, cashews, lemon, rice, beans, and fresh produce (especially greens, broccoli, and hot peppers). We also compulsively drink the canned Aldi brand sparkling water (grapefruit and lime flavors are our favorites).  

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

 Lentils and rice/mujaddara with caramelized onions.

Credit: Elliot Edmiston

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 Grocery Diary with Kitchn? See how here.