How 2 Roommates Living in DC Spend $221 a Week on Groceries – Grocery Diary

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Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Emily; Illustration: Isabela Humphrey

Name: Emily and Sean
Location: Washington, DC
Age: 36 (Emily) and 40 (Sean)
Number of people in household: 2
Occupation: Emily is an academic consultant and Sean is a litigation attorney, specializing in antitrust cases. We both work predominantly at home, although Emily has occasional work travel and in-person meetings with clients. We met at Brown University when we were undergrads there and have been friends for 20 years as of this past September.
Household income: $225K
Where you shopped: Amazon Fresh (delivery), South Mountain Creamery (CSA Delivery and the local farm store), and CVS
Weekly food budget: $200 to $250; it varies depending on whether we need to restock the pantry or have more meals out 
Amount spent: $220.70

We got an Amazon Fresh delivery on Sunday night for most of our staples, and a delivery from our CSA on Tuesday morning. Our order for the weekly CSA always includes seasonal produce plus milk, bread, and eggs. Sean stopped by CVS during one of his workday walks to grab fizzy drinks. On Saturday we ventured out to the farm that organizes our CSA, and got some treats from the farm store to eat onsite — plus a couple of goodies to take home.

What’s your grocery strategy?

We rely primarily on grocery delivery services and receive two each week (Amazon Fresh and CSA). That wasn’t the case before the pandemic, but deliveries helped us to stay healthy and safe when conditions were bad. Once things eased up, we realized the time-saving benefits of deliveries and stuck with it. We supplement deliveries with occasional in-person shops to fill in any gaps and get fresh flowers for the house. 

We keep a well-stocked pantry, and enjoy the challenge of using what’s on hand when perishables dwindle. As a typical DC household, our weekly grocery needs tend to vary widely depending on whether we’re making all meals at home or have events to attend or meals out with friends. This week was a “mostly at home” one, which I actually prefer! Also, we almost never get takeout apart from Sean’s nostalgic Chinese restaurant order on Christmas Day. (That’s nigh sacrosanct for someone who is Jewish and raised in Long Island, New York.)

Usually I (Emily) build the meal plan each week, starting with what we’re going to get from our weekly CSA delivery and taking into account what’s already in our pantry and fridge. We aim to limit waste, so we’re always mindful about not buying too much and not allowing things to spoil before we cook up something delicious with them. Pinterest is amazingly helpful with that aim.

On Sundays we plot out a week’s worth of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and make a note for any time that we have a planned meal out of the house. Dining out happens as a course of working and socializing in DC, but generally we cook most meals at home. We try to use as many fresh and responsibly sourced ingredients as we can. We’re also practical people and not averse to getting takeout when we need to, although that’s happened fewer than 10 times in the past few years.

Each weekly meal plan is written on a little sheet of paper that goes on our fridge, and we have a whiteboard (also on the fridge) to track when supplies are sparse or we need certain ingredients for a recipe.

We’re both omnivores and love food, which makes meal planning and cooking a fun game. I gained that sensibility from a big-family background and a lot of world travel, and Sean did from his New York-centric Jewish heritage. We both joke about how even when we’re eating a current meal, we’re thinking about the next one and the next one!

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes, $3.29
  • Organic cucumber, $1.39
  •  6 ounces shredded Parmesan, $1.99
  • 12 ice pops, $4.29
  • 6 everything bagel style egg white wraps, $5.99
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream, $4.59
  • 16 ounces sour cream, $1.99
  • 67.6 ounces seltzer water, $1.19
  • 4 plant-based smoky & spicy patties, $7.98
  • 8.5 ounces corn muffin mix, $0.79
  • 8.8 ounces original naan, $2.79
  • 2 cans sardines in oil, $2.58
  • 25 ounces organic marinara pasta sauce, $3.19
  • 16.9 ounces extra virgin olive oil, $5.49
  • Kale, $1.79
  • 0.5 ounces organic cilantro, $2.29
  • 10 slices Muenster cheese, $1.99
  • 6 granola bars, $2.49
  • 48 ounces French vanilla ice cream, $3.59
  • 3 shallots, $0.69
  • Scalloped potatoes, $2.38
  • 12 ounces frozen broccoli florets, $1.29
  • 5 pounds brown rice, $3.69
  • 10 ounces organic frozen strawberries, $3.79
  • 18 white corn tortillas, $2.23
  • 16 ounces shredded pizza blend (four cheese), $3.98
  • 8 ounces Parmesan and garlic kettle cooked potato chips, $1.93
  • 20.5 ounces sweet Sriracha hot sauce, $3.99
  • 10 ounces organic Italian salad mix, $2.99
  • 3 cans of tuna, $2.97
  • 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar, $1.99
  • Red onion, $0.99
  • 13.5 ounces organic coconut milk, $2.29
  • 4 bi-color corn, $4.99
  • 16 ounces dried navy beans, $1.49
  • 12.7 ounces seasoned organic rice vinegar, $3.79
  • 12 ounces frozen green peas, $0.99
  • 64 ounces epsom salt, $5.29
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, $1.59
  • Lemon, $0.59
  • Italian parsley, $1.89
  • 2 cans organic whole peeled tomatoes, $1.64
  • 16 ounces shredded Mexican cheese blend, $3.79
  • 5 ounces organic baby spinach, $2.29
  • 2 packs frozen raw shrimp, $13.98
  • 12 ounces Brussels sprouts, $1.49
  • 17.25 ounces strawberry fruit spread, $3.69
  • 19 ounces bratwurst sausage links, $4.29
  • Organic green bell pepper, $1.99
  • Organic red wine vinegar, $2.79
  • 2 packs shrimp flavor ramen, $0.78

Total: $150.69 (includes $1.55 in coupon savings)

South Mountain Creamery (CSA delivery)

  • Dozen cage-free eggs, $4.79
  • Half-gallon milk, $4.49
  • 2 local bakery loaves, $10.35
  • Weekly bag of produce, $34.75
    • Mixed bell peppers
    • Poblano peppers
    • Last of seasonal corn
    • Head of lettuce
    • Summer squash
    • Heirloom tomatoes
    • First of the fall apples (pink lady)
  • Diet soda, $2.98
  • Plain seltzer, $1.34

South Mountain Creamery (on-site)

  • Jar of cherry preserves, $6.32
  • Cajun crab dip, $4.99

Monday: Corn, Fried Eggs, Veggie Pizza, and Break-the-Fast Dinner

Today is Yom Kippur, so our eating patterns are very different (Sean is Jewish, and I am not). Per tradition, Sean fasts until sundown. I don’t observe the holiday, but in solidarity I try not to cook or eat things that are intensely aromatic during the day. Once the sun sets, dinner is always something nourishing to help Sean perk up.

My breakfast is an oddball meal, which is typical because my appetite doesn’t wake up until about noon. That means grabbing whatever happens to appeal (just to get some calories in), and this morning that was an ear of late-summer corn and two fried eggs. Lunch is homemade veggie pizza with no cheese, which always reminds me of my short-lived vegan phase as a teenager. It also reminds me that toaster ovens are truly unsung kitchen heroes! Sean and I have thrown together more energy-efficient, small-scale meals in our petite machine than I can count.

Dinner is at break-the-fast time. I cook two of the sausages we got in our grocery delivery, and make a peperonata sauce to serve with a half-box of fettuccine that was hanging out in the pantry. On the side is a salad with a homemade Greek vinaigrette. We’re big on salads in this house, and routinely have one or two big-batch dressings ready to go in the fridge. Sean was reared in Long Island, New York, and is more accustomed to traditional, Ashkenazi “break-fast” spreads (like communal platters of bagels with lox and cream cheese, fruit, and babka). Still, he rates the meal as properly homey and restorative.

Tuesday: Apple with Peanut Butter, Trail Mix, Carrot Cake, Flatbread with Jam and Cottage Cheese, Fritters, a Bright Salad, Tomato Soup, Grilled Cheese, and a Veggie Burger

Cozy times indoors due to a stormy day, with revitalizing things to eat. Our CSA delivery came this morning so my imagination is spinning about how to use the bounty. This week is a mix of end-of-summer produce (heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, corn, peppers) and the start of fall with some pink lady apples.

Sean’s breakfast is an apple with peanut butter, some of our house trail mix we make all the time, and some frosted carrot cake squares. (I added some protein powder when baking too.) My breakfast is flatbread topped with jam and cottage cheese, and we each have a mug of tea — especially comforting with all the rain outside.

Lunch is wild rice and lentil fritters, plus a dipping sauce and a bright salad that includes baby greens, grape tomatoes, sprouts, pickled red onions, and slivered almonds. There had been lentils and rice in the fridge to use up, and fritters feel like a more creative option than the same old “everything in the pot” soup that usually happens with lentils and grains. Not a fan of same old, same old when it comes to food!

Dinner is a quickie because we need to rush to our regular swimming appointment at a gym across town. (We’ve made an effort recently to make sure we aren’t becoming the DC stereotype of all work and no play!) “Quickie” in this case meant homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese with kettle chips for Sean, and the same soup plus a veggie burger for me. Tomato soup is one of my “Hail Mary” non-recipe recipes, which I could make in my sleep.

Wednesday: Breakfast Boxes, Chili, California-ish Tuna Salad Sandwiches, and a Strawberry Smoothie

Wednesdays are the worst days. (Sorry, Wednesday!) Sean and I both have saturated calendars, so it is all the more important to have fun with meals and get solid nutrition. First meal is a breakfast box I put together featuring leftover British-style beans with bacon, some roasted veg, and a side of toast. Plus, of course, tea. Sean is a former morning-coffee person, but I persuaded him to join “team tea” when we both started working from home during the pandemic. He still loves coffee, but confirms he feels much less jittery now with smaller doses of caffeine.

Lunch is chili over rice with some tortilla chips and smashed avocado. We tend to stretch whatever meat portions we have on hand by including as many vegetables and legumes as possible. So for this chili, we used only one of our sausages, and then leaned on a sweet potato, tomatoes, refried beans, and lentils to make it substantial.

Dinner is another pre-pool quickie: A California-ish tuna salad sandwich with sprouts and heirloom tomato, side of chips, and leftover tomato soup. (It’s fun when at least half of a meal comes from local ingredients from our CSA.) I slurp a strawberry smoothie made with kefir when we get home for a nutrition boost.

Thursday: New Breakfast Boxes, a Big Salad, Leftover Chili, the Last Corn Muffin, Leftover Fettuccine, Salad, Carrot Cake, Smoothie, and a Veggie Burger

New breakfast box time! We prepped a new set of boxes last night as part of our wind-down routine before bed. The new edition includes sautéed kale, sweet potato purée, leftover lentil and rice fritters, plus yogurt with a plum and trail mix. Nice and autumnal, befitting the weather change. We pair them with a side of toast and mugs of tea. 

I have a slew of intense deadlines, so I make a big salad (a la Elaine from Seinfeld) by tossing together a bunch of previously prepped grains, chickpeas, and cooked veggies, plus lettuce in a big bowl to graze while I type. Lunch for Sean is a repeat of yesterday’s chili over rice with toppings, and the last corn muffin from a recent batch. 

Pre-pool dinner is leftover fettuccine (Sean dubbed it “sauseeeege pasta”) plus a salad and a piece of carrot cake. Apparently I have the metabolism of a teenager, and I need another smoothie and a veggie burger after swimming laps. I am famished!

Friday: Japanese-Style Breakfast Bowl, Eggs, Waffles, Sautéed Kale, Milkshake, Sheet Pan Roast, Side Salad, Ciabatta, and Carrot Cake

Breakfast is an experiment to use up our leftover tuna salad in a different way than sandwiches on sandwiches on sandwiches. I make a Japanese-style breakfast bowl with sushi rice, a scoop of the tuna kicked up with Sriracha, quick-pickled red cabbage, and an egg — all finished with a drizzle of wasabi mayo and a sprinkle of furikake. I learned about savory rice bowls as breakfast options from a Korean roommate while in college, and they became a reliable way to bust out of a morning meal rut.

I have to meet with clients in town, so my lunch and dinner are out with them. Plus cocktails! Meanwhile, Sean whips up a diner-worthy lunch of eggs, waffles, and sautéed kale with a vanilla pumpkin-spice milkshake. 

For dinner, he makes a sheet pan roast with our remaining sausage, onion, and peppers, and a gorgeous bunch of rainbow carrots (all from this week’s CSA). When we turn the oven on, we like to get the most bang out of it by batch-cooking extra vegetables or proteins to use later in the week. It saves time and helps us be responsible with our energy usage at home. A side salad and ciabatta with homemade garlic butter round out the meal, with carrot cake for dessert.

Saturday: Breakfast Boxes, Granola Bar, Repurposed Tuna Tartare and Plantain Chips, Protein Shake, Last Square of Carrot Cake, Salad, Open-Faced Cheesy Melt, Leftover Soup, and a Handful of Snacks

Another day, another one of our breakfast boxes and a granola bar. Plus (surprise, surprise) tea. It is such a breeze to be able to grab these boxes in the morning, when half asleep, and the most work involved is getting a spoon or fork and heating up water to steep the tea. Especially when it’s a Saturday morning, but you still have a few hours of work to do!  

Lunch is repurposed leftovers from my business meeting yesterday. I take my boxed-up tuna tartare and plantain chips and serve it over rice with homemade wasabi mayo and some spinach. Protein shake on the side with ube paste mixed in, and the last square of carrot cake for dessert.

Our grocery supply gets slim at this point in the week, so the goal becomes getting creative with what’s left. Tonight for Sean that means a salad with beets, chickpeas, peppers, and pepitas plus an open-faced cheesy melt with tomato, and the last bit of soup. 

I’m not particularly hungry before heading out to see a concert, so I snack on a really good apple and have a handful of chickpeas plus my favorite “trail mix” crackers from Trader Joe’s. Those crackers alone are almost like a full meal because they’re so hearty.

Sunday: Japanese-Style Breakfast Bowl, Wheat Berry Stir-Fry, Vegetarian Tacos, Nachos, Milkshakes, Ice Cream Cone, “Farmers Market Chowdah,” Salads, Ciabatta, Truffle Popcorn, and Red Wine

Sundays always begin first with the New York Times delivery, then a slow roll into breakfast followed by household chores. Sean has another Japanese-style breakfast bowl and a granola bar, and I did my oddball thing (in this case: wheat berries stir-fried with some greens, an egg, and a few shrimp).

I make vegetarian tacos filled with charred poblanos, sautéed onions and bell peppers, corn, salsa verde, hot sauce, sour cream, cheese, and cilantro for lunch. Number-one game-changer in the homemade taco situation: Blister those tortillas! Instantly upgrades them from “meh, these are homemade” to “did I teleport to a taqueria?” I bust out our metal platter, a recent thrift-shop find, to make nachos using up the last of the chili and a lonely-looking bag of tortilla chips, plus the same veggies from my tacos. Dessert is a horchata-style milkshake to wash it all down. 

Later we head off to South Mountain Creamery, located in rural Maryland. In addition to petting adorable cows and traversing the corn maze, we nab an ice cream cone and a couple of sodas at the farm store for $6.67. (We have a mutual affection for fizzy drinks, but we try to ration them and not go overboard. “Try” being the operative word.) We also take home a jar of cherry preserves and a crab dip to use later.

Back in DC, Sean enjoys a “farmers market chowdah,” to use up some of our roasted vegetable stash and the last remaining grains of some cooked wild rice. He pairs it with a side salad and toasted ciabatta. Meanwhile, I head to my friend Diana’s apartment to begin a bunny-sitting stint while she’s out of town. The “buns” (as I refer to them) are as in love with green things as I am, and we sit together to demolish our respective bowls of salad. My bowl included some roasted shrimp and Brussels sprouts along with the leaves, and I finished the day with truffle popcorn and red wine. My kind of dessert!

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.

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