Location: Durham, New Hampshire
Number of people in household: 4; my husband (Alex) and me, plus our two kids (Nick and Tommy)
Age: 37 (me), 39 (Alex), 7 (Nick), and 22 months (Tommy)
Occupation: I’m a part-time freelance copy editor and full-time at-home parent, and Alex works in university administration.
Where you shopped: Hannaford
Weekly food budget: $250
Amount spent: $270.41
I do most of our regular shopping at Hannaford, a local New England chain. We have one in our town, but it’s very small so my toddler and I head a little further every Monday to do the big shop. I like that Hannaford has a robust online shopping app, a large selection of store-brand items, and a generous rewards program. The only downside is there’s no bulk section.
Occasionally I’ll be in the vicinity of Whole Foods and I’ll stop there to pick up some specialty or bulk items that my supermarket doesn’t carry, like the six honeynut squash and fancy cheese and crackers I picked up last week. Some staples — cereal, granola bars, butter, nuts, and dried fruit — I get at BJ’s, but we’re not running low on any of those things this week.
We keep six backyard hens (Jane, Kitty, Lucy, Millie, Nan, and Olive), who provide us with about three dozen eggs a week. That’s enough to eat eggs several times for breakfast, to bake with, and to have plenty left over to give away to neighbors. While the eggs aren’t exactly free, I don’t count the cost of the ladies’ upkeep in our grocery bill. The hens themselves accept payment in the form of squash peelings, apple cores, and kale stems, which also helps with our food waste.
What’s your grocery strategy?
I’m fortunate that my kids are pretty good eaters, but they’re also BIG eaters. We go through a huge amount of fruit in particular. I’m also fortunate to have plenty of pantry storage space and a standing freezer in the garage, so I can grab something on sale that catches my eye even if I don’t have an immediate use for it.
We live in a fairly rural part of New England far away from my preferred store, which is why I like to do one big shopping trip a week. We go on Monday mornings because few people are at the store at that time. We eat out infrequently, partly because I really enjoy cooking and partly because we are only just starting to feel like we’re coming out from under the pandemic.
I use Paprika to organize my recipes, grocery lists, and meal plans while keeping track of what I have in my pantry and freezer to minimize waste. I’ve also been maintaining a recipe database since 2007. I currently have just over 4,000 recipes organized by meal type, season, country of origin, etc. and I’ve made more than 2,200 of them over the last 15 years. I consult the list often to plan weeknight dinners.
I clean out the fridge on Sundays and assess our leftovers and pantry inventory so I can plan dinners and compile a grocery list. My planning is pretty detailed. I check the weather report to see if there’s anything going on I should consider, like soup on a rainy night, and make sure to look at our calendars for any plans or extracurriculars I need to work around. I also peek through the weekly store flyer to see if there’s anything I want to stock up on.
Breakfasts are usually eggs, homemade muffins, cereal, oatmeal, or pancakes from the freezer. Alex, Tommy, and I usually eat leftovers for lunch. Nick is in second grade and takes a snack and a packed lunch with him to school. Over the weekend I sit down with him to go over a meal plan for the week so that we don’t have to scramble to figure out what to send with him, and he gets to add some input about what he’s eating.
I try to plan two or three vegetarian dinners a week, at least one with seafood, and no more than one with beef and pork. I cook dinner every night, and we almost always eat dinner together as a family. I already have gluten-free items on hand for Alex, like some gluten-free pasta that I’ll make for him as a side when the rest of us eat the traditional kind.
I wouldn’t normally plan breakfasts and lunches for the weekend, but we have friends visiting from Friday afternoon through Sunday. They’re vegetarians, so we’ll eat less meat this week overall. I’m also providing the cake for a neighbor’s birthday party on Sunday, but I have almost all of the ingredients already on hand.
Grand Total: $270.41 (I saved $21.56 by redeeming my end-of-the-quarter rewards)
Monday: Grab-and-Go Breakfast, PB & Blueberries Sandwich, Leftover Enchiladas, and Pan-Roasted Honeynut Squash with Creamy Garlicky Pasta
We have a variety of grab-and-go items for breakfast: cereal, bagels, and muffins from the freezer, along with some fruit and coffee. The kids drink milk. It’s the start of the school week, so Nick heads off to school with a cheese stick and a pepperoni stick for snack and a peanut butter and blueberries sandwich (yes, whole blueberries, not blueberry jam), grapes, and baby carrots in his lunch box. Alex packs leftover enchiladas for lunch and a variety of nuts, dried fruit, chips, and an apple to snack on.
Tommy has a plum midmorning and then we head to Hannaford for the weekly shop. The total ends up being little higher than usual because we have guests coming. (I usually aim to keep the Hannaford bill under $250, but I also try to give myself grace with the higher food prices.) At the end of our grocery trip, he has a snack pack that includes blueberries, apple slices, and whole-wheat Goldfish crackers. He eats everything except a handful of the Goldfish. I also have leftover enchiladas for lunch.
After Nick gets home from school, I have a protein drink and Nick has a granola bar, the rest of his baby carrots from lunch, and a handful of Goldfish. Tommy has a late lunch of banana yogurt and roasted sweet potatoes.
For dinner, I make Pan-Roasted Honeynut Squash with Creamy Garlicky Pasta using the collard greens and Parmesan I buy this morning as well as last week’s honeynut squash and pasta from the pantry. I make some gluten-free pasta for Alex. The boys have seconds of squash and pasta but aren’t thrilled by the collards — no surprise there. They split a pear for dessert. There is roughly one portion of pasta and squash left over and Alex and I finish the greens. Alex has a granola bar, a banana, and a mug of tea in the evening. After the boys’ bedtime, I marinate bone-in chicken thighs from the freezer, cut up broccoli for tomorrow night’s dinner, and prep Nick’s lunch for tomorrow.
Tuesday: Oatmeal, Scrambled Eggs and Toast, Kid Charcuterie, Leftover Enchiladas, Tandoori-Style Chicken, Roasted Broccoli, and Rice
Alex and Nick have oatmeal for breakfast while Tommy and I have scrambled eggs and whole-wheat toast with some plum jam I made last week. More milk and coffee for all. For lunch, Nick gets kid charcuterie, which is some salami slices, a cheese stick, cherry tomatoes, mini pitas, black olives, and mixed berries. For snack he has a baggie of homemade trail mix with peanuts, raisins, dried cranberries, and mini pretzels. Alex packs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on gluten-free bread (purchased last week) and variations on yesterday’s snacks.
Tommy and I don’t have anything on the calendar for this morning, so we spend time prepping for the weekend. We make a honey-shallot vinaigrette, a maple-thyme vinaigrette, the base for ramen soup, maple-pepita bark, mushroom Bolognese, and two quiches using frozen pie crusts I bought last week. We share an apple while we work. Tommy has a helping tower that he can use to be at counter-level, so he participates by dumping dry ingredients into bowls, mixing where appropriate, and tasting anything I would let him. He’s also recently discovered that the tower will give him access to the light switches, so I spent most of the morning cooking while enjoying a very slow light-switch rave.
Over the course of the morning, I use the last of a bottle of soy sauce (which I added to the grocery list for next week), a bag of raw pepitas, and a bottle of Champagne vinegar. We share the last of the enchiladas for lunch. After Nick gets home from school he has a quick snack of graham crackers and peanut butter. Tommy has a graham cracker and some strawberry yogurt, although most of it does not make it into his mouth.
Nick has an afternoon activity that runs until 6 p.m. and I have a meeting that starts at 7 p.m., so dinner prep has to be quick. Before I rush out the door I get basmati rice into the rice cooker. Alex preheats the oven and starts the rice cooker as soon as he gets home from work. Because I marinated the chicken for Tandoori-Style Chicken (from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking) and cut up the broccoli on Monday night, all I have to do is toss the broccoli with oil and some spices (mild curry powder and mustard seeds this time) and put everything on sheet pans to roast.
Everything finishes up in the oven around the same time the rice is done. The leftovers will get cut up and made into butter chicken tomorrow night. Alex has an apple and a granola bar and we both have tea in the evening after prepping Nick’s lunch for tomorrow.
Wednesday: Cereal and Toast, Muffins and Bananas, English Muffin Pizza, Leftover Squash and Pasta, Butter Chicken, Green Beans, and Pitas
Alex and Nick have cereal and toast for breakfast, and Tommy and I share sweet potato muffins and bananas. More coffee and milk. Nick has a packed lunch of English muffin pizza, grapes, and cherry tomatoes. For snack he gets chocolate hummus, pretzel chips, and apple slices. Alex packs his usual collection of snacks and leftover acorn squash stuffed with brown rice, sausage, apples, cranberries, and pecans from last week.
After breakfast, Tommy and I set butter and eggs out to warm up on the counter and then head out to pick pumpkins with a preschoolers’ and parents’ group. We share an apple cider donut (included in our excursion) and I splurge on a coffee in the farm store. At home, I bake a butter cake for this weekend’s birthday boy while Tommy plays with extra measuring cups and the kitchen scale. We finish off Monday night’s squash and pasta with a side of blueberries for lunch. After school/nap, Tommy enjoys some pretzel chips with his strawberry yogurt and Nick has some chocolate hummus that he didn’t finish with lunch with pretzel chips. That looks appealing to me, so I break out some more hummus and have the same.
For dinner, I use the four chicken thighs left over from last night’s dinner to make Butter Chicken from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking, with a side of roasted green beans. I unexpectedly used the last of my basmati rice yesterday, but I have what I think is some naan in the freezer. It turns out to be whole-wheat pitas, which works just fine. We end up with a generous lunch of leftover chicken and beans for later. After the boys go to bed, we enjoy some tea. Alex has an apple and a granola bar, while I snacked on a plum.
Thursday: Cereal, Muffins, Oatmeal, and Bananas, Hummus, Chicken and Rice Soup, Leftover Stir-Fry, Meatloaf, and Butternut Squash
Nick has cereal and a muffin, Alex has oatmeal, and Tommy has a muffin and a banana. I’m not feeling particularly hungry, so I just have a banana and coffee. Nick goes off to school with hummus, a cheese stick, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, grapes, and pretzel chips for lunch. He has an after-school activity until 5:30 p.m., so he needs extra snacks; today he gets a fig bar and some more trail mix. Alex packs a variety of snacks and a can of chicken and rice soup.
At lunchtime, Tommy and I finish last week’s stir-fry and share the last pear. In the afternoon Tommy has banana yogurt, blueberries, and goldfish. I have a protein shake and a handful of pretzel chips.
We enjoy Individual Glazed Meatloaves (from Cook’s Illustrated) for dinner with some butternut squash, which I roast with garlic and the leftover broccoli from Tuesday night. I intentionally make more squash than we can eat so we can have leftovers for lunches. While the meatloaves and squash are in the oven I make the base for tomorrow’s semolina gnocchi. Dinner is good, but the squash needs something else. A drizzle of balsamic glaze from the pantry perks it right up.
For dessert, we share the last piece of goat milk fudge we picked up at the farmers market last week. Tomorrow is a teacher workshop day at school, so I don’t have to pack a lunch for tomorrow. Alex has a granola bar and an apple in the evening and I have a banana.
Friday: Muffin, Cereal, Eggs, and an English Muffin, Leftover Meatloaf and Squash, Gnocchi alla Romana, Mushroom Bolognese, and a Kale Salad
Alex has a meeting with breakfast included, so he is up and out of the house before the boys and I get up. Nick gets up before I do and helps himself to a muffin and a cheese stick. When the rest of us get up he opts for some cereal and a plum as well. Tommy also has a plum and a handful of cereal while I make him some scrambled eggs. I have a fried egg and a slice of cheddar on an English muffin. Coffee and milk all around. After breakfast, I put butter out on the counter to warm up and we head out to run errands and visit the library.
When we get home from our morning excursion, Tommy has some yogurt and mixed berries. Nick and I have leftover meatloaf sandwiches and some of last night’s squash. Tommy helps me make a pie crust for weekend apple pie. While Tommy naps and Nick goes out to play with friends, I snack on a plum and mix up a batch of Swiss meringue buttercream to decorate our neighbor’s birthday cake. In the afternoon I have a protein shake and Tommy has the last stuffed acorn squash from last week. Nick forgets to grab a snack and is very hungry at dinnertime as a result.
I pick our friends up at the train station in the late afternoon. Alex comes home with three acorn squash, a pint of kiwi berries, and two tiny sample cups of bread pudding from a work event, which I will consider for next week’s meals. For dinner, we have Gnocchi alla Romana, Mushroom Bolognese, a Fall Harvest Salad (sans prosciutto). The boys each get a tiny bread pudding for dessert. It is easy to throw together and clean up after because I already prepped most of it.
Saturday: Omelets and English Muffins, Sandwiches, Cheese Board, Leftover Butter Chicken, and Ramen
I make a large Potato and Cheese Omelet for breakfast, using pre-shredded potatoes to save time on that step. We also toast a few English muffins to share and enjoy large quantities of coffee, tea, and milk. We head out to our favorite orchard, where we snack on and pick about $45 worth of apples and our friends treat us to fresh apple cider donuts. Tommy and I share one, Nick has one of his own, and Alex decides to pass.
No one is particularly hungry when we get home, but Tommy has a cup of yogurt before his nap, and the rest of us eat a selection of sandwiches, kiwi berries, and apples over the course of the afternoon. While Nick goes out to play and Tommy naps, my friends and I make an apple pie (adapted from King Arthur Baking Company).
I set out a cheese plate in the afternoon with some of our just-picked apples, nuts, apricot paste, crackers, and a variety of cheeses I got at Whole Foods last week (a fresh Brie, a red Cheshire, and a hickory-smoked Gouda), which we enjoy while playing some card games.
By the time dinnertime rolls around we realize that we aren’t at all hungry. We give the boys the last of the butter chicken for dinner and shuffle some meals around given that we had such a big snack. I make the Spicy Miso Ramen (adapted from Dirty Gourmet, by Aimee Trudeau, Emily Nielson, and Mai-Yan Kwan) that I have planned for Sunday’s lunch, and we decide to save the apple pie for breakfast the next day, bumping the quiche to lunchtime.
Sunday: Apple Pie, Cereal and Toast, Quiche, Birthday Cake, and Pepperoni and Prosciutto Pizzas
For breakfast, we enjoy the apple pie that I made yesterday, with the rest of the Cheshire cheese from last night’s cheese board. Alex is still feeling wary about gluten and skips the pie in favor of cereal with gluten-free toast. Lots of coffee, tea, and milk all around again.
For lunch we have mushroom and spinach quiches with a side salad of dressed arugula. I mix ginger beer from the pantry with apple cider, to varying levels of enjoyment (I love it, Nick finds it too spicy). Our guests end with an additional slice of apple pie each.
In the afternoon, Nick attends the birthday party for which I made the cake, where he also has a juice box. Tommy eats a massive slice of quiche for lunch, so he isn’t particularly hungry when he gets up from his nap. He eats a few rice crackers and apple slices, and Alex has an apple and a granola bar.
After I take our friends back to the train station, I make two pizzas for dinner, a pepperoni pizza and an autumn pizza with prosciutto (adapted from Half Baked Harvest). Alex is feeling better today and so opts to take a chance on the pizza. I use up the last of the pizza sauce, olive oil spray, and pepperoni. No need to make school lunches for tomorrow because it’s a holiday.
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