How a Family of 5 Spent $920 on Food in One Week

chicago food diary

She’s a stay-at-home mom of three (ages seven, three and two) living in Chicago with a grocery tab that’s not for the faint of heart. Still, we were impressed to see how she parsed out her Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Costco purchases to last her family of five the entirety of a (very snowy) week.

Day 1: Saturday

9 a.m. We typically grocery shop for our family on the weekends and pick up half of the essentials at Mariano’s, a grocery chain in our area owned by Kroger. I buy a lot of my pantry items and kid snacks here because I find it to be a cheaper grocery store than Whole Foods. They also have more mainstream items that my kids want, like actual Oreo cookies versus Whole Foods organic cookies that pretend to be Oreos, but aren’t quite Oreos. For example, things like Goldfish, cereal, pancakes, cooking oil, fruit squeeze pouches and pasta. $100 is a fairly typical bill for these types of things. Total Spent: $108

10 a.m. I go to Trader Joe’s about one time every two weeks. It’s my favorite place to pick up items to stock our freezer with. Then, I use those for lunches and dinners throughout the week. Some of our staples: Fried rice, sweet potato gnocchi, cauliflower mash, frozen wild shrimp, little ice cream cones, pre-made salads and fruit blends for smoothies. Total Spent: $127

11 a.m. Next stop, Whole Foods, where we do the bulk of our grocery shopping. This is where we buy our meat, fish and produce in addition to select items that I can only find here—almond milk creamer, specialty coffee, gluten-free pasta, fancy cheeses. Total Spent: $235

12 p.m. I’m almost done with the shopping, so splurged on a treat for me—a smoothie. Both my grocery stores have juice bars and serve up decent options. Total Spent: $5

12:30 p.m. Quick pit stop for lunch on the go at McDonald’s. We got food for three kids and two adults. Total Spent: $12

2 p.m. I go to Costco once a month for large items like paper towels, dishwasher detergent, garbage bags and large snacks that my three boys eat very quickly. (Think Cheez-Its, Naked Juice smoothies, nuts, frozen pizza and—this one is for me—wine.) Total Spent: $250

6 p.m. It’s the weekend, so we took the kids out to a wood-fired pizza restaurant that I would classify as casual dining. You order at the counter and a waitress brings you the food. All five of us got our own pizza (three adult-sized, since my seven-year-old now orders off the grown-up menu, and two child pizzas). We also got two beers. It’s pretty hard to go out to eat anywhere for less than $50. Total Spent: $64

Day 2: Sunday

9 a.m. My kids eat bagels for breakfast almost every morning, so I typically go to our local bagel shop and stock up for the week. This time, my two sons were with me, so we bought a dozen bagels and they each got a muffin while we were in there. Total Spent: $21

6 p.m. My husband is a great cook and enjoys it, but he travels for work, and is only home Thursday night through Monday morning. That means that there are four nights a week where it’s just me and my kids. But tonight, he was home so he smoked a pork shoulder that I picked up at the grocery store the day before. Total Spent: $0

Day 3: Monday

9 a.m. Since I’m a stay-at-home mom, I don’t have a ton of other purchases throughout the week. Also, it’s Chicago. It snowed four times in four days, which makes it a lot harder to get out for things like a coffee run. My work-around: I buy a $14 bag of coffee at Whole Foods (it’s part of Saturday’s grocery bill) that’s from an independent coffee shop that I used to live next to in Wicker Park. Then, I brew it at home. Total Spent: $0

12 p.m. My seven-year-old is in first grade and brings lunch from home. I’ll pack it for him from the groceries we picked up since hot lunch isn’t offered at his school. For the other two younger kids, I’ll make things like chicken nuggets or PB&J. Total Spent: $0

6 p.m. Leftover pork shoulder for dinner. We usually try to repurpose whatever my husband cooks on Sunday for two weeknight dinners. I supplement with veggies made fresh each night. Total Spent: $0

Day 4: Tuesday

6 p.m. Like I said, this particular week, we were pretty housebound, what with all the snow we got. So another day of bagels for breakfast and leftover pork shoulder for dinner. Total Spent: $0

Day 5: Wednesday

6 p.m. Tonight I cooked since we were done with all the leftovers. But still, everything I made came from that Saturday grocery shopping trip. Total Spent: $0

Day 6: Thursday

7 p.m. I met girlfriends for drinks at a local restaurant in town, which I do about two times a month. The drinks aren’t too pricey…but I also had to pay a sitter since my husband was away. Total Spent: $20

Day 7: Friday

6 p.m. My husband is home, but we grabbed takeout for dinner tonight from a local place that serves American food (burgers, salads, etc.). We definitely don’t splurge like this too often—mainly because we don’t love the options in our area. Total Spent: $78