How a Graduate Student Who Also Works Full-Time Feeds Herself on $40 a Week in Minneapolis, MN

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Name: Stephanie
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Age: 29
Number of people in family: 1
Occupation: Technical staff and graduate student
Household income: $72,000
Weekly grocery budget: $40
Ingredients to use this week: Muesli, granola, lentils, canned beans, nuts, radishes, rice noodles, ramen, limes, breadcrumbs, yogurt, almond milk, salsa, and salmon.
Grocery store of choice: Imperfect Product and local co-op. I typically shop at Aldi, but since I am traveling into the work week Imperfect Produce allows me to meal plan earlier, removing the bulk of my shopping once I get home. 

Day 1: Monday

Breakfast: I’m on my way to the airport for my flight back home. I brew coffee in my Airbnb with beans from a local roaster and take the leftover donut we have hanging around. I wait for my ride to the airport while petting the neighborhood cat on the porch. 

Lunch: This flight is nonstop turbulence. I was planning on having an apple and peanut butter, but decide to stick with a ginger ale. I focus on my breathing as the entire plane keeps lunging around the sky. I just want to land and get off this nightmare flight.

Dinner: After traveling, I need a quick rest. I stop by my parents’ house to pick up my cat, who has claimed the myriad of houseplants as his own. My mother convinces me to cook dinner before she gets home, as she skipped lunch. I cook up some coconut-crusted chicken breast, rice pilaf, and fresh beans from the garden. We catch up about my trip and her weekend with the grandkids.

Grocery shopping: I prepared my meal plan prior to leaving by taking inventory of my pantry and customizing my Imperfect Produce box. It’s been raining all day and the box was delivered hours ago, but I’m fortunate my roommate brought it inside for me. I intended to grab my remaining items at the co-op, but they are about to close. I’m exhausted and promise I will go tomorrow on my way home. 

Imperfect Produce: $22.92

Day 2: Tuesday

Breakfast: I scrounge up granola from my desk cabinet at work and open a new bottle of almond milk. I try to keep some essential healthy options available, due to my schedule. It’s 5 a.m. in the office. I take advantage of no one being in yet and start to trudge through my inbox. I make notes of issues I need to handle urgently since I have been away and go downstairs to the break room to make some coffee. While I wait for my coffee to cool, I verify my class schedule and textbook list. Classes start next week and I need to purchase my last few options.

Lunch: As I wasn’t able to get all my shopping done yesterday, lunch is a protein shake with added chia-flax powder. I add the remainder of the almond milk from this morning to get by a little longer before dinner. I spend my break drinking my shake while covering meeting minutes with my boss. I should eat something more, but this will get me through until I finish shopping this evening, curbing most of my impulse purchases from hunger. 

Snack: I’m fortunate to find some leftover fruit platter from this morning in the break room. I throw some into my coffee mug. It’s mostly melon, grapes, and a few slices of pineapple. I desperately want it to be cheese, but I promise myself I will add some to my grocery list if my budget allows. 

Grocery shopping: There are only a few items on my list to get at the co-op. I’m trying to use up items I have stashed away in the pantry and freezer. I grab some greens, herbs, fresh local eggs, and veggies to round out my shopping. It’s one of my frugal weeks to force me to use up the pantry and freezer items that have slowly accumulated due to sales. 

Local co-op: $19.85

Dinner: Since I’m hungry from my makeshift lunch I opt for a quick dinner. I scramble up some eggs with crème fraîche and grate the cheddar cheese from the grocery trip on top. I pop a few slices of bread in the toaster and call it done. 

I spend the evening preparing my lunches for the rest of the work week: zucchini verde vegan enchiladas. I added too much tofu, as I didn’t read the package size, and save it to fry up later in the week for breakfast. Additionally, I prepare some overnight oats with muesli, almond milk, and some frozen berries. While I wait for everything to finish up in the oven my roommate and I enjoy some cocktails on the deck. We catch up on her life and exchange schedules for the coming week. 

Day 3: Wednesday

Breakfast: After unpacking my bag and getting my computer up, I’m able to enjoy my overnight oats. I check out all my office plants, making mental notes on which need additional care. Like any good employee in the office before the sun is up, I grab another cup of coffee. It’s not even 7 a.m. and a third cup of coffee is needed. I may have a tiny problem.

Lunch: I reheat my enchiladas from last night and add avocado, Greek yogurt, and lime to round it out. The avocados in my Imperfect Produce box this week were on the smaller size, but are perfect for my lunches. There are no awkward avocado leftovers and the right ratio in my lunch. I chat with my coworker about some of our projects and changes that just added a huge workload to our jobs. We are feeling the stress so I dig out two small pieces of chocolate from our secret stash of goodies. 

Dinner: I just finished up at the gym and need to run off to meet a group of people for a happy hour event. I make myself another protein shake and grab a piece of fruit to tide me over. Both end up being consumed during my drive down to the bar while I chat with my mom on the phone. It’s been stressful for her lately with work, so she mainly vents while I finish my food.

Snack: Finally home after being out and having a few drinks has made me want to snack. I rummage around and discover there are ice cream bars in the freezer. I enjoy one while introducing my cat to our latest houseplant addition. 

Day 4: Thursday

Breakfast: Early day, but I sleep in, as I know it will be a later night in the office since I have meetings. I enjoy my breakfast of frozen golden goodness waffles smeared with peanut butter and speckles of toasted coconut. My cat seems smitten with the new plant addition, but spends most of the morning with me in his favorite corner by the window. I make myself a four-shot amaretto latte to go. I wrangle the cat back to his room for some quiet time so my roommate can sleep in longer. How he makes so much noise just walking around I will never know. 

Lunch: I’ve been counting down to lunch for 30 minutes. My last meeting went triple the scheduled time. The caffeine is wearing off and my focus is completely drained at this point. It’s leftover enchiladas again today. I heat them up and add some guacamole, jalapeños, and Greek yogurt to round it out. I enjoy them while looking up new organization tools for managing my growing list of tasks. Since I’ve been in meetings all morning I focus my energy on drinking water in hopes to fight off the afternoon grogginess. 

Dinner: I’m still feeling sluggish from this afternoon, so I decide on making a warm lentil and salmon salad for dinner. Lentils tend to be a staple in my house and are featured often in dishes and salads as I try to move towards a vegetarian diet. I eat my dinner at the coffee table while chatting with someone on a dating app. We spend the time sending photos of our cats back and forth for the bulk of the conversation. 

Day 5: Friday

Breakfast: 6 a.m. — I finally get to sleep in a bit before heading into the office. I only have a half day, but need to stay for a later meeting so I modify my arrival time. I’m extremely fortunate for the later start because I arrive just as a coworker is bringing in donuts. Sprinkled donuts are a top pick of mine and there is one left. I recede to my desk after filling my mug with coffee and chat away with my coworker. It’s just us in the department today, which means we just randomly chat away over our cubicle walls while checking our inboxes. 

Lunch: Home. I get to enjoy a freshly cooked meal and have started to prepare my lunch of zucchini and lentil fritters. I throw them over arugula and add cherry tomatoes over the top. I gather up my meal, along with some iced tea, to enjoy on the deck while watching the cat explore. He has mastered the ability to hide amongst the shrubber and watch the neighborhood dogs out on walks. I know he wants a friend, so I scroll through Petfinder and want to adopt all the animals. 

Dinner: It’s a little chilly in the air. Fall has finally made it’s way back and I decide on making a quick ramen mash-up. I make some millet and brown rice ramen, adding in a medium-hard boiled egg and some bok choy. I use the leftover vegetable broth from earlier in the week to add more depth. In true single-girl fashion I decide to eat it in the kitchen while talking on the phone with my mom. We make plans for the weekend and chat about our weeks. 

Day 6: Saturday

Brunch: I sleep in quite a bit into the late morning. I have the house to myself, as my roommate has left for the day. I mix up some buckwheat pancake mix. I add some frozen blueberries directly in the pancakes and some mixed berries over the top with some syrup. I spread out my meal along with a large French press of coffee in the living room and queue up the TV for a few episodes of Monk

Dinner: It’s a weird time, 3 p.m.. I’m hungry and decide to make some hummus from scratch. I smear it across the plate and top with the leftover red lentil and zucchini fritters, plus a rough chop of an avocado. I pour myself a glass of wine and return to the couch for more TV episodes. I’m feeling extremely lazy. 

Day 7: Sunday

Breakfast: Up earlier than yesterday, so I hit up the gym. After I have that weird mix of feeling energized and needing caffeine. I make a latte to go with my grilled peach and Greek yogurt. I have to enjoy my meal standing, as my cat is continuously fighting me for the yogurt (A bad trait he learned from my ex). 

Lunch: Rummaging around the fridge I notice I have one last meal of the vegan enchiladas to enjoy. I heat it up and enjoy it while texting my sister. I check up on her and her family; we vent about our lives, and I deal out the younger sister advice. 

Dinner: There is leftover salmon lentil salad in the fridge, but my roommate brings home a pizza. It’s half price and I really can’t say no. We end up eating it in the living room while hanging up some light fixtures and art. We enjoy conversation and cocktails, while the animals nap on the couch. 

1. How did you set your food budget?

My monthly budget for groceries is $250. I have three weeks at $70 and a frugal week of $40. It allows me to take advantage of sales without constantly having a growing grocery budget. Previously I had been doing larger runs to Costco to be stocked up, but with limited space this method gives me the best of both situations. I’ll often stock up on canned beans, shelf-stable almond milk, and large bags of granola from Costco. I will regularly use the bulk bins at the co-op for grains and nuts to supplement with the more expensive items at smaller quantities. 

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

Lentils, eggs, and buckwheat pancake mix.

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

Budget to me normally uses what is always around: lentils. I love to make them into a bowl with a fresh vinaigrette and roasted vegetables for a quick meal.

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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