Food Budget Diaries

How a Family of 2 Eats for $185 a Week in New Orleans, Louisiana

Image Credit: Jambalaya: Vector Tradition SM/Shutterstock

Welcome to Kitchn's Food Budget Diaries series, where we show you how people around the country spend money on what they eat and drink. Each post will follow one person for one week and will chronicle everything that person consumed and how much it costs them.

Name: Carla
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Age: 37
Number of people in family: 2 (me and my husband, Justin)
Occupation: Healthcare Administrator. My husband is an inspector for construction services.
Household income: $110,000
Weekly food budget: $185

Image Credit: Susanna Hopler

Day 1: Saturday

7:30 a.m. We've got a hurricane comin'! Yesterday, a storm entered the Gulf and it's time to prepare because better safe than sorry.

As the storm approaches, we take a look in the fridge/freezer and realize we have quite a bit of frozen meat. If we were to lose power, we have ice in a large ice chest, but maybe we should cook something. My husband, Justin, decides to make a big pot of jambalaya later on and invite some people over. We already have the ingredients we need to make it. There is a 7 p.m. curfew.

9:00 a.m. We make breakfast with what we've got. No sense in hitting the grocery now and getting things we do not know we can keep cold. Breakfast sandwiches made of bacon, turkey, cheese, and eggs on wheat is a great way to start the day. I drink two cups of coffee and Justin drinks the last of the OJ.

We spend the day cleaning up the house, watching the storm updates, and, of course, it is game day so college football games are on.

Image Credit: Carla

2:00 p.m. The jambalaya is on the stove. It's basically a mixture of smoked sausage, pork, and chicken browned in a big cast iron pot. The meat is taken out and the "holy trinity" goes in (chopped celery, green peppers, and onion.) Garlic, tomato paste, spices, chicken broth, and rice go in and the meat is thrown back in. It takes about 25 to 30 minutes from here for everything to combine and become delicious.

Get the recipe: Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya from Louisiana Cookin'

4:00 p.m. Neighbors and family members arrive and eat. There are about eight of us in total. I also put together a simple salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Note to self: Need more salad stuff.

We all just hang out and watch games (an LSU tiger win!) and eat and drink beer.

9:30 p.m. This storm is thankfully a bust for the New Orleans area. It's barely raining and there is hardly any wind. The curfew is lifted and we (my husband and I and some neighbors) decide to take a walk after being cooped up all day. We share stories with some other groups of neighbors and then head to the neighborhood dive bar. There, we take turns ordering beers.

Homedale Bar

$60 for 12 beers between 4 people, my husband and I chipped in $26 for our drinks.

Total Cost: $26

11:30 p.m. Walk home and get to bed.

Day Two: Sunday

8:30 a.m. We are up, and I need coffee! We cook a jambalaya omelet for breakfast; we reheat the jambalaya with the rice and meat in a pan, crack some eggs, and scramble till cooked. It's a good way to use up leftovers. I also make a pot of cheese grits with milk, water, cheddar, feta, salt, and pepper. I deliberately make too much, as this can serve as another breakfast later in the week. I pack up the leftovers. I drink coffee and he drinks water.

10:00 a.m. I do an inventory of what we have left over. Surprisingly, not much. Four chicken thighs didn't seem to make it into the jambalaya, so I bake them simply using olive oil, dried dill, salt, and pepper and pack them up.

I defrost pork chops and ground beef I found yesterday in the freezer. I also note I have a jar of salsa. This means we're having tacos. I also have two potatoes, so I'll make oven fries to go with the pork chops.

I go ahead and make a grocery list now that I have a plan. I also had Thai food last week and really want to try something new, so I research and find a recipe for coconut shrimp noodle and veggie bowls.

10:30 a.m. We head out to the park with bottled waters to get some exercise and bring our dog, Reba, so she can take a swim.

1:00 p.m. We have a meeting with our real estate agent as we are looking to purchase a home, yet another reason budgeting is key. We shower and get to the meeting.

2:30 p.m. We drove around the city and toured some homes and chatted, now we are hungry and I want to hit the grocery store. We decide to go to SAM's to get salad stuff, as I think you get more for your money there. We also hit up our regular neighborhood grocery for the other items. It's exhausting going to more than one grocery store, but it's worth it.

We also decide to get a snack at SAM's, but they are remodeling the store and the café is closed. Just great.

SAM's

Caramels: $5.91
Cucumbers: $3.98
Tomatoes: $5.98
Lettuce: $3.98
Veggie mix: $4.98

Total cost: $24.83

We quickly do our shopping and head home for a snack. We have dinner plans at my mother's house at 6 p.m.

3:30 p.m. I make one sandwich using two chicken thighs, mustard, cheeses, tomato, and pickles on wheat and we split it. We snack on white cheddar cheese puffs I find in the pantry. I drink a carbonated water. He has bottled water.

4:00 p.m. I head out to the second grocery store and he stays home and cleans the kitchen. I get the rest of the things we need and maybe a few extras.

Rouse's

Olive oil: $5.99
2 Greek yogurts: $2
2 French yogurts: $3
Rice noodles: $2.49
Organic milk: $4.89
OJ: $3.29
Wheat bread: $2.99
Coconut milk: $2.19
Thai roasted chili paste: $3.29
Black olives: $4.99
Pepper Jack cheese: $2.59
Sharp cheddar cheese: $2.59
Freeze-dried cilantro: $3.99 (they ran out of fresh)
Romano cheese: $3.36
Taco seasoning: $1
Soft taco tortillas: $2.39
Bok choy: $4.99
Green onions: $2.50
2 limes: $.67
Ginger root: $.18
Shrimp: $6.50
Frozen pizza: $6.99

Total Cost: $70.28

6:00 p.m. We put all groceries away and head to my mom's place. She brought back some packaged Parmesan cheese from Italy and my brother made chicken Parmesan, spaghetti, green beans, salad, bread, and store-bought gelato for dinner. A free Italian family Sunday dinner is a nice way to end the weekend.

We bring a container of leftover jambalaya to my family. It is appreciated.

Image Credit: Susanna Hopler

9:00 p.m. We get home and get organized for the week. I pack up lunches for us both for tomorrow. He requests jambalaya, so that's what he gets along with a Greek yogurt and banana for breakfast. I also pack him up some peanuts, two protein bars, and two caramel chocolates for snacks. He buys one Coke at $1 every day.

I pack up some leftover beef stew and rice from last week for myself, a French yogurt, and the rest of the white cheddar crisps for myself. This will be my fourth time eating this stew. It's delicious and hearty, but I'm over it. As much as leftovers keep us both going, three times is enough!

Get the recipe: Beef Stew with Carrots ad Potatoes from Once Upon a Chef

Vending Machine

5 Cokes: $5

Total Cost: $5

10:00 p.m. Off to bed.

Day 3: Monday

7:00 a.m. Justin is out the door with all his food and I am getting up.

8:00 a.m. I am out the door with my coffee, yogurt, and lunch in tow.

We both drink water provided to us at our workplace throughout the day. I often shove a carbonated water in my bag to drink in the afternoon. Although it does not have caffeine, it serves as a pick-me-up.

5:00 p.m. I'm out the office and plan to make the coconut shrimp noodle and veggie bowls for dinner. Justin and I both arrive home around the same time. He walks Reba and also takes a walk to the neighbor's where he is dog training for a very cute brown lab puppy.

I work on dinner. I soak and drain the rice noodles and move on to the rest. In a pot, I sauté onions, garlic, and ginger. I add Thai roasted pepper paste and then light coconut milk, chicken broth, soy sauce, lime juice, a big bunch of bok choy, green onions, cilantro, and shrimp. It all cooks down. I taste it and it's a bit bland, so I add more Thai paste, soy, and some Sriracha for spice. It's better and we eat it. I like it, but I can tell he does not love it. This was loosely based off of this recipe.

Get the recipe: Thai Coconut Shrimp Noodle Bowl from Laura in the Kitchen

While I cook the noodle bowls, I throw a veggie mix of carrots, parsnips, and apples in the oven and also make the taco meat for tomorrow.

My philosophy is, if you are going to stand there cooking for any amount of time, make it worth it! Try to get ahead by getting something else done, if you can throw some vegetables in the oven to roast, bake some sweet potatoes, or cook some chicken or other meat. It's something!

My husband eats some of the veggies, he likes them, so I pack up lunches. He gets the two remaining leftover chicken thighs and some of the veggie mix, a Greek yogurt, a banana, and a bag of trail mix. I pack up a noodle bowl (add more soy and Sriracha), a French yogurt, a protein bar, and a carbonated water.

8:00 p.m. We go pick Justin's mother up at the airport and bring her back to our home where her car is. We give her some leftover white beans and rice from last week and she's on her way home.

10:00 p.m. We watch TV and get to bed.

Day 4: Tuesday

6:45 a.m. We are up, Justin is out the door at 7:15 a.m. with his breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I do last night's dishes and I'm out at 7:45 a.m. with my coffee, breakfast, and lunch.

8:30 a.m. I eat breakfast while working.

12:30 p.m. I'm hungry and eat my lunch early; Justin and I text, he already ate lunch and said it was great! We have another meeting with our agent at 6 p.m. this evening. My plan is to assemble the tacos for Taco Tuesday right when we get home. I'm glad I did the dishes and cooked the meat already.

4:30 p.m. I'm out of work and head home to walk the dog and grab a snack of hummus, crackers, tomato, and a couple slices of cheese. Justin makes it home and we head to meet our agent.

Image Credit: Carla

7:30 p.m. We are back home after another tour and I whip up a taco bar. We have a few leftover hard taco shells in the pantry, so I heat these up along with some soft tortillas. I heat the meat in the microwave and make a fresh plate of chopped lettuce, tomato, cheeses, green onions, and salsa.

Luckily, this takes 10 minutes and we eat and watch TV.

9:30 p.m. Justin does some laundry and I pack up our goodies for the next day. He takes the last of the beef stew (he only ate this a couple times) and I pack up the leftover grits and put into two containers: one for me and one for him. That's breakfast! I take the last of the jambalaya and finally last week's leftovers are gone. I put a couple protein bars and some caramels in a baggie for snacks for him. I pack up a baggie of cheese crackers for me, as we both have busy work days.

10:00 p.m. Off to bed.

Day 5: Wednesday

6:00 a.m. We are both up. I make coffee and have a piece of toast. The hubs is off to work early, and I enjoy an hour of The Today Show and the coffee.

7:45 a.m. I am off to work. We both have our food for the day and we have an event to attend later with food and drinks, so no more cooking for me.

6:30 p.m. After work, we get home, we shower up and get pretty and head out to the event. Courtesy of my work, we attend a fundraiser and sample lots of food and desserts, and we both drink cocktails. The turtle soup and cannoli are among our favorites. There are mini tacos, pastas, dips, coq au vin, coconut cream puffs, chocolates, Champagne, etc. There is also music and dancing and people I haven't seen in a while.

A very nice event, indeed, and how often do you get to wine and dine and shake it on a Wednesday?

9:30 p.m. We get home and each have a beer for a nightcap and I pack up our food for the next day. We are running low, so he gets two turkey and cheese tortilla wraps and the leftover veggie mix and snacks, protein bars, and chocolates.

I pack a bag of trail mix for me. I think I may go home for lunch and make a salad.

10:30 p.m. Off to bed.

Day 6: Thursday

7:30 a.m. We are both late getting up, but we manage to get out the door by 8:15-ish. Justin grabs a banana and his food that I wrapped up and leaves. I'm right behind with my coffee and trail mix. I did put two frozen chicken breasts in the fridge to defrost. I'll cook them later when I cook dinner. There is a light at the end of the freezer! I am using what we have and it's getting much less crowded in there.

10:00 a.m. I'm a bit hungry, so I snack on the trail mix.

12:30 p.m. I need to run an errand somewhat close to home, so I do that and then stop in and make a simple salad. I've been craving salad! Lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, and grated Romano cheese, with buttermilk ranch and a few crackers with hummus. And then I head back to work.

4:00 p.m. I'm out of work and run to a pilates class since I haven't exercised all week and then head home to make dinner.

8:00 p.m. Justin is finally home from work and I waited for him to eat. I made three pork chops and the two small chicken breasts I had defrosted, oven fries with the two potatoes I had on hand, and some baked Roma tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, breadcrumbs, and Romano cheese. I also make a small salad (because it was so refreshing) with lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, the last of some feta cheese, croutons, and the last of the ranch dressing.

I pack up the leftover pork chop, a chicken breast, and a few tomatoes for his lunch with the last banana and a couple protein bars. I have plans with a friend for lunch. It's Friday, payday, and well, there isn't anything left to pack up in the fridge anyway.

Day 7: Friday

6:30 a.m. We are up, I make coffee and toast with a piece of cheese and Justin takes his breakfast and lunch and heads to work. I chill out for a bit.

8:00 a.m. I am off to work with my coffee and a carbonated water.

10:00 a.m. I'm thirsty and drink my carbonated water.

Image Credit: Carla

12:00 p.m. I meet my friend for lunch. Iced tea, bread and butter, a small salad, and quiche maison (with veggies and seafood) is my order from a cute local French restaurant. It's creamy and delicious! A Friday treat! Usually, once a week I go to lunch with a coworker or friend; it's a nice getaway from the office. I try to keep it under $20.

Café Degas

Iced tea: $4
Quiche maison: $16
Tip: $3

Total: $23

2:00 p.m. Back at work and planning the weekend and when the best time is to hit the grocery and what to get. I know we have a family dinner tonight at our favorite local seafood restaurant. I know we have enough breakfast ingredients to get us through the weekend, and Saturday we will be going to a festival where we will eat dinner and have drinks with friends. We also still have salad stuff and a frozen pizza. When all else fails, we have frozen pizza. We usually dress it up with anything we have in the fridge — cheeses, olives, roasted veggies, fresh tomatoes, canned artichokes, etc.

Image Credit: Susanna Hopler

So, Sunday I will make a grocery trip. I plan out a couple of meals based on what we have and trying something new — Beef and Sweet Potato Chili – since there is a "cold front" coming in and it will be 82 degrees!

I do not prefer ground turkey, so I will substitute lean ground beef.

4:45 p.m. I leave work and take the dog out for a walk. Justin does not get home until after 6:00 p.m. We head to dinner.

7:00 p.m. It's my aunt's 70th birthday and we celebrate at our favorite local seafood restaurant. There are about 30 of us. Justin and I each have two beers, crab claws, crab dip with blue corn chips, and we split a dessert with others.

Seafood Restaurant

2 beers: $10
Crab claws: $12
Crab dip: $9
Cherry cheesecake: $5
Tip: $4

Total Cost: $40

10:00 p.m. We are both exhausted from the week and get to bed.

Image Credit: Susanna Hopler
Image Credit: Susanna Hopler

1. How did you set your food budget?

We try to hit the grocery once a week and spend around $100. Even for two people, this still requires planning. We enjoy cooking and eat at home and take food with us from home most days. Therefore, we need breakfast items, a few meals that create leftovers, snacks, etc. I always do an inventory of what we have and plan around that.

This leaves around $85 for our weekly social activities. Let's face it — our food and drink budget also includes our entire social life! In NOLA, we gather to eat and drink. Also, we hardly ever turn down a free meal!

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

Eggs! With some additional ingredients, we can whip up an omelet or a frittata for breakfast. Along with a biscuit or a piece of toast, you've got a meal. Also, OJ and coffee and milk are a must.

Salad stuff! We both enjoy salad, so having just the basics like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper is essential. Anything else is extra, like cheese, olives, vegetables, meats, and nuts.

Meat! We are meat eaters. Having a couple meat options available and ready for cooking is needed on a weekly basis. Chicken breasts, pork chops, or shrimp. As long as there is a meat product on hand, I can usually find one or two other items to make a meal.

Some other essentials include tortillas (for tacos), frozen pizz, sweet potatoes, and carbonated water.

And beer!

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

Red beans with sausage and rice or white beans with ham and rice. And soup – we usually have some broth in the pantry and some onions and garlic in the fridge, so that's a base right there.

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 food budget diary with Kitchn? See how here.

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