If you’ve been following along here for a while, you probably know I’m big on budgeting and saving money, so it should come as no surprise a quarantine food budget has been on my mind.
While we don’t eat out often during normal days, this stay-at-home order has still drastically impacted the way we eat and the way we spend money on food. Typically, I go to the grocery store multiple times a week, picking up items here or there as we need them. I always have some pantry staples on hand (here’s my list!) but, for the most part, it’s, “What do I want tonight? I’ll run by the store and grab it.”
Shopping or meal planning for a week or more at a time is not something I’m used to.
Plus, we’re each now eating 3 meals a day at home and, like everyone, we’re spending more time cooking and baking elaborate meals that we otherwise might not bother with (I mean, we need something to be excited about, right?!).
BALANCING OUR QUARANTINE FOOD BUDGET
It’s no surprise that our grocery budget has almost doubled. However, our restaurant and fast food budget has declined drastically. That doesn’t mean we’re not eating out at all, but this is how we’re balancing groceries with continuing to support local restaurants.
Given that we’re at home all the time, we want to make our days seem special and cooking together, splurging on our favorite foods, and indulging on occasion with at-home cocktails and fancy meals is our favorite way to do that.
In a previous life, we didn’t spend much on groceries — we eat well, but Adam doesn’t eat breakfast, often he brings a smoothie for lunch, I pack simple lunches, and we only bought the specific ingredients we needed for dinner each night. I’d see budgets online where a couple would spend $600-$800 a month on groceries and I’d wonder how on earth that was possible. Now that I have a fridge that is fully-stocked with produce, meat, dairy, alcohol and pantry that is full of dry goods and snacks, I get it. Having options at your fingertips costs serious money and a single grocery receipt over $100 doesn’t phase me anymore.
But, how are we keeping it under control? At the beginning of the week, I do a few things:
- I look to see whether there are any specific recipes I want to make. For example, we want to do another queso and margarita afternoon this weekend. So, I’ll need those ingredients.
- Then, I decide on a few different meats we want to base our dinners on. Typically, those include pork chops, ground beef, and chicken thighs (in this household, it’s dark meat, always), but sometimes I’ll also include a splurge item like steaks. We made steak frites last weekend (fries in the air fryer!) and it was delish.
- I’ll add in veggies that are easy to mix and match with a variety of meals. Think zucchini, spinach, asparagus, sweet potatoes.
- I stock up on the pantry staples that actually enable me to make most recipes that I come across.
- I include easy lunch items. Think deli meats, fruit, cheese, etc.
- And, of course, I include treats. Social distancing is all about nostalgia and sometimes that means Spaghettio’s and Zebra Cakes. No shame.
So far, with a specific plan in place each week, we have yet to have anything go bad. And, we’ve actually pushed out our grocery order further and further each time. We’re successfully using what we have and going without waste — even though we’re spending more.
CONTINUING TO SUPPORT LOCAL RESTAURANTS
Okay, so with all these goodies stocking my cupboards, how am I continuing to support local restaurants within our quarantine food budget? We are all well aware that the restaurant industry will take the biggest hit during these stay-at-home months.
I’m sure most of us have heard that the best thing we can do is continue to order from restaurants and include uber-generous tips, tip favorite bartenders, review restaurants online, and do anything we can to put a few dollars in their pocket to help keep the lights on during these tough times. The last thing we want is to come out of this to “Closed” signs on the door of our go-to haunts.
So, what’s my policy on eating out given that I’m spending so much more than I normally do on groceries? We’re basically doing what we would during a usual week, only eating out on the weekends, but we’ve gone from 2 nights out to 1 and we’re cutting out any lunches, breakfasts, or random treats.
Every Saturday night, we’re ordering in from a different restaurant — ideally, an old favorite — and, on Sundays, we’re picking up something like bagels, coffee beans, a beer growler, or another treat from a neighborhood spot. This is, thus far, the routine that’s working for us. We get to continue to support our local restaurants, while also sticking to our food budget, and we’ve found another way to support neighborhood spots, which you’ll read about in the next section.
MY TIPS FOR ORDERING GROCERIES
I’ve definitely been on the more cautious end when it comes to going out to get groceries — I haven’t been to a grocery store since March 14. For the most part, I’ve been ordering groceries online through Amazon Fresh and Target, which, yes, I realize isn’t ideal when you want to support small business, but, hey, these are crazy times. I’ll grab fresh groceries from Amazon Fresh, meats, dairy, and veggies, and pick up dry goods from Target like spices, peanut butter, or nuts.
Yes, it’s tough to get Amazon Fresh times and I’ve heard rumors that they’re no longer accepting new customers, but if I load my cart on one day, I’ve always been able to get a time slot within the next 2-3 days by reloading the page a few times a day.
This week, however, I’ve started picking up groceries from local restaurants who are selling both inventory and stocking pantry staples, meat, vegetables, baking supplies, and alcohol. I placed an order from Acqua Al 2, where the sale of inventory goes to support their Employee Relief Fund, and I plan on ordering from Joselito’s market this weekend to pick up some steaks and cheeses.
As this goes on, I do plan on including orders from local restaurants in my quarantine food budget and only placing online orders for items I can’t get locally. Here’s a list of restaurants all over the city offering groceries.
WHERE SHOULD I ORDER TAKEOUT OR DELIVERY IN DC?
If you’re going to order takeout in DC, my #1 recommendation for a delicious dinner is Compass Rose’s Taste of the World. It’s been my favorite restaurant in DC for years and the smorgasbord of food you get on this diverse tasting menu is incredible. It’s easily 2 meals each for 2 people and, of course, they include their signature dish, the khachapuri.
And, because I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities in the city, Washingtonian pulled together a great list of restaurants across the city offering takeout and delivery, so definitely check it out as you plan your weekend date night.