This Virginia Mom Feeds Her Family's Different Diets for $150 a Week — Here's How

The mom of two is a plant-based eater, but her husband and boys are omnivores. And somehow, she makes it all work.

Alison Corey
Photo: Courtesy of Alison Corey

Alison Corey faces a relatable challenge: Everyone in her family wants to eat something different.

She eats plant-based meals, has two picky kids, and has a meat-loving husband — so making everyone happy at dinner time takes some serious prep, creativity, flexibility, and open minds. (She blogs about whole-food, plant-based ideas for satisfying everyone in a mixed-diet family at Keeping the Peas.)

The family lives in Falls Church, Va., where they just bought a new house. "So our food budget is a bit tighter than it used to be," she says. "However, our food budget is the biggest part of our weekly spending — my goal is to provide my family with healthy whole foods, without compromising on quality."

With a weekly food budget that maxes out at $150, here's how Corey shops and cooks for herself, her husband, and their 5- and 8-year-old boys so everyone's happy.

Thriving in a Mixed-Diet Family

Corey says the key to groceries and meals in a mixed-diet family is flexibility. "That's something that has taken me time to learn," she says. "My kids didn't love eating my plant-based meals at first, but when I started preparing them in simple and approachable ways, they were more willing to try new things."

Further, she says, getting kids involved in the kitchen goes a long way toward facilitating their open-mindedness. "My kids always want to taste the foods they've helped to create," she explains.

If your kids are picky about eating fruits and vegetables, she recommends taking them to farmers' markets and giving them a small allowance to spend on fruits and vegetables. After they select their choices and bring them home, look through cookbooks together and find a new recipe they want to try using that ingredient. "This will slowly get them more excited about trying new things," she says.

Corey prepares plant-based dishes, and if her husband wants to eat something else, she delegates that task. "If he wants beef or chicken, he buys it, and prepares it alongside what we're eating," she says. "[With] recipes like stir fries, pastas, rice dishes, and tacos, [it's] easy to add a bit of meat into an individual serving."

A Mindful Approach to Buying Organic

Corey does most of her grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. About once a month, she hits her local supermarket, Giant, as well as Costco to stock up on essentials. During the summer months, the family is all about farmers' markets for fresh produce.

Her top splurge is organic fruits and vegetables as recommended by the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list, a guide to pesticides in produce. The group recommends buying organic when it comes to strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, bell peppers, celery, and tomatoes.

"This allows me to have some wiggle room with organic produce, as it is often significantly more expensive than regular produce," she says. "I save money by not buying everything organic." She also tries to stick to seasonal produce, which helps keep down the cost of buying organic.

If the rest of the family is going to eat dairy or animal protein, Corey makes sure the dairy is organic, too. "I want them to have the highest quality," she says.

For staying on budget, Corey recommends making a list — and sticking to it. "It's so easy to get distracted when you're at the grocery store and end up buying foods you had no intention of buying because it looked good, or your kids asked you to put it in the cart," she says. "If you make a comprehensive list, and stick to it, you will save yourself a lot of money and food waste!"

Weekly Meal Prep

At the beginning of the week, Corey prepares a recipe plan. She looks at the calendar to determine what days the kids have activities and the family will need a super-simple meal solution. "On days like those, we end up having leftovers, or a simple pasta, or taco night," she says.

Lentils and beans are some of her favorite ingredients to incorporate into a meal-prep routine: She preps them at the start of the week so they are ready to go to add to numerous recipes. "Cooked lentils will keep in the refrigerator for at least five days, and cooked beans will keep for three to five days," she explains. "But sometimes I will make a large batch and freeze them to save me time."

If she's using tofu in a dish for the week, she'll press it and chop it into cubes so that it's ready to throw into a recipe. She also does veggie prep, like slicing onions and chopping peppers, when possible. "Not all veggies should be chopped and prepared in advance," she says. "But peppers and onions are sturdy enough if I use them within a few days."

Budget-Friendly, Plant-Based Protein

Corey identifies dried lentils and dried beans as "the absolute best cheap thing" she buys. "Buying them dried rather than canned saves a ton of money," she says. "Not to mention, both lentils and beans are excellent sources of plant protein, fiber, vitamins, and nutrients."

She says "you get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck" when you buy these in the bulk section of the grocery store. Plus, doing so allows you to try multiple different types of lentils and beans to see which you prefer, "without having to buy a big bag of something that will end up sitting in your pantry."

Corey uses lentils to make vegan sloppy joes, marinara sauces for pasta, curries, tacos, chilis, and stuffed peppers, and she adds them to salads. "I use lentils the same way someone might use ground beef," she says. "Same goes for beans: You can add them to stews, or soups, chilis, fajitas, stuffed potatoes, nachos, stir fries, and so much more!"

Alison Corey's Sample Grocery List

Fruits and Vegetables

Organic apples
Organic grapes
Organic strawberries and blueberries (if in season)
Organic leaf spinach
Organic kale
Mini cucumbers
Organic cherry tomatoes
Organic bell peppers
Red onion


Whole-grain sandwich bread (usually Dave's brand from Costco)
Whole-wheat bagels or English muffins
Corn tortillas
Lentil or chickpea pasta
Whole-wheat spaghetti
Rolled oats
Brown rice
Wild rice
Whole-grain tortilla chips

Nuts and Seeds

Raw cashews
Raw almonds
Natural peanut butter

Beans, Legumes, and Plant Protein

Dried lentils
Dried beans
Black beans
Kidney beans

Dairy-Free Alternatives

Unsweetened almond milk
Dairy-free plain yogurt

Frozen Foods

Frozen vegetables (corn, broccoli, peas, carrots, cauliflower)
Organic frozen turkey meatballs

For the Omnivores

Organic milk
Organic shredded cheese
Organic cream cheese
Wild smoked salmon or wild salmon


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