How Dawn Seymour Feeds Her Family of 4 on $150 a Week While Saving for a House

The California mom of two makes vegan adaptations of family favorites.

a family of four stands in a doorway, smiling
Photo: Haley Hill

Dawn Seymour, a restaurant publicist, lives in Solana Beach, Calif. with her husband and two sons, ages 8 and 6. She's an avid home cook who devours her many cookbooks for inspiration. And she certainly finds plenty of inspiration at work, too.

"Since I work as a publicist for several restaurants, I do eat out quite a bit and try to bring back items from those dinners for my husband to sample or to share with the boys," she says. "We try to sit down together for dinner as a family every night, and when I'm out for a work or social event, I tend to provide my husband guidance on what to cook and prepare — if I don't grab them burritos from our favorite taco shop!"

The family has a "semi-tight" budget of about $150 per week for groceries, she says. And she makes it go far since "eating well is a priority for us, from quality ingredients to organic produce and eating out." Lately, she's been "tasked with trying to rein in our food budget a bit as we are hoping to buy a house next year."

Here's how she balances the books.

Save With Plant-Based Fare

Seymour's husband went plant-based about eight years ago, and she estimates that a specialty diet within the house actually helps the family save money in this case. "Since my husband is vegan, we don't spend money on meat very often, which I know is a high-price item in the market."

But that doesn't mean there's a sense of sacrifice around the household. "I've enjoyed finding yummy ways to make our home-cooked meals delicious and vegan. I can modify almost any recipe in my head at this point, omitting eggs or using vegetables or tofu. It's sort of like a game," she says.

Draw Inspiration From Many Places

Rather than finding it a chore, Seymour says she fully enjoys the experience of grocery shopping — and finds it inspires her cooking.

"I visit several places in person regularly when grocery shopping," she says. "I'm one of those people who loves the grocery store and can spend hours just walking the aisles looking at products and building recipes in my mind when something looks good."

Most frequently, she shops at Whole Foods as well as Jimbo's, a local grocery in San Diego that has only organic produce and offers "an amazing prepared foods section," she says.

She also goes to the farmer's market every Sunday for a majority of the family's produce. And twice monthly she visits Chino Farms, a local farm stand known for its chef clientele.

"I really try to buy around the seasons, so we only buy fresh corn in the summer months and normally only from Chino Farms," she says. "Same for peaches and anything that is hyper-seasonal."

She does occasional shopping at Trader Joe's and Costco. ("You cannot beat Costco's deal on organic maple syrup, and we go through a lot of syrup!") And she did shop online at Thrive Market and Instacart during the height of the pandemic.

Pick Where You'll Splurge, and Where You'll Save

Seymour is willing to splurge on prepared food items, like sushi — or granola, about which she says, "I know I can make it — and I have. I just prefer to buy it!" And these prepared items can add up quickly. She also splashes out for nutritionally dense vegan foods as well as oils.

"We tend to spend money on things like olives, plant-based cheeses, yummy dips, nuts, and tons of veggies, and fruits. The plant-based and vegan cheeses are pretty expensive, but they are delicious and provide a lot of firepower when it comes to upping the ante on pasta dishes, roasted veggies, and snacking," she says. "Nuts are crazy expensive, but a must for us. I use cashews to make everything from creamy sauces and salad dressings, [add them] to curries, and [have them on hand] for snacking."

Prioritize What's Important

About one or twice monthly, Seymour buys meat for her kids and herself to eat. On those occasions, she says, "I will spend the money for the best-looking piece of fish or organic beef out there." She won't compromise on organic produce either, she says, even though it costs more.

Not everything organic is expensive, though: She calls the $1.99 organic ketchup from Trader Joe's one of the best-value items in her cart.

Lean on Versatile Grains

Rice is among the hard-working staples of Seymour's pantry — and an ultra-affordable one she uses in a wide variety of ways.

"I love the versatility of rice. I make a cold rice salad, fried rice, steamed rice for curries or roasted vegetables, congee," Seymour says. "Rice is a staple for us. Really most grains are how I start a meal when I don't know what I'm going to make. I'll start some quinoa and piece the rest of dinner together."

She doesn't formally meal plan, but always has ingredients around to put together a grain-veggie-protein meal like tofu and veggie stir fry and steamed rice. "If we don't finish the rice, I'll make that into fried rice the next day or scramble it with eggs in the morning for the boys," she says.

Waste Not

Seymour avoids waste by eating leftovers within the week so they don t get shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten. "Our fridge starts to pile up with leftovers by Wednesday or Thursday and then on Fridays I tend to pull them all out and we have a hodgepodge dinner of leftovers and maybe a simple salad to get rid of them," she says. "Since our leftovers tend to be veggies either cooked or raw, they are also easily transformed into soup." She might also use them in a dish like veggie tacos.

Further, she only buys fresh produce that she can use in a week. "I will count out the number of apples my kids will eat during the week so that we aren't wasting food," she says.

Dawn Seymour's sample grocery list:

  • almond milk
  • Dave's Killer Bread, multiseed
  • organic corn tortillas
  • Miyoko's vegan butter
  • buckwheat flour
  • organic dried pasta
  • organic jasmine rice
  • organic farro
  • cashews
  • peppermint green tea bags
  • coconut water
  • cage-free organic eggs
  • cereal (typically Heritage Flakes, Kashi Heart to Heart, or Purely Elizabeth granola)
  • Nature's Path frozen buckwheat waffles
  • sesame oil
  • Bragg liquid aminos
  • organic firm tofu
  • Made Good granola bars
  • Hippeas
  • peanut butter pretzels
  • Melba toasts or another cracker
  • salsa
  • tortilla chips
  • peanut butter
  • organic frozen fruit
  • fresh pizza dough ball
  • pickles

Produce (all organic)

  • avocados
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • red leaf lettuce
  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • mushrooms
  • bananas
  • strawberries
  • apples
  • grapes
  • lemons
  • limes
  • herbs
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