How Nutrition Coach Erin Mann Scaled Her Food Budget With Prices Soaring

The mom of one caps the weekly grocery budget around $225, with room for plenty of organic ingredients.

Erin Mann
Photo: Courtesy of Erin Mann

Erin Mann is a registered holistic nutrition coach and the founder of Erin's Elderberries. She started the company when her son, Lucas, had a health scare at age one, and she hoped the berries could help boost his immune system.

Mann and her husband live in Warrenton, Va., and Lucas is now six years old. Prior to COVID, and the wide-ranging fallout associated with the pandemic, their weekly food budget topped out around $150. But these days, thanks to supply chain issues and inflation, she's seen that weekly spending creep up considerably. Now it sits around $180 to $225 per week.

"I am still trying to settle into what is the new normal," she says of the budgetary adjustment.

Overall, she says the family budget is "pretty tight," with the new costs of food as well as the need to put away savings for emergencies, retirement, and a college fund. "Although I will be the first to admit, the food aspect is where we can definitely use some tuning up," she says.

Here's how (and where) Mann spends that money, with affordable staples and splurge-worthy indulgences both in the mix.

Shopping Strategy

Prioritizing convenience and practicality, Mann shops mainly at Wegmans.

"Wegmans is the most affordable and closest grocery to me," she says. "Up here, it's all about time in this traffic!"

She also shops at local farmers' markets in order to buy the freshest, most seasonal, and most nutrient-dense versions of foods as possible, she says.

Wherever she shops, Mann always comes prepared with a list — a strategy she says is important for cost savings.

"Seriously, I have always found if I just 'run in for a couple of things' I come out with about $100 more in things I wasn't planning on buying," she says. "Maybe they get used, maybe they don't, but in today's times, every penny saved matters!"

Here's a sample shopping list for the family:

  • organic whole milk
  • organic Stonyfield yogurt (her son's favorite)
  • organic brown eggs (when farmers' markets don't have fresh eggs available)
  • loaf bread
  • chicken breasts
  • apples, blueberries, and bananas (These three she says are her "fruit staples year round.")
  • basmati rice
  • organic chicken broth
  • Newman's Own marinara sauce
  • block Cheddar cheese
  • bacon
  • organic canned pears and peaches
  • salad items like spring mix, carrots, tomatoes, and a cucumber

Buying Organic and Local

While she knows she could save money if she didn't prioritize organic foods, this isn't a place where she prefers to save.

"There are some things that I just will not buy non-organic, so I try to save in other areas to accommodate for that," she says.

She buys organic chicken and beef as often as possible from local farmers.

"While sometimes more expensive, in the long run you are supporting your local neighbors and workers, and you get to see exactly where your food is coming from," she says. "It took a while to get comfortable adopting this preference, but we could never not buy this way now."

Due to limited availability and shortages, the family does also supplement this farm-fresh fare from their local chain grocery store as well, "but it's nice to have the option," she says.

Versatile Staples

Offsetting the spendy organic products on her list, Mann has several go-to staples that are as versatile and hard-working as they are affordable.

One such ingredient is hamburger meat.

"From tacos, to Korean-style beef to nachos, to taco soup, to hamburgers, to sweet and sour meatballs, to Swedish meatballs…" she says. "You are basically eating the same thing, yet the spices you use make it taste completely different."

Another surprisingly versatile staple in her home? Tortilla chips. "My son loves them, we love them, and surprisingly you can do a lot with those!" she says.

Flexible Meal Planning

Even with a close eye on the budget, Mann prefers to keep substantial flexibility within her meal planning for each week, as a matter of convenience, balance, and just plain fun. Here's a sample of what weeknight dinners might look like:

  • Sunday: Taco soup
  • Monday: Chicken rice casserole (rice, chicken, broccoli, cheddar cheese, "and my two-minute homemade cream of chicken soup"
  • Tuesday: Planned restaurant outing. "Lucas loves IHOP, so we go here for kids-eat-free night!"
  • Wednesday: Hamburgers with tater tots or French fries
  • Thursday: Large baked potatoes with leftover taco soup on top. "Lucas won't eat baked potatoes so this is where tortilla chips come in!"
  • Friday: Leftover chicken and rice casserole, with peach cobbler for dessert. "That's why there's always canned peaches on the grocery list," she explains. "I use a recipe that takes five minutes to mix and all you do is bake — it's not your grandmother's all-day baking recipe."
  • Saturday: Family pizza night. "I buy premade dough from the grocery store, and we all make our own little pizzas," she says, typically serving them alongside a side salad.

Commitment to Leftovers

One way Mann saves money in her grocery budget? Freezing leftovers and organizing them carefully. "If you know you won't use them, freeze them — you don't have to toss it out," she says.

She uses Pyrex glass containers labeled with a description on a piece of painter's tape to help keep leftovers organized, appealing, and easily identifiable so "it isn't stuck in the fridge and forgotten about." This system makes for orderly, budget-friendly leftovers that help make life just a little easier, too.

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