Food Diary: How a 24-Year-Old Waitress Eats on $18,000 a Year in Durham, NC


How many times a week do you dine out or cook at home? It depends on the week. If I have a predictable 9am-5pm schedule, I reliably cook at home, maybe in a restaurant once a week if I’m in the mood for something. However, if I’m really busy with school or working multiple shifts, I become more lax with dining out because meal planning isn’t a priority. However, I try to limit my dining out for financial reasons.

How many times a week did you dine out growing up? Almost never, in fact. We tended to reserve the sit-down restaurants for special occasions and only eat fast food if my parents had to drive me to extracurricular activities (eg Sunday school, gym). I have many nostalgic memories of the Dairy Queen in my home town.

How many times a week did your parents or guardians cook at home? We almost always ate at home. My dad is our family’s cook (both by talent and circumstance) and he’s always tried to put healthy food on the table. Even though it was a busy weeknight, he microwaved veggie chicken nuggets, steamed broccoli, and made instant potatoes. He and my mum really focus on health, so I think that’s why we cook so often, rather than financial constraints.


Total for the week: $184.05 ($287.45 including items my dad paid for)
Total restaurants and cafes: $89.16 ($192.56 including meals my dad paid for)
Total races: $94.89
Most expensive meal or purchase: Brunch at First Watch, $36 (Dinner at Dashi, $70, if you count the meals my dad paid for)
Cheapest meal or purchase: Yellow onion, $1.21
Number of meals in restaurant and cafe: 9
Number of grocery runs: 4

The diary


9:30 a.m. I’m in Wilmington, NC with friends for the 4th, and it’s our last day at the Airbnb. We repack and empty the fridge and I absently eat cookies from the Toll House baked the night before. It’s a bad decision; the sweet taste stays in my mouth too long.

11:15 a.m. We go in search of breakfast before heading back to Durham where we live. We check out three different restaurants, all offering a wait of an hour or more, until we find Seabird, a cafe with a small breakfast menu. I get a seasonal frittata and a burnt grapefruit ($15.84 including tax and tip). It was the best meal I had on my entire vacation. The frittata is more like a quiche, but it’s moist and flavorful and full of fresh veggies, and I dunk it in the hot coffee sauce. The grapefruit has a nice caramel crust on it. I wish I could eat this every morning.

15:00 After a drive back to Durham, I decide to pick up some lunch food at the Durham Co-op Market. It’s a local grocery store that’s a three-minute walk from my house – a real gem considering I’m in a mid-sized southern town. His food is expensive, so I save it for when I’m in a hurry and don’t want to travel far. I buy a small loaf of bread, plain Icelandic yogurt from Siggi, two sardines for $4, a cucumber and cleaning solution ($18.34). The cleaning solution is not for lunch.

3:30 p.m. I prepare a quick lunch with my ingredients: toast with Icelandic yogurt, cucumber, sardines and salt. I’ve made it before with goat cheese instead of yogurt, which was better in my opinion – the latter didn’t have enough flavor and left me disappointed. Still, it’s a pretty good lunch. I toast the bread on the stove rather than a toaster, which makes it crispy, buttery, and wonderful.


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