How a 26-Year-Old Food Scientist Eats on $100K in Philadelphia, PA

Illustration by Maggie Cowles

Welcome to The Receipt, a series documenting how Bon Appétit readers eat and what they spend doing it. Each food diary follows one anonymous reader’s week of expenses related to groceries, restaurant meals, coffee runs, and every bite in between. In this time of rising food costs, The Receipt reveals how folks—from different cities, with different incomes, on different schedules—are figuring out their food budgets.

In today’s Receipt, a 26-year-old food scientist making $100K a year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, tastes food samples at work, makes gluten-free pasta, and visits her parents’ home for chicken thighs and veal stew. Keep reading for her receipts.

The finances

What are your pronouns? She/her

What is your occupation? Food scientist in the research and development department at an international food and beverage producer. I’m responsible for creating and managing formulas for a wide range of products sold in grocery stores.

How old are you? 26

What city and state do you live in? Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

What is your annual salary, if you have one? $100,000

How much is one paycheck, after taxes? $2,662

How often are you paid? (e.g. weekly) Biweekly

How much money do you have in savings? $44,707, including 401K.

What are your approximate fixed monthly expenses beyond food? (i.e. rent, subscriptions, bills)

  • Rent: $1,400

  • Utilities: $250 or so, depending on season (I have central AC and high ceilings)

  • Car payment: $447

  • Car insurance: $80

  • Wi-Fi: $50

  • Phone bill: $118

  • Pet insurance: $35

  • Pet medicine: $80

  • Subscriptions (Prime Video, Hulu, Max, DoorDash DashPass, Spotify): $30

  • Total: $2,490

The diet

Do you follow a certain diet or have dietary restrictions? I eat gluten-free and try to be dairy-free but I love cheese. You’ll see throughout this week how miserably I fail at staying away from dairy.

What are the grocery staples you always buy, if any? Chicken thighs, jasmine rice, Bigelow decaf green tea, Trader Joe’s raw honey, Jif creamy peanut butter, gluten-free oats, cucumbers, celery, canned tuna, Enjoy Life chocolate chips.

How often in a week do you dine out versus cook at home? More than four times if you include lunch! I always have high hopes of remembering to bring leftovers to work for lunch, but I always forget when I’m rushing in the morning to leave for work. I usually go to my parents’ at least once a week for dinner or a weekend breakfast too. That’s mainly because they want to see my dog, though, not me. They know I’ll be more inclined to come if there’s going to be a home-cooked meal!

How often in a week did you dine out while growing up? Usually one to two times per week.

How often in a week did your parents or guardians cook at home? My mom cooked most nights and she loved to try new recipes. Some of my favorite memories come from helping her cook and enjoying our staple dinners like chicken pot pie, summer garden tortellini, or chicken noodle soup. Friday was usually the night we ordered takeout such as Chinese food or pizza. On Saturdays or certain weekdays, we went to nicer restaurants as a family or with friends.

The expenses

  • Week’s total: $197.16

  • Restaurants and cafés total: $147.20

  • Groceries total: $49.96

  • Most-expensive meal or purchase: Drinks at Grist House, $47.50

  • Least-expensive meal or purchase: Core water, $3.09

  • Number of restaurant and café meals: 15

  • Number of grocery trips: 2

The diary


I’m reheating some gluten-free, chickpea-based pasta with pesto that I made yesterday.

8:36 a.m. I am working from home today, so naturally I sleep in later than I should. I’m glad that yesterday I made a gluten-free banana bread from the Mama Knows Gluten Free blog, with ingredients I always have in my pantry, like rotting bananas that I think I’m going to eat as a snack and never do. I pair that with Taylors decaf black tea.

10:34 a.m. I need trash bags so I order some groceries off DoorDash because I won’t have any time to run out to the store today. I also order some random things that I think I’ll eat this week, like celery hearts and Mission gluten-free wraps to make tuna salad wraps, and lemon Spindrifts to bring to work. We’ll see if they actually get eaten this week. ($23.70 total including driver tip)

5:48 p.m. I didn’t eat lunch today because I wasn’t that hungry, which is really odd for me. It might be because I was glued to my desk today working and barely moving. Now I’m reheating some gluten-free, chickpea-based pasta from Banza with Seggiano pesto that I made yesterday. I keep forgetting I have easy meals in my pantry! I also have a peach mango Bodyarmor Lyte (previously bought) because I ran a little while earlier. I act like I need to drink 28 fluid ounces of Bodyarmor after a three-mile run, but in reality I just like the flavor.

Monday total: $23.70


I am tasting over 20 different food samples for work with my team.

8:15 a.m. I’m late leaving for work today, so I drink a Ripple chocolate protein drink (previously purchased) in the car. It doesn’t keep me full for long, so I know by lunch I’ll be starving!

10:30 a.m. I am tasting over 20 different food samples for work with my team. In the food industry, it’s pretty typical for about 10 people on your development team to meet in the test kitchen and taste samples to share feedback on formulas you’re developing. It’s critical to get feedback on sensory attributes of the product like flavor, texture, aroma, and color. It’s also a good forum to bring up manufacturing, costing, or regulatory considerations too. Depending on the day, I can either be too full to even eat my lunch after my tastings, or I’m even more hungry because of what I’m trying. Today, it’s making my hunger worse. But at least this is free!

1:00 p.m. I’m starving, as expected. I have some leftover Banza pasta with Seggiano pesto, but I’m still hungry. I buy salmon and asparagus from the cafeteria at work ($10.65 total) and drink a cold lemon Spindrift I brought from home. Everything hits the spot and I’m ready for my afternoon meetings.

3:00 p.m. Someone left some food in the communal area that they seemingly had for market research they were doing. I’m not allowed to say exactly what the products were, but they were delicious, and better yet, free.

6:15 p.m. My parents have invited me over for dinner, so I’m having roasted chicken thighs with sausage, potatoes, and red wine vinegar, which is a Lidia Bastianich recipe my mom found. I have extra helpings since I’m still starving. I also have two clementines for dessert. My parents are very generous and are always telling me to “save money on food.”

8:45 p.m. I have a scoop of Jif peanut butter because I’m still a little hungry after dinner. I eat it off the spoon because I’m unhinged.

Tuesday total: $10.65


One of the downfalls of coming into the office is a candy addiction.

9:17 a.m. I took longer to get ready this morning since I’m going out after work tonight, so I’m currently eating breakfast from the work cafeteria: scrambled eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and a decaf iced vanilla latte. ($8.48 total) It’s a pretty good deal for the amount of food the cafeteria gives us. I usually don’t buy breakfast at work, but it’s great for when I don’t have enough time to cook in the morning.

12:47 p.m. I order lunch from the cafeteria again, a steak rice bowl with a berry hibiscus Just Ice Tea. I haven’t had the berry hibiscus flavor before and I love it. The meal, however, is not that great. It’s supposed to have a sauce but it doesn’t, and it has some random bitter leaves that aren’t on the menu description. ($10.65 total)

3:45 p.m. My coworker gives me some grape Jolly Ranchers. Many of us have personal bowls of candy at our desks for everyone to snack on. One of the downfalls of coming into the office is a candy addiction.

6:05 p.m. I have a work event in Center City tonight at Double Knot, a sushi restaurant. The event has free sushi plates and drinks, and my favorite part by far is the crispy tofu. It’s probably the simplest dish on the menu, but it’s prepared so perfectly that I selfishly eat almost an entire plate by myself. One of my favorite things about working in the food industry is trying new restaurants in the name of research. We don’t have these events often, so this is out of my normal weekday routine.

Wednesday total: $19.13


I feel disgusting, but I eat every sample in front of me in the name of science.

7:33 a.m. I’m having a tablespoon of Bragg apple cider vinegar with a tablespoon of R.W. Knudsen concord grape juice, both previously purchased. I recently heard a health podcast describing how new research suggests that the polyphenols, or natural micronutrients, in juices like concord grape, pomegranate, and pure cranberry can help support a healthy gut. I’m not sure I’m completely sold on this idea yet, but I’ll be fine with the placebo effect if it means apple cider vinegar shots can taste way better.

8:03 a.m. I’m having Jif smooth peanut butter and banana slices on my Food for Life flax bread. I forgot I have this bread in the depths of my freezer, and I’m glad because this is my last good banana!

9:15 a.m. I get another decaf latte from the work cafeteria because yesterday’s latte was so good. ($3.72)

11:54 a.m. I get lunch from the salad bar in the cafeteria. It’s pretty lackluster today, and I only get chicken, roasted mushrooms, almond slivers, and cucumbers. I also have two clementines afterward. It’s filling, but by no means satisfying. ($11.29 total)

1:15 p.m. I’m tasting samples including those for my own formulas that I’m working on, and there’s a ton. I’m so full by the end of the taste tests. I know I have another tasting coming up after this one, so I try to mentally prepare myself.

2 p.m. Tasting Number Two. I feel disgusting, but I eat every sample in front of me in the name of science. It’s usually not good to oversaturate your palate (in other words, taste too much) when you’re trying samples because you aren’t able to tease out the differences as easily, but the R&D department is doing a lot of work right now, so every opinion matters! I’m looking forward to having a late dinner today.

2:45 p.m. I ate three Jolly Ranchers from the same coworker as yesterday. I have a problem. While I know sugar is never the answer to an afternoon slump, I can’t help it.

7:45 p.m. I’m at my parents’ house again since I’m dropping my dog off before leaving town to visit a friend this weekend. My mom makes steak tips and mushrooms in brown gravy with roasted broccoli and polenta. She substitutes gluten-free flour and soy sauce-like tamari for me so it’s gluten-free. It’s the exact kind of cozy dish I remember her making while I was growing up, so this is the meal highlight of the day.

8:10 p.m. I have a couple of spoonfuls of Oatly cookie dough ice cream that my mom gets for me. It isn’t that good, but I’m not too sad since I’m already so full from dinner.

Thursday total: $15.01


We are back at my friend's apartment and she orders us Taco Bell.

8:45 a.m. I stayed with my parents overnight because I’m leaving to visit a friend in Pittsburgh, and they live closer to Pittsburgh than me. I eat two slices of their Taylor pork roll (yes, pork roll, NOT Taylor ham!) and some strawberries.

11:54 a.m. I stop at Chick-fil-A to get lunch. Something about Chick-fil-A gets me excited to go on a long trip. I think it’s because road trips are really the only time I get fast food, so this is kind of a treat for me. I get a grilled chicken sandwich meal with a gluten-free bun and a half iced tea (unsweetened), half lemonade. I get Chick-fil-A sauce on the side. The Chick-fil-A by my parents’ house also has a dedicated gluten-free fryer for fries. I’m ready for a four-and-a-half-hour drive. ($13.40 total)

6:00 p.m. I’m at dinner with my friend and her boyfriend at Mola, a sushi place in Pittsburgh. We get a bunch of rolls to split, along with the seaweed salad and miso soup. I also order a yuzu lemonade since I have been obsessed with yuzu lately. Everything is great and I’m happy to have two sushi dinners in one week. My friend’s boyfriend very generously offers to pay for our meals, so this dinner is free. This is the first time I’m meeting him, so this is a great first impression in my book!

9:14 p.m. Before we go out, my friend makes me some mixed drinks with Absolut vodka, Trader Joe’s sparkling cranberry ginger beverage, and lime juice. As a food scientist, I approve of her formula since it’s the right balance of sweetness and acidity. It’s all from her personal stock in her bar.

10:43 p.m. We are out at Mario’s East Side Saloon and a bunch of people have bought me vodka sodas since I’m visiting for the weekend! I really didn’t expect everyone to be so nice and buy me food and drinks because I’m visiting. Pittsburgh is a great town to go out in—it seems relaxed but lively at the same time, and everyone is so friendly.

1:45 a.m. We are back at my friend's apartment and she orders us Taco Bell. I haven’t had Taco Bell since I was in third grade, I think, so I just get one beef hard shell taco in case gluten cross-contamination is an issue. I have to admit, it’s actually better than I expected it to be. It could also be because I’m drunk.

Friday total: $13.40


My favorite is probably the costillas de la matanza: baby back pork ribs with harissa honey, za’atar, and labneh.

10:45 a.m. I’m happy to report I was not gluten-fied! My friend and I get some lattes at the local cafe Georgie’s Corner before we meet up with some of her friends at a brewery called Grist House. Because my friend physically pushes me out of the way when I try to pay, my coffee is free.

12:20 p.m. We’re at Grist House and I order four hard ciders and a beer for the group. ($47.50 total) I then realize I haven’t eaten anything yet today and that it’s probably a terrible idea to drink on an empty stomach, so we go out to the food trucks on the street and order burgers from one called The Smashery. Since it doesn’t offer gluten-free buns, I get two patties with cheese, caramelized onions, and the truck’s special sauce on a bed of arugula. I order my friend a veggie burger with some housemade potato chips. It’s an excellent burger and the sauce is so good, even without the bun. ($33.17 total)

4:35 p.m. We’re back from the bar and we put on some Bon Appétit YouTube videos while we drink some chamomile lavender tea. It’s the Gourmet Makes episode in which Claire Saffitz tries to make gourmet Butterfingers, my favorite candy. I didn’t even tell my friend that I’m writing for The Receipt, so this is a funny coincidence. My friend also makes me a box of Banza mac and cheese as an afternoon snack since we’re having a late dinner tonight.

8:45 p.m. My friend’s boyfriend treats my friend and me to dinner at Morcilla, a tapas restaurant. The food is AMAZING. We order a bunch of plates to share, and every single plate is so flavorful and different. My favorite is probably the costillas de la matanza: baby back pork ribs with harissa honey, za’atar, and labneh. Some honorable mentions were the jamón serrano with marcona almonds, the beet conserva with goat cheese tahini, and the pulpo a la plancha. My friend and I are also done with drinking alcohol for the weekend, so we both order a sparkling concord grape juice with lime and thyme sprigs. We continue the theme and get the concord grape sorbet for dessert, while she and her boyfriend also splurge on the churros. I’ve been seeing a lot more grape-flavored items recently, and I’m predicting a resurgence of grape-flavored food and drinks, mark my words. My friend’s boyfriend pays for everything again. He has really made a great impression on me this weekend simply by feeding us excellent food.

Saturday total: $80.67


My parents offer some of the veal stew they’re making.

9:53 a.m. My friend again won’t let me pay for any food and buys me breakfast at Pamela’s Diner before my trip home. I get a mushroom and cheese omelet with Lyonnaise potatoes and sausage. I also get a decaf coffee since I’m not trying to have heart palpitations on my drive back to Philly. She and her boyfriend are VERY generous, so I need to give them a shout out here because they know who they are and will definitely read this! I’m used to either paying my own way or alternate paying for every other meal when I visit friends, so this is out of the norm for me. These two are awesome and were really excited to show me their food scene.

10:36 a.m. After breakfast, I stop at The Coffee Tree Roasters and see that it has a gluten-free chocolate chip biscotti. I LOVE biscotti, but haven’t seen many options since I started to eat gluten-free. I buy it for a car snack on the ride home. For long road trips, I guess a sugar rush is better than caffeine-induced heart palpitations? ($5.25 total)

2:25 p.m. I’m on my way home and I stop at a rest stop to pee. I buy a Core water because I definitely haven’t had enough water today. ($3.09 total)

6:07 p.m. I stopped at my parents’ house to pick up my dog and I’ve become inert there. Of course, my parents offer to give me some of the veal stew they’re making (a Giada De Laurentiis recipe) and I figure I should continue the trend of being wined and dined this weekend. My parents know me too well because my mom has already substituted gluten-free flour in the recipe—which means they suspected I would get glued to their couch after my drive. This week’s diet has been VERY unusual for me—I normally eat out at restaurants (including my parents’ house) maybe twice a week at most. This week has been crazy with work events, the visit to my friend, and mornings in which I’ve woken up too late to make my own breakfast.

I’m craving some sort of bread with my mom’s stew, so I head to Whole Foods and buy these great Cappello’s gluten-free biscuits from the freezer section. As I shop I talk to my sister on the phone and somehow get distracted enough to also buy Sweet Loren’s less-sugar chocolate chunk cookies, So Delicious vanilla coconut milk, and, of course, R.W. Knudsen concord grape juice—none of which I originally planned to buy. I have a long week of travel ahead for a work trip and another friend visit, so this will probably be my only shopping trip for the upcoming week. At home, I have the biscuits with dinner and the cookies for dessert. ($26.26 total)

Sunday total: $34.60

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit

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