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What a Traveling Filmmaker Eats on $4,000 a Week in Chicago, Miami, and New York

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 35-year-old TV producer and director makes $4,000 a week while traveling the country to shoot a premium cable documentary series. She grabs to-go breakfasts at airport Starbucks, sips Diet Coke at late-night shoots, and makes Ali Slagle’s Sheet-Pan Feta when she’s finally able to cook.

Keep reading for her receipts from Madison, Wisconsin; Louisville, Kentucky; Chicago; Miami; and New York.

Skip ahead

  1. The finances

  2. The diet

  3. The expenses

  4. The diary


The finances

What are your pronouns? She/her

What is your occupation? I’m a freelance TV producer and director. This week, I’m working as a producer on a premium cable documentary series. It’s our last week in production. A normal work day is 12 hours, but we’ll often do 14s or 16s.

How old are you? 35

What city and state do you live in? Los Angeles, California

What is your annual salary, if you have one? Since I’m freelance, my income varies widely from year to year. In 2023, I made $50,000 due to a general industry slowdown and concurrent strikes. (In 2022, I made $150,000.) My husband holds down the fort, income-wise. He makes $300,000 as a consultant.

How much is one paycheck, after taxes? $4,000, while I’m in production.

How often are you paid? (e.g. weekly) Weekly, while I’m in production.

How much money do you have in savings? $197,000

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

  • Mortgage: $8,997

  • Car payment and insurance: $800

  • Cell phone and wifi: $125

  • Gardener: $200

  • Subscriptions (Spotify, New York Times, Y7 Yoga, Adobe Creative Cloud, Frame.io, Oura Ring): $170

  • Total: $10,292

The diet

Do you follow a certain diet or have dietary restrictions? I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since I was five, which means I don’t eat meat but do eat dairy and eggs. (My whole family eats meat; I’m just a stubborn, animal-loving Taurus.) When I’m on the road for work, I try not to think about things like gelatin and rennet and lard in foods because my options would be limited otherwise. If we met, I’d tell you, “I’m a vegetarian, but not a proselytizing one.”

This work week, my team is owed a meal every six hours (at a maximum of $25 to $30 per person). When we aren’t in our home city, we are also paid a $50 meal per diem. Lastly, our team travels with previously purchased snacks and beverages provided by “crafty,” or craft service.

What are the grocery staples you always buy, if any? Salad greens, onions, ginger, feta, tortillas, roti, rice, bananas, apples, crunchy peanut butter, tofu, lemons, limes, yogurt, Mary’s Gone Crackers, SodaStream refills, and Blue Bottle Coffee’s NOLA concentrate. I’m also a proud member of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club.

I buy a produce box every couple weeks from a small business called California Island Market. Stormie, the owner, sells boxes via Instagram DM and you pick it up at her house. Don’t expect it to be fancy: She throws handfuls of loose spinach in the box and stray snap peas are always floating around. However, the produce is fresh, organic, and local, and during tomato season, you’ll walk away with two dozen organic heirloom tomatoes in your $35 box. Great value for the money, 10/10.

How often in a week do you dine out versus cook at home? When I’m on the road for work, I eat out for every meal. When I’m home, I cook two to three meals a day and we eat out once per week. I love to cook. It’s my passion, my hobby, and the way I show love.

How often in a week did you dine out while growing up? We ate out once every other week, maybe less. I grew up in a rural suburb, so there weren’t a ton of restaurants close by—just pizza, Chinese takeout, and a bagel place.

How often in a week did your parents or guardians cook at home? They either cooked or served leftovers every day. My work-from-home dad is an eat-to-live kinda guy who would send me to school with a slice of cheese between two dry pieces of bread. My mom is a great cook who accommodated my vegetarianism.

The expenses

  • Week’s total: $429.14 ($293.87 covered by work and others, $135.27 out of pocket)

  • Restaurants and cafés total: $373.56 ( $293.87 paid by work and others, $79.69 out of pocket)

  • Groceries total: $55.58

  • Most-expensive meal or purchase: Dinner at Ceviches by Divino, $39.98

  • Least-expensive meal or purchase: Red onion from Greene-Ville Garden, $1.25

  • Number of restaurant and café meals: 15

  • Number of grocery trips: 2

The diary

Monday

I’m our team’s designated restaurant picker.

7:30 a.m. I wake up in Madison, Wisconsin, with a deep-dish-pizza hangover induced by Lou Malnati’s, the Chicago-style pizza chain. Last night, we drove from O’Hare airport to Madison and stopped at the restaurant along the way.

I’m our team’s designated restaurant picker. It’s not really in my job description, but I care about food way more than anyone else so it’s nice to steer the ship.

9 a.m. For breakfast, I pick Marigold Kitchen because it has a tofu scramble—good protein for me. ($13.25) I get a latte with brown sugar syrup, blue sage syrup, butterfly pea powder, and cinnamon. ($5.50) It’s a wild drink order and a bit too sweet for my taste, but I still finish it.

I add a side of breakfast potatoes ($4.50) because 1) I have a few hours to rest and want to push myself into a calorie-induced nap and 2) I’m a potato fiend. I mean it; my 35th birthday was potato-themed and everyone brought a different potato dish. Marigold Kitchen’s breakfast potatoes are well done and crunchy. ($29.44 total including tax and tip)

4 p.m. We’ve checked out of our hotel but we don’t shoot until 5:30 p.m. We call these in-between hours “lurking.” Because we have nowhere to be, it’s an excuse to post up at a coffee shop or have a snack. One of my colleagues is hungry so we stop at Forage Kitchen.

I order the local roots salad with kale, brussels sprouts, and fennel ($10.50) and the organic jasmine rose kombucha ($2.95). This is a “healthy calories” order to ward off hanger but save my appetite for dinner after our shoot. It is indeed healthy and light, but the kale could really use a massage. My colleague says his Thai bowl is delicious, though. ($13.45 total)

Off to our shoot.

8 p.m. I’ve been looking forward to Camp Trippalindee all day. It’s a cute 80s camp-themed burger and craft beer spot with tableside s’mores. I order a Wisconsin Whopper (substituting a bean burger) and fries ($15). Beyond my personal meal expense limit, for the table, I add pretzel bites with beer cheese dip ($10 split four ways) and fried pickles ($10 split four ways). “For the table” is my move if I want to try an appetizer but it would put me over my meal total.

My colleague treats me to a Zombie Dust IPA by Three Floyds Brewing ($8; work does not pay for alcohol) and we toast to a good shoot day. I drink only half the beer; alcohol messes with my sleep and I can’t afford that this week. I pass the half-full glass to my colleague to finish.

Unfortunately, our food arrives lukewarm at best. The fries are cold. :( The beef and bean burgers seem like they’ve been reheated from frozen. I don’t love it and only eat a few bites of my veggie burger. I’m grateful for that 4 p.m. kale salad.

The s’mores kit ($10 split three ways) comes in plastic baggies with only three marshmallows for four people. I torch my marshmallow until it’s black and sooty, but it still doesn’t get hot enough to melt the refrigerator-cold chocolate. I had such high hopes. ($23.33 covered by work)

Monday total: $74.22 ($44.78 covered by work and a colleague)


Tuesday

Perched in the trunk of our van, I go goblin mode on a Melanzana pizza with fresh mozzarella.

6:15 a.m. We’ve traveled back to Chicago, where I wake up thirsty. I forgot to bring a bottle of water to my hotel room, so at crew call, I guzzle a 16-ounce Smartwater from crafty ($0).

Some of my colleagues have strong opinions on the best bottled water brands, but my only hot take is that hotel bathroom sink water is always awful and its proximity to the toilet really grosses me out. At home I wouldn’t be caught dead with a disposable water bottle, but on the road…let’s shed a single tear for my carbon footprint (as I’m about to board my fourth plane in a week).

7:45 a.m. At the airport I grab a banana ($1.50), a Nut-rition healthy nuts pack ($3.99), and a few waters for the team at a grab-n-go kiosk ($6.34 for mine). Our production assistant picks up the Starbucks breakfast order. For me, it’s a London fog with 2% milk and one pump of vanilla ($6.35), plus oatmeal with nuts and brown sugar because they’re out of blueberries ($3.90). The banana and nuts fill me up so I have just half the oatmeal and the tea and then call it. ($22.08 total)

12:45 p.m. The crew is now in Louisville, Kentucky, where we sit down for lunch at Taco Luchador. I won’t be able to sit down to eat again today, so I lean in and order a Classic Bowl with veggies, rice, refried beans, pico de gallo, slaw, and maduros ($15.99) and a Topo Chico ($4.25). I’m thrilled to learn that the refried beans are vegan.

I also get some queso ($8.50), guac ($9.99), queso fries ($6.99), and maduros ($5.99) for the table. This meal is savory with complex flavors – and so filling. It more than makes up for last night. Everyone is in a good mood, munching away and laughing. It’s a clean plate club all around. ($24.17 total for my share, paid for by work)

2 p.m. Our PAs do a coffee run to prevent a food coma. An unsweetened iced black tea ($3.50) is waiting at my seat when I get to the van. We head out to shoot our scenes for the day.

8 p.m. A few sips of the talent’s Diet Coke keep me going.

10 p.m. Perched in the trunk of our van, I go goblin mode on a Melanzana pizza with fresh mozzarella from Pizza Lupo ($26). It’s several hours old but still flavorful, especially the smoky sundried tomatoes. I manage to stop after my third piece.

On this job, I find myself surfing from food coma to hanger and back again. Here’s hoping the pizza (and 500mg of magnesium) puts me to sleep after a long day.

Tuesday total: $75.75, covered by work


Wednesday

It’s tart, limey, and I love the texture of the choclo, or Peruvian giant corn.

6:45 a.m. When I arrive at the van for crew call, my PA hands me a bag of roasted edamame and Justin’s peanut butter cups for today’s flight to Miami. ($0 from crafty) I feel very seen and cared for and a little emotional. Maybe I’m just exhausted?

Brekkie from the airport Starbucks is string cheese ($2.50), a few nibbles of a Perfect protein bar ($4.70), an Emperor’s Cloud unsweetened hot green tea ($3.80), and a handful of edamame ($0 from crafty). The protein bar is a little gross but I stash it away in case of a calorie emergency later; we’re staring down another very long day. We are lucky that we like spending time together. ($11.00 total paid for by work)

10 a.m. One Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter cup, mid-flight. ($0 from crafty)

11:30 a.m. Layover in Houston. I am sick of airport food. Sick of it! I’m hangry and disgusted by everything. My husband has a saying for this: I have “gone off the cliff.“ Good luck to anyone who crosses my path.

Listless and crabby, I separate myself from the group to assemble a snacky lunch. (I don’t want to be associated with the “girl dinner” discourse so I’m calling this a snacky lunch.) At an airport kiosk, I get a Sabra hummus pack ($6.49), Babybel ($2.99), grapes ($6.59), LesserEvil popcorn ($3.49), a Siggi’s yogurt ($4.40), and a water ($6.89). I eat everything except the yogurt. It’s not satisfying, but at least I’m no longer a monster. ($31.93 paid for by work)

4:30 p.m. Touchdown in Miami. The second Justin’s PB cup while picking up our 19 checked bags. ($0 from crafty)

5:30 p.m. I choose Ceviches by Divino takeout for our crew meal because I want the crew to enjoy seafood in Miami. It’s not an obvious restaurant pick for me because I’ve actually never had ceviche. I order vegetarian ceviche ($16.99), quinoa divina ($18.99), and yuca frita ($4).

I’m only able to slurp a few bites of the ceviche because we’re rushing to a shoot, but it’s tart, limey, and I love the texture of the choclo, or Peruvian giant corn. Reminds me of hominy. There are a meager five sticks of yuca frita but I’m grateful for each one. I don’t get a chance to try the quinoa divina. ($39.98 paid for by work)

7:05 p.m. My director of photography (or DP) grabs me a brownie and a Diet Pepsi from the snack table at the event we’re covering. I just need a few sips for the caffeine. ($0)

9:15 p.m. The Siggi’s I bought this morning comes in handy now.

11 p.m. My team is going out for drinks but I’m so tired that I can’t put a sentence together. I grab a water from crafty for my room ($0) and sleep a dreamless sleep.

Wednesday total: $82.91, covered by work


Thursday

The talent invites us to post-shoot drinks at the Ritz.

8:15 a.m. Loading out for the airport to head to New York. Determined to avoid another airport breakfast, I rally the crew to place orders at the hotel restaurant. I have mushroom tacos with hot sauce ($14) and hot black tea ($3). It’s close to an ideal breakfast for me; at home we do breakfast bean and cheese tacos at least three or four times a week. It makes me feel a little homesick. I’ve been home once in the past six weeks and can’t wait to get back to my husband in LA soon. ($17.00 paid for by work)

10:30 a.m. I venture solo to the Delta Sky Club for snacks and drinks. I eat a spotted mushy banana and have three sips of a bitter espresso. ($0, part of Delta Sky Club membership) I’m not a coffee drinker unless I need go-go juice or it’s drowning in sugar like a Blue Bottle NOLA or a La Colombe draft latte with whole milk. But I like the idea of coffee, the romance of it, so I try it now and then to see if my taste buds have changed.

I grab some Cheerios and a Chobani yogurt for later. ($0, Delta Sky Club membership) I could stay up here and relax, but this week’s shoot is almost over and I want to soak up time with my goofball team. Besides, my colleague requests a Bloody Mary and a copy of American Cinematographer magazine. I walk back to the gate. As we board, I munch Cheerios and settle in for another flight.

3 p.m. While eating a handful of edamame, I find the oily remains of the Perfect protein bar in my purse and toss it.

5 p.m. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we sit down for crew meal at Cafe Mogador. This will be our last meal as a team. I collect orders ahead of time because we’re in a rush, but 20 minutes later I get a text pushing back our roll time. We settle in to enjoy the meal.

I order the vegetable couscous ($21) and a Turkish coffee ($5.50). We’re going to have a late night, so the Turkish coffee is strategic. It both gives me the jitters and focuses my mind for our last shoot.

For the table, we split a kale salad ($16), a Greek salad ($16), fries ($7), and a Labne cheesecake ($12). ($33.79 paid for by work)

10:30 p.m. The talent pours shots of Clase Azul tequila for me and my team. We toast to the shoot and some of us get a little weepy about the impending end. I throw it back. Guess we’re drinking tonight.

11:30 p.m. The talent invites us to post-shoot drinks at the Ritz. We arrive to a beautiful spread of food too. I eat some shared margherita flatbread ($31), cauliflower flatbread ($31), and a few squares of cheese from the charcuterie board ($40). We reminisce about the shoot and I actually finish my drink, a negroni ($28.31). ($39.64 for my share, paid for by talent)

Thursday total: $90.43, covered by work and talent


Friday

I gotta pay for my own food from here on out. I also won’t be working 14-hour days, so there’s that…

10:50 a.m. Hungover, I walk to For All Things Good and get my usual order of a black bean and avocado tlayudita ($14) and a hibiscus agua fresca ($4). It’s moving very slow so I have to get it to go. I looove this place for breakfast. The tlayudita has a perfectly crunchy base and topping of fried shallot. The beans are good protein and I know the meal will keep me full for a while. ($23.50 total including tax and tip)

11:15 a.m. Ugh, the edamame spilled everywhere in my backpack.

11:30 a.m. We’re lurking again, so we go to Blue Bottle. I savor my hot NOLA with whole milk ($5.75). I gotta pay for my own food from here on out. I also won’t be working 14-hour days, so there’s that…

3 p.m. I’m staying at my friends’ apartment this weekend. I rifle through their pantry for a handful of Flavor Blasted Xtra Cheddar Goldfish.

5:30 p.m. Grocery trip to Greene-Ville Garden. I’m cooking dinner for my friends to say thank you for hosting me. I buy two cans of chickpeas ($7.58), a red onion ($1.25), a red pepper ($1.94), rosemary ($2.49), feta cheese ($10.99), grape tomatoes ($3.99), lettuce ($2.99), broccoli ($4.99), and parsley ($2.49). Groceries are expensive in New York City. ($38.72 total)

6 p.m. I am so relieved to be back in a kitchen with control over what I eat and when I eat. I’m cooking Ali Slagle’s sheet-pan feta with chickpeas and tomatoes from New York Times Cooking. We fix a simple salad with lettuce, broccoli, and red onion. I add walnuts and golden raisins from my friends’ pantry and microwave Seeds of Change quinoa and brown rice with garlic (all previously purchased). A simple yet hearty feast.

10 p.m. After a disco nap, I join my team at Iona, a bar in Williamsburg. Everyone is drinking beers or taking shots but I still feel sluggish from last night. I stick to club soda and bitters and hang out til 1:30 a.m. When I ask my DP for the receipt, I discover the bar didn’t charge him for the club soda. For the purpose of this food diary, he tells me, “Technically it was prob carbonated water!”

Friday total: $62.22 ($5.75 covered by work)


Saturday

I make a “use it up” pasta with leftover groceries and wilty produce from my friends’ fridge.

11 a.m. We stroll through the Fort Greene farmer’s market and I make a beeline for the apples, thinking about those and peanut butter for a snack. I buy three apples and one heirloom tomato from Wilklow Orchards ($10 including tip) and greens and purple potatoes from Evolutionary Organics ($6.86).

My mother-in-law texts, “Happy Diwali!” and when I look up from my phone, I’m staring at the Brooklyn Curry Project stall. Kismet. I buy a masala ghee dosa ($12) and masala chai ($4) and eat back at the apartment. The dosa really hits, both because it is crunchy and because it is stuffed with potatoes. However, I must caveat: My mother-in-law’s dosa is better.

4 p.m. Some Goldfish and two spoonfuls of leftover chickpeas from last night.

6:30 p.m. I make a “use it up” pasta with leftover groceries and wilty produce from my friends’ fridge including broccoli, kale, rosemary, garlic, and red onion. I’m rusty in the kitchen, but I don’t care. I eat a bowl and stop before I’m too full. I’m trying to reset my “feast or famine,” “not sure when or where my next meal will be” mindset from the road.

Saturday total: $32.86


Sunday

I’ve been told there are photos of me double-fisting negronis.

10:15 a.m. I nibble the heel of a She Wolf Bakery polenta Pullman loaf while cooking breakfast potatoes with rosemary and garlic. Leftover salad and a slice of heirloom tomato on toast completes the meal. I don’t know where the tea is and I don’t want to bother asking, so I just add lemon to hot water. I love every bite.

12:18 p.m. I stop at Peckish for chai ($5). It’s nice and peppery and a little sweet. I like this place a lot; it let us lurk for several hours last week.

4:40 p.m. Leftover sheet-pan chickpeas and feta on greens, an apple with peanut butter, and a lemon LaCroix. I am preparing my stomach for our wrap party tonight.

6:30 p.m. Our well-earned wrap party is at Ploume in the basement of The Ivory Peacock. It’s an open bar with passed apps all night. I have four or maybe five negronis? I’ve been told there are photos of me double-fisting negronis. I remember eating a few fries here and there and thinking, “I should take a picture so I remember what time I ate these, for Bon Appétit.” Sorry, no dice.

Sunday total: $5

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit


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