I like food. I’m also a grad student living on her own for the first time since undergrad who isn’t used to supplying her own meals and knowing what things cost. So I’m trying to devise new meals that are cheap and easy, but still relatively nutritious.
As I mentioned last week, I’m just starting my Ph.D. and still adjusting to a whole lot of things. On top of workload and learning how to live harmoniously with my roommate, I’m still figuring out how to feed myself.
Yes, that’s ridiculous. I know. But I was staying with my parents. I added things I wanted onto their Fresh Direct order and cooked with vegetables from their CSA. Basically, if I was eating at home, it was on their dime. Now it’s all me.
This is a battle for everyone the first time they live like an adult. I don’t have the time, space or money to cook elaborate meals, plus it’s hard to justify that kind of thing for one person, but I also can only take so many of the three-cheese Totino’s pizza rolls and 5 for $5 Annie’s mac and cheese (I like cheese, can you tell?).
I devised something interesting this week. I had a bag of Israeli couscous (that’s the larger grain – and admittedly this was a generous donation from my mother), so I cooked that, then fried up a can of black beans (cheap!) and some pine nuts (left over from a past recipe) with sriracha sauce, then I tossed all of that together in a bowl with some oil and salt. It was a tasty and filling vegetarian lunch that also kept really well. To jazz it up a little when I reheated the leftovers, I stir-fried a little tofu to add in. For non-vegans, a little parmesan cheese is a nice touch, too. If you can’t get the couscous, this would probably work as well with rice or a smaller pasta like orzo.
Really, pasta is a good cheap meal base. Just a plate with some butter and cheese, plus maybe the cheap protein source of your choice, can go a long way. If you want to get a little fancy, you can make it into a casserole with sauce, cheese (are you seeing a pattern here?) and any other vegetable or protein you want.
Since we want some semblance of nutrition, we should probably talk about veggies. This is a tricky one for me – not only am I used to cooking huge amounts, I’m also kind of a produce snob. I’m adjusting to learning to buy just a couple of things at once so they don’t go bad, and not always having to get the purest and most organically self-righteous vegetable plucked directly from the womb of Mother Earth herself. But getting a single squash, which I then cut up and saute or bake, is enough. If I buy six of them, like I did when I was staying with and often cooking for my family, they’ll be a bag of rotten liquid in my fridge before I get to cooking. But if you’re buying vegetables, a stir fry can be a great fast meal. Whatever produce you have, chop it and toss it in a pan. Add some soy sauce or other flavor. Throw in some tofu or, if you eat it, cut up meat for protein. Voila! Serve it over rice or pasta.
The best way to roast a vegetable, in my book, is extremely easy. Take said veggie (I’ve done this with yellow squash, zucchini, asparagus, string beans, and brussels sprouts), cut it up if necessary, then spread it in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet. Drizzle some olive oil over the top. Take a lemon, cut off several slices and lay them over the veggies. If you want an extra punch, take a few cloves of garlic and place them on the pan. Sprinkle some salt on it. Bake it until they’re a little crispy.
Don’t underestimate the quesadilla. Tortillas are fairly cheap, and you can take some shredded cheese and whatever other things you want in there (beans, veggies, proteins), then fry it up. If you have salsa or sour cream, dip it in that.
For snacks, I’m a big fan of apples and peanut butter, or I buy pita chips in bulk bags. Hummus is really easy to make. A jar of tahini can be a little pricey at once, but you use so little of it that over time it’s actually quite inexpensive. And the other ingredients – chick peas, lemon juice, olive oil – are either cheap or more than likely something that you’ve already got. And it goes great with carrot sticks or pita chips from the giant bulk bag. Or, let’s be honest, on a spoon.
Breakfast can be tricky. If you eat them, eggs and bacon (soy or meat) can be expensive, especially if you’re a snob like me who wants her eggs to be from happy, free-roaming chickens instead of the ones living in deplorable conditions. So I don’t buy them that often, considering both the price and the fact that I an skeptical to the claim that the “cage free” ones my grocery store carries are actually that. But they’re a nice occasional treat and source of morning protein. I do like to get a big thing of oatmeal fairly cheap, then add in nuts and a little maple syrup. If there’s a good fruit in season, that can go on top as well. Another idea is to take a bowl of Greek yogurt (or whatever yogurt you can afford) and add in nuts, dried fruit and either honey or maple syrup.
The blog Budget Bytes has a lot of good recipes, and lays out the approximate cost of each. Anyone else have any tips or recipes for the poor, time-crunched student who is tired of frozen meals and macaroni?