Through my assistantship, I am fortunate to have a stipend. However, I am not rolling around in cash, and my stipend is just enough to feed me, house me, and have a little lift for entertaining me (movies, dinners with friends, and yes, shopping). Yet, I have to be creative in stretching each and every dollar. One way I save money is cooking my own meals. Bloomington has a lot of great restaurants and combined with a graduate students’ super busy schedule, it is very tempting to buy grab a quick and tasty lunch or dinner. Yet, the lunch money and the calories add up each day! If you eat lunch every weekday for 4 weeks, for an average of $7 per lunch, you would spend $140 per month. For the entire school year (that’s roughly 9.5 months), you would spend $1,330. (Disclaimer: These are my basic estimates! I am not math major or a professional statistician!)
Of course, you can sniff out the free food at advertised events or department socials. But let’s be real, I did that and gained almost 10 pounds during my first year as a graduate student. I had to re-commit to a more healthy lifestyle, and that meant taking time out to cook.
Now cooking isn’t such a frightening ordeal. Here are a few tips that I use to stay healthy:
- Look for recipes on Pinterest: Pinterest isn’t just for women’s fashion or DIY arts and crafts. People post super yummy and super easy recipes every minute on Pinterest. When I have some free time or take a break from studying, I go onto Pinterest and save at recipes to make for next week. Doing this helps me plan for my meals and also to get inspiration so I don’t get stuck eating the same boring stuff.
- Pin recipes that have 5 ingredients or less. I love cooking, but as a graduate student, I do not have time to make my own pasta or make an extra fancy souffle. That’s why I only use recipes that require a few healthy ingredients and that are easy to find in the grocery stores. I save the more elaborate and adventurous recipes for the holidays, the summer, or for a cheap date night in.
- Get a crock pot: Think a crock pot is expensive? Think again, I bought mine for $20 at Walmart. This device allows me to have a healthy breakfast or dinner every day. I just throw in some steel cut oatmeal into the crock pot at night, by the next morning I have a hot breakfast. For more crock pot recipes, visit: http://greatist.com/health/healthy-crock-pot-recipes/
- Look at the grocery ads for sales and coupons: I try not to buy something at full-price unless necessary. That’s why I always look at the grocery store ads to see what produce or products are on sale that week. If it’s non-perishable item, I usually try to stock up on the for-sale item. For example, my favorite sale is the 10 for $10 at Kroger. I usually stock up on canned tomatoes, beans, Luna bars, and some times some snack items. If a meat like chicken is on sale, I usually buy the big pack and the freeze half of it for later. I usually try to find recipes that feature the on-sale items so I don’t need to spend full-price on ingredients. Yes, it takes more organization, but it is worth the extra dollar or two!
- Cook for the week: I usually designate a few hours on Saturday or Sunday to cook all of my meals during the week. I need a break from studying anyways, so I set aside some time to make my breakfast (oatmeal or an egg casserole, see above crock pot recipe link) and make my dinner (a recipe that I usually find on Pinterest or other food blogs that I follow) for the week. This method usually works well for people who are not opposed to eating the same meals every day for a week.
- Have a little fun and be adventurous: The times I do eat out, I like to try new things. If I find a favorite dish at a restaurant that I really like, I try to find a similar recipe to make at home. I am a huge fan of Korean food, and I could spend hundreds of dollars and calories eating at Korean restaurants. To prevent myself from going overboard, I follow a food blog called Maangchi: http://www.maangchi.com/ Unfortunately, Bloomington does not have a Vietnamese restaurant, so I attempt to make Vietnamese recipes at home. I follow a Vietnamese cuisine blog called the Ravenous Couple: http://www.theravenouscouple.com/
Hope this blog post inspires you to put your chef hats on and start cooking!