Cooking! Affording grad life through eating.

Cooking in graduate school. Photo courtesy of www.chronicle.com

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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/

    My Hamilton 5 quart crock pot. Photo courtesy of Walmart.com

  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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!