Chances are if you are in graduate school you probably barely have time to brush your teeth and comb your hair in the morning. Furthermore, unlike the majority of the workforce that lives paycheck to paycheck, your finances might look something more like school loan to school loan. With all of these time and financial restrictions, how is one supposed to be able to maintain a healthy diet? Well, I’m not going to lie to you, your diet will likely not consist of organic market-fresh produce, home-cooked meals three times a day, or even once a day for that matter; however, I have created the following tips to help make faster, cheaper, and healthier meal options – and, no, I am not going to mention ramen noodles…we’re graduate students; we’re past that.
Cooking Once a Week
Most of us do not have time to cook on a daily basis – that’s a given; however, with some effort, most can probably allot time once a week to cook. If you are already cooking (i.e., going to the grocery store, making a mess of the kitchen, cleaning up said mess), you might as well make the most of it. Cooking three meals really does not take all that much more time and effort than cooking one meal. Another option for those of you who like the warm taste of a home cooked meal is that you can prep your food during your cook-a-thon, and then all you have to do is throw it in the oven. I almost guarantee that you have some reading to do while it bakes.
Making the Most of Your Leftovers
Ok, so here is my truth. I am single. I hate cooking. And, I hate eating the same meal for three days straight – so I don’t. When I spend my one night a week cooking – and yes it really is possible to do a week’s worth of cooking in one short evening – I make versatile food that can be remade into different options. For example, browned, ground meat can be tacos one night, sloppy Joes the next, and spaghetti the following night. The best part about all of these recipes is that they require no cooking ability beyond stirring, boiling water, opening pre-packaged seasoning, and opening a can – and it doesn’t take a PhD Student to figure those out.
You Don’t Need a Large Family to Get Big Savings – Buy in Bulk
Whether you shop at a large wholesale store or your run-of-the-mill grocery store, you save money by buying more. Well technically it will cost you more, but in the long run you will save money if you are smart about it. Buy things that you know you will use up eventually, especially those items that do not expire. Be careful, some people get caught up in the per-item saving and lose track of the big picture. I repeat myself – BUY THINGS THAT YOU KNOW YOU WILL EVENTUALLY USE! Nobody needs 13 sticks of lip balm, because they can save 5 cents a tube.
Eating on the Go
It is inevitable that you will need to have some meals on the go. As tempting as it is to hit up the drive through, you do have other options. If you are looking for a hot meal to take home for dinner, spend a little extra time and run into a grocery store or market. Most have hot meals ready to go. Not only do these meals taste better – in my humble opinion – but they are often a healthier solution than drive through. AND they are usually cheaper. If you know you have a hectic week and you know you won’t have time to make lunch in the morning, stock up on a couple of wraps, sandwiches, or salads while you are at the grocery store. They should last all week, and that way you can grab and go.
While it may not look like it to the outside world, many of us PhD Students are in fact social creatures, and do on some – while rare – occasions, go out. And, as many of us living on a budget know, eating out can put quite the dent in the pocket book. If you do decide to go out, try sharing an entrée with a friend. The math is rather simple: 1 meal / 2 people = ½ price. Another way to not spend so much is to have pre-dinner before going out, and only order an appetizer. If you do nothing else, follow this last piece of advice, which is perhaps the greatest money saver for restaurant dining: only drink water.