I was a broke graduate student not a long while ago, but I also knew that I couldn’t live on ramen. I had gotten sick several times because I wasn’t eating a balanced diet – credit the endless pizza boxes for research meetings for that mishap – and because I wasn’t watching my diet.
After a year of too much lard and pizza, I decided to put discipline into my cooking. I didn’t have a lot of time to cook, and I certainly couldn’t spend a lot of money because I was broke. So what did I do? I experimented with recipes.
I have five major ones that I used several times. They saved me time in the kitchen, and even if I did spend time on cooking, it was relaxing time away from hours of research and paper-writing at the office.
1. Lean Lamb Stew
Beef, chicken, and pork were ok in my stews, but when I wanted a treat – and when it was on sale – I got lamb. The nearest grocery had lamb chunks especially cut for stews. I would saute the lamb in a little olive oil, then set the lamb aside. In a pot, I would saute some onion and garlic, then add vegetables like carrot, potato, and corn. I would simmer it in chicken broth, and then add tomato sauce and spices.
My stew would simmer for an hour while I wrote my paper. Granted, I had to spend time chopping vegetables, but I could finish the task in around 20 minutes. I used the vegetable chopping time as my free time in between writing papers.
So yes, I wrote papers and did research while my stew boiled merrily on the stove. I spent around $20 for about 8 servings of stew, which really warmed up my winter months.
2. Meatballs with a Twist
I love pasta, and sometimes, I just love putting tomato sauce, basil, onion, and garlic together in a pot, allowing them to simmer. And then I have myself some instant spaghetti sauce – and a large batch of noodles that will last me about a week.
But I also need a lot of protein, so what do I do? I simply mix ground lean beef, garlic, onion, and shredded carrots together into meatballs. The carrots give the meatballs an extra dose of vitamins, while the beef is lean, so I don’t ingest a lot of fats.
It takes only a few minutes to pull everything together. If I don’t have time to shred carrots, I just chop carrots unevenly. I mix all the stuff together, saute the meatballs in garlic and onion, and then put in the tomato sauce and spices. And yes, I also write while the sauce is simmering on the stove – to the tune of just $15 for around 6 BIG servings.
3. Put Some Goodness in that Tuna Sandwich
Tuna sandwiches are easy to make. Open a can of tuna. Add mayo. Add onions and/or spring onions. Add a dash of pepper. Mix.
I’ve found that tuna sandwiches get less tiring to eat if you add some chopped walnuts, and place it in a whole wheat bun along with alfalfa sprouts, fresh Romaine lettuce, and some arugula. It’s like a salad in a sandwich!
Just make sure that you’re getting fresh lettuce and arugula, and that you aren’t getting rancid walnuts. I’ve found that this kind of tuna sandwich is still easy to make, but has added nutrients, and isn’t really that expensive. I spend around $10 for around 10 big sandwiches.
4. Spinach Pie!
This is my favorite because it’s easy and cheap – and each bite is wonderful!
I chop a whole bag of spinach to uneven bits – no art required, because it’s all going to melt anyway. I mix the spinach with some grated mozarella cheese and basil. I put the entire mix in a pie dish with a homemade crust of flour, a few drops of olive oil, and water. I top it all off with tomatoes and more cheese, and drizzle a mix of milk and beaten egg to hold the entire pie together.
I bake it in the oven for 15 minutes – and it’s done.
Spinach pie takes me all of 30 minutes to make because of the crust. But it’s relaxing, and it’s time away from work. Plus, it’s nutritious. I can get vitamin A and C from spinach, and the whole thing tastes like a giant pizza – minus the lard.
The monstrous mound of goodness is perhaps my most expensive recipe, though. It costs around $10 for 3 servings – and only because I eat so much in one sitting.
5. Fruit Smoothies with Yogurt
This is honestly so easy, I could probably do it in my sleep. I just throw any combination of fruit I want into my blender and add two cups of Greek yogurt. If you don’t have Greek yogurt, any plain yogurt will do. After I hit blend, I just watch the smoothie and hope it’s done soon because I’m that addicted.
I’ve put in bananas, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, raspberries, and melons. I’ve tried different combinations and I’ve cooled down entire summers with fruit smoothies. Nothing like homemade smoothies to beat sodas and sugary drinks!
These are just a few recipes that you, too, can use and modify to fit your needs. You’ll find that they’re hearty and nutritious without taking too much time or money. You simply need to be conscious of the produce you’re buying, and you need to watch out for sales and coupons to make your shopping experience even better.
I graduated just a few months ago, all healthy and sane, and with a PhD. I had to really watch my health and make sure that I wasn’t putting my body at risk. But then again, shouldn’t we all be conscious about our diets, too, whether or not we’re in school?
Author Bio: Inez Ponce de Leon is a writer, science communicator, scientist, and belly dancer. She loves beaches, books, movies, and way too many things – hence, she writes way too much, too. She loves taking on a wide variety of topics, from how to critically look at Internet health claims such as properly reading a Healthy Trim Review, how vitamins can be supplements for brain health, and how racism is being fought in Philippine football (http://inez.abcruz.com).