I was lucky enough to come from a family that adores cooking as much as it adores eating.
My dad is the kind of guy who can throw simple ingredients together and always have it end up delicious. My mom is a bit more calculated - a chef who cooks under the belief that if you follow a recipe, it will end up perfect each time - and expanded my palate at such a young age that to this day there are few things I won't eat.
I was also lucky enough to work at a company this summer that fed us lunch and breakfast. Basically, I didn't have to think at all this summer about eating. I didn't have to come up with dinner ideas, budget for food, or worry about my next meal.
Let's just say that the past couple of weeks back at college have been a little bit of a rude awakening. Some collegiate readers may be *blessed* with a dining hall and a swipe program. Most readers probably attend GW and know that the closest we get to a non-Sodexo hot bar is the one at Whole Foods for a very nice and cheap (ha ha!) $8.89 a pound.
Eating in DC can be exciting; there are tons of options and so many delicious restaurants.
Most days, however, eating in DC is expensive and stressful. Sometimes 3pm will roll around and I'll realize that all I've had to eat is a cup of Keurig coffee and a yogurt, if I'm lucky. It's not that I'm trying not to eat... it's that I'm, sadly, pretty lazy and also very frugal. I have learned some things though, and I'm here to share!
I think cooking and feeding myself affordably comes down to a few things: meal planning wisely, shopping wisely, and filling your pantry with some basic supplies.
When I pack for a trip and I have limited packing space, I choose versatile players such as jeans, a plain dress, and blouses that go with everything because I know that I'll be able to mix and match.
When I start planning my meals for the week, I likewise choose key players that I can use in different ways throughout the week. Some of my favorites? Chicken tenders, which I can use on top of salads, as part of a stir fry with rice and broccoli, or even as my token protein to accompany a grain and a veggie. Quinoa or brown rice, both of which can be made ahead and is even available in the freezer section of Whole Foods, can be thrown into salads for extra filling whole grains, microwaved with frozen veggies and vinaigrette for a different side. Frozen vegetables such as green beans and broccoli, which I stick on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler or microwave. Eggs, which are CHEAP and good for brinner - made healthy with tons of vegetables in the form of an omelet - or a quick lunch, hard-boiled for a quick snack, or even poached in tomato sauce.
When making a shopping/menu plan for the week, I first (obviously!) write down every day of the week on a vertical piece of paper. Then, if I know that Friday is ~date night~ I'll cross it out as a night I'm not responsible for cooking, or that there's a party on Saturday that means I'll just end up eating mozz sticks, I'll be real with myself and cross that off too.
Here's an example of a menu plan from one of the past weeks:
- Monday: Eggs poached in tomato sauce on toast
Garlic - already have
- Tuesday: Chicken with brown rice and broccoli (use vinaigrette on broccoli)
Vinaigrette - already have
- Wednesday: Whole wheat pasta with chicken sausage, broccoli, and tomato sauce
Whole wheat pasta
Tomato sauce - already on the list
Parmesan Cheese - already on the list
- Thursday: Broccoli and cheese omelets
Eggs - already on the list
Broccoli - already on list
Cheese - already on list
- Friday: date night at Jaleo!
- Saturday: Teriyaki chicken stir fry with brown rice and green beans
Chicken - already on list
Brown rice - already on list
Teriyaki - already have
- Sunday: family dinner in Dan's room
So, when I go grocery shopping, I end up picking up:
- Frozen green beans
- Frozen broccoli
- Frozen brown rice
- Tomato sauce
- Whole wheat pasta
I'll use the bread for sandwiches with PB and jelly. I'll use the bread and cheese for grilled cheese. If I have any leftover sauce or chicken sausage, I'll repurpose it the next week for little pizzas in my toaster oven. For breakfast, I'll usually get what yogurt is cheapest at Trader Joes.
I firmly believe that if you take the extra 20 minutes to think about your meals consciously, you'll be well-fed, less stressed, and maybe even end up with a few extra dollars in your pocket.