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Eating On 40 Dollars a Week

Somehow, even though I haven’t lived at home for the past 6 years, I’ve always been able to live off of someone else’s cooking, whether that be a dining hall meal plan, mom’s food over the summer, or Losino’s delicious meals at the fraternity house. So, when I moved into my rented room a little over a week ago and saw an empty fridge, my stomach panicked a little bit. It ran some calculations – $12/meal at a restaurant at three meals a day will run it $36 to get one day’s worth of food. Stomach brain then realized, it has $40 for seven. This wasn’t going to work. It passed this troubling information up to the main brain which said “No worries! Groceries are less expensive than restaurants and look stomach – google has all these people saying they can get by on $40.” “But main brain,” stomach brain said, “we’re not most people. We eat a lot.” “Well,” replied main brain, “you have a point.”

But two weeks in, I’ve actually found it pretty easy to not only keep within a budget but also to keep the food tasty and something I want to eat. Also, I’m eating more healthily than ever before. Following pretty basic diet guidelines (lots of veggies, lots of protein, minimal sugar, breads, and processed foods), I’ve found that by simply staying on the edges of grocery stores and not going in the center aisles I can get a lot of fresh, healthy ingredients for much less than a cart full of frozen dinners. Portion control is also way easier when I’m cooking my own meals and Losino isn’t there saying, :Come on buddy, one more plate!” (Which is impossible to refuse.)

My menu:

Breakfast

Dry oats and milk in a bowl (like cereal), with chopped fruit on top.

Needs the fruit for a little sweetness. Good fruit so far: apples, bananas. Meh fruit: peach (too squishy)

Lunch

Some meat-based stew that I volumize with a lot of vegetables. I make a big pot at the start of the week and freeze it in tupperware to bring to work every day.

Week one was meat slop (ground beef, tomato puree, chopped cabbage, garlic). Verdict: Not bad, tasted like eating a bowl of meat. Yum. But too much cabbage and very greasy, could definitely use onions/mushrooms and other flavorings. Maybe try BBQ sauce?

Week two was Thai curry stew, based loosely on this recipe (chicken, coconut milk, curry, chilli garlic sauce, Asian veggies). I stopped by Chinatown on my way back from USC to visit an Asian market which was by far the best decision of the week. It had tons of unique ingredients and a whole shelf of pocky. Verdict: Very tasty. Would add less water and more lime to keep flavor concentrated, but definitely worth doing again.

Next week I want to do some sort of Mexican chicken/carnitas mix, and the week after that I think an eastern European stew with sausage, sauerkraut, and apples would be really good. After that, I’m not sure. I could use more cultures to steal food from.

(If people have recipes, please share.)

Dinner

Eggs with veggies. (No cheese)

Good egg combos so far: Sauteed garlic and spinach omelet (my staple). Soy sauce and onions with eggs over easy, keeping the yolks a little runny. Hot sauce is always good.

Bad egg combo: Lemon and chives, the lemon does something to the eggs and they came out all granular.

Dessert

Ha. Lots of water. I’m trying to get in shape here.

Really, it’s not hard at all, way better than I thought it would be. Being constrained by a tight summer budget has actually been somewhat of a plus – it’s forced me to buy only raw natural nutritious stuff. Kind of funny how that one turned out.

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