Eating on a Graduate School Budget

Well hello! We had a brief hiatus due to some technical considerations, but we are back! This post is going to be primarily about food. Eating well is a priority of mine (so much so that it’s even one of my comprehensive exam topics!), but sometimes my budget can make those dreams stop short:

Anywaaaaay, as theological students in Berkeley, we are probably all aware of the fact that we need to eat well to treat our bodies and the environment well. We are the stewards of our own temples, y’all! Graduate school is often stress-filled, and while that may want to make us reach for cheesy blasters, we know that we should really be chomping on some locally farmed, organic, sustainable, probiotic, healthy, antioxidant-filled superfoods.

“But Meredith, eating well costs money and ramen is so cheap!”

True. And have I eaten Ramen in the past month year? That’s neither here nor there. The point is, eating healthily makes us feel better physically (and emotionally, if you enjoy giving yourself as much self-approbation as I do) and may even take an edge off of our medical bills in the long run.

I realize that cooking is not fun for everyone. I love to cook. I have almost as many cookbooks as I have theological books. I peruse food blogs when I need a break from studying (more productive than facebook, though!). However, you don’t have to be as obsessed with food as I do to eat well on a grad school budget. It can also be really hard if you’re trying to cook for only yourself! Have you felt like this aisle at a certain local superstore might as well have your name on it:

for one

We can remedy this.

There are a handful of things that I think really help out with my budget when thinking about food. Some of this may seem common sense to you, but there are some good resources below if you need inspiration.

1. Set an “eat out” budget and stick to it: Not to be a totalitarian about this, but I try to only take cash with me when I go out. This way, I know how much I have and how much I have prepared to spend. This keeps me from buying that second pizookie even though my heart really wants it:

2. Hit up the local markets: Monterey Market is my personal favorite because I can get good produce at a place close to my house for very cheap! However, there are a zillion great grocery stores and markets in the Bay Area. It is one of the perks of living here! Trader Joe’s and other chain stores can also give you a real bang for your buck. By buying groceries so that you can eat breakfast at home and pack a meal or two for your day, you are saving so much money.

3. Make enough for multiple meals: This is silly, but I was talking to a fellow student recently (who will not be named) who when complaining about eating costs actually told me, “Ew. I don’t like leftovers.” I was kind of caught off guard by this. Out loud, I said, “oh.” In my head, I responded, “Well did you like it the first time you ate it? With few exceptions, it’s really not that different.” Really,  you can save quite a bit of money by making a bigger meal and then eating off it all week. Also, things like soups and stews (that are pretty inexpensive when you break down the cost-per-meal) actually get better when eaten the second go-round.

4. Are you a meat-eater? Consider going meat-less occasionally. Protein often costs the most on my grocery bill, though this is also because I refuse to buy animal products that are not sustainably farmed or come from the wild. I’m probably preaching to the choir, but in case you think that this is all just like that first episode of Portlandia, watch Food, Inc., y’all. This is a serious problem. There are a ton of recipes out there for meatless meals that actually can fill you up while helping out your wallet! Check this little article out about it. Beans and other legumes are excellent, filling protein replacements. You know what they say, “Beans, beans, the magical fruit. The more you eat, your wallet will hoot!”

5. Keep your eyes and ears open!

Research student discounts and lunch specials at your favorite spots. Also, I may or may not have shamelessly asked to go through the line at a recent UCB event. All of the students had eaten and there were still MOUNTAINS of gourmet catered sandwiches! They gave me sandwiches and cookies for free. I may have looked pitiable, but I got free lunch and dinner out of it. You don’t have to be a beggar like me, but just look around!

6. Have a Stone Soup party! Did any of you read this book as a child? The gist of it is that if you get together with a group of friends and each of you brings one ingredient, you can save money and still have a great meal. If you boil it down (pun intended), cooking for multiples is often better and cheaper than cooking for one.


Here are a couple of helpful articles/websites about eating healthy on a budget:

Need some inspiration for food in general? Here are some of my favorites:

Shameless friend plug alert! Two of my friends write great little food blogs:

Eating that kale just might give you the gumption to finish that paper early.

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