$540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

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PhysicsTeacher
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by PhysicsTeacher » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:24 pm

I've enjoyed many of the recipes from www.budgetbytes.com. They tend to strike a reasonable balance among taste, ease of preparation, nutrition, and cost.

Limoncello402
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by Limoncello402 » Tue Jul 17, 2018 4:50 am

Not a grad student, but I'm single and probably spend no more than $250-300/month for food. I eat out maybe once a month; everything else is cooked at home. I also don't like to cook, so easy meals are the key. I cook a big pot of something or grill meat on Sundays for weekly dinners. Breakfast is eggs and cheese, lunch is salad, veggies, protein. Snacks are nuts, avocado, yogurt. Very easy and healthy to eat this way.
Your bad habit of eating out so often is costing you money and health.

FireProof
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by FireProof » Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:31 am

Cook more at home, but don't worry too much about "cheap meals" or planning intricately. Pretty much ANY balanced home-cooked meal (i.e. not just a massive slab of salmon) will be cheap, unless you go out of your way to look for expensive ingredients. Staples like potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, lentils etc, are essentially free when compared to the cost of eating out.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by nymeria.stark » Tue Jul 17, 2018 3:21 pm

As a former graduate student, I get that it's easier to run out and get something to eat. It's a brain break! It gets you out of the library or out of the classroom, and it can feel like a good motivation/reward for studying or writing. I probably spent way too much on coffee in those days, just because I needed to get out of the library basement and clear my head. But it sounds like you do maybe think you're spending too much, so there are ways to cut down.

I don't consider myself a heavy eater, but I couldn't split a burrito bowl or a can of beans into three meals like some on here are suggesting. Instead, typically what I would do is make a few super-easy combinations of things throughout the week: protein and veggies or starch and veggies, occasionally protein and starch. Ate a lot of black beans with polenta or cornbread or rice, pasta with veggie spaghetti sauce or broccoli and cheese, egg scrambles with spinach, peppers, mushrooms, cheese. The joy of those things is that the leftover scramble veggies can go into your pasta, you can bulk up the beans and polenta with an egg, etc. Breakfast was toast, lunch was a sandwich.

I almost never bought meat, but that's a personal preference--chicken and ground beef aren't that expensive, and you can work those in where you like. A few chicken breasts probably costs the same as one Subway sandwich. Most of those things keep pretty well in the fridge over the course of a week, and they're fast and easy to throw together, even if you're studying at the same time.

And, once a week, treat yourself to a frozen pizza or a night out. You can probably afford a nicer "dining out" experience if you're cooking most things at home!

Good luck--
Last edited by nymeria.stark on Wed Jul 18, 2018 10:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by dknightd » Tue Jul 17, 2018 3:29 pm

If you can afford it, don't worry about it. Save for retirement after you get your degree.

MJS
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by MJS » Tue Jul 17, 2018 6:22 pm

An intermediate step between fast food & home cooking is pre-made food. Burritos, subs, tacos, pizza can be found in the freezer case. Try different brands for a couple of weeks. Learn to check out the nutrition info on each box. Add some pre-cut veggies and a container of dip or salad dressing from the produce section. Eat breakfast burritos or tomatoes & mozzarella or yogurt for breakfast. Good luck!

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by 22twain » Wed Jul 18, 2018 2:46 am

MJS wrote:
Tue Jul 17, 2018 6:22 pm
An intermediate step between fast food & home cooking is pre-made food. Burritos, subs, tacos, pizza can be found in the freezer case.
My local Wal-Mart has several varieties of Lean Cuisine (Stouffer's) and Weight Watchers frozen entrees for $2 each. These usually have a few veggies, but when I use one I always heat up a small bowl of frozen veggies and add them to the mix. And a small simple salad, not the pre-made bagged kind, but nothing elaborate/artistic, just some lettuce ripped off a whole head in the refrigerator, plus some carrots and black olives or whatever else is handy. Takes less than ten minutes altogether.
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by mesmer » Wed Jul 18, 2018 6:14 am

OP,

Good for you for being proactive about this. Shaving cost from your food budget (always my largest variable expense) is a great thing. Even savings of $100-200 per month add up.

When I was in grad school, I often similarly ate out for lunch. The biggest issue as many have pointed out were health issues that later arose. I would suggest starting simple with a small goal of simply cooking at home more and go from there.

For example, buy eggs, boil them for a quick breakfast or healthy snacks. Many mornings I fry eggs which I eat with sautéed spinach, onion, mushrooms or simply eat on a bed of greens with avocado if I have time. Another quick breakfast is a smoothie— I buy chocolate collagen protein (which is a bit pricey), and add peanut butter, frozen cauliflower (sounds gross but tastes like nothing blended and adds a nice texture plus gets my veggies in early), or spinach (also tastes like nothing), and maybe half a banana with some flax seeds or chia seeds for fiber.

If you have eggs for breakfast you can also add an apple with peanut butter or almond butter as a a snack. I usually batch cook my lunches twice per week on Sunday and Tuesday/Wednesday. You could make a dinner with enough food for lunch for the next two days and then Fridays dine out while you implement this. Examples of what I cook is roasting a chicken and veggies (prep time is 20 minutes and then it cooks in oven), you can also use a slow cook overnight or while at work as someone suggested above. I also buy grass fed ground beef and make pasta sauce which I eat with spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. I do try to follow the recommendations of filling half of my plate with vegetables at every meal including breakfast because I personally feel best that way and it’s impoetant to me to prioritize my health now after not doing so earlier in life (like during grad school!). I aim for a source of protein, a source of fat (even if it’s a table spoon of olive oil), GREENS, and fiber at every meal.

Another simple lunch is sandwiches. Buy a good quality bread from a bakery and lunch meats, lettuce, condiments and pack with some nuts and fruit. Buy a reusable water bottle and make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day. Stock your home
With a good salt, pepper, hot sauce, mustard so you can add taste to your food. I use onion and garlic in my cooking for this too. The skill of adding more flavor to food can be developed over time if you have an interest in cooking and eating different flavors of food.


Start simple: eggs tend to be easy, sandwiches, buy a rotisserie chicken if you must when starting out and use it as the basis for several meals. Smoothies can be surprisingly filling as long as they have enough protein, fat, and fiber and aren’t loaded with sugar which will make us hungrier sooner (but do require a blender!).

Check out a site like this for health and quick meal ideas that you can also make in advance:

https://cleanfoodcrush.com

Good luck with grad school, your budget, and your health!

sailfish2
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by sailfish2 » Wed Jul 18, 2018 9:55 am

I get that inflation has occurred since I was in school, but yes, I would say you are way above a reasonable budget.

I would recommend investing in a slow cooker. There are many tasty meals you can make ahead and freeze (lots of recipes online). The excess money you save in your budget can be allocated for entertainment, meals and drinks out with friends. You definitely need fun breaks in grad school.

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telemark
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by telemark » Wed Jul 18, 2018 11:24 am

This will probably appall the more accomplished cooks here, but here is a simple recipe. You will need:
  • a casserole dish, a sauce pan, a stove and a microwave oven
  • some rice, whatever type you prefer
  • a can of chile, whatever brand you prefer
Cook the rice according to directions (two parts water to one part rice, simmer 15-20 minutes). Before the rice is quite done, empty the can of chile into the casserole dish and zap it for a few minutes in the microwave. Stir the rice into the chile and give the whole thing another minute or two in the microwave for good luck. This is probably too much for one meal but you can easily refrigerate and reheat the leftovers.

You can also mix a little of the chile into the water when you cook the rice, so the flavor will cook into the rice. Optionally add some olive oil when you cook the rice, or experiment with other things besides chile: the ethnic food section of the grocery is a good place to look for spicy things in cans. When reading the labels on cans I mainly look for trans fats (should be zero in 2018, but there are some older cans still in circulation) and added sugar (lower is better).

If you are paying money for carbonated sugar water, learn to make tea or coffee. I drink a lot of tea, but I buy the leaves at an Asian market and pay maybe $5/month for it. Making coffee is more involved, but you can make pourover with some filters and a cheap plastic cone.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by c1over8 » Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:36 pm

If time or desire to cook is one issue, consider rotisserie chicken, those steamable frozen veggie bags, and a can of beans or one of those pasta/rice microwave bags. My family often does this when traveling and staying in a hotel without an in room kitchen - no need to eat out every meal. You can get a rotisserie chicken at sam's club for $5 at the cheap end to an organic one from whole foods for $10 so its relatively inexpensive compared to eating out every meal regardless of which end of the rotisserie chicken spectrum you shop at. You should be able to get a minimum of four meals off a rotisserie chicken.

When you get chipotle consider getting to go and adding extra beans and meat at home. You can get a can of beans really cheap and make your chicken or preferred meat or add some of the rotisserie chicken. This will allow you to stretch the chipotle meal without sacrificing flavor. Also if you a burrito person rather than a bowl person, get the bowl and ask for two burrito wraps on the side - they don't charge extra and I always have enough in the bowl to then roll up two nice size burritos myself.

If you like McDonalds, donwload their app. Right now (at least in my market) you can get a big mac (or other sandwich) using the app coupons for $1.

Like everyone else said, eat breakfast at home and, finally, use coupons.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by an_asker » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:30 am

livesoft wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:32 am
[...]
You don't have to eat rice, pasta, bread, potatoes at all. A can of black beans is about 60 cents at Walmart and can be split over 3 meals made of vegetables such as broccoli, corn, spinach, carrots, and so on.
[...]
Most all is right on the money here, but I have to complain about the canned foods. Remember this mantra: canned not good; frozen good.

Most (if not all) canned food has way too much sodium which is just not good for health (and worse as you grow older!). Instead, get the dried black (or kidney beans), soak for a few hours (or a day even), pressure cook the beans then add salt to taste (which will invariably never be close to how much the canning companies put for food preservation).

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by msk » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:50 am

Waaaay back from my student days, I seem to recall this as THE recipe for students, and I used it a lot:

Get the big 3 vegetables (onions, tomatoes and bell peppers) cut and slice and throw into a frying pan with a bit of grease (olive oil if you are fancy but I used corn oil). Give a quick fry and throw in your meat/chicken/seafood/whatever. Season to taste. After a couple of attempts you can even impress the girls... And it's much cheaper than going to any restaurant.

student
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by student » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:57 am

When I was a graduate student, I ate out often. There were plazas next to the university with inexpensive food. The dining hall was affordable too. If you have Indian or Chinese buffet places with take out options, you can go and get the "good" stuff and supply your own rice and bread. So it will last 2 or 3 meals.

Momus
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by Momus » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:05 am

$150 if you cook food yourself. It's your money, waste it as you please.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by Machine99 » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:08 am

For a family of 3, I spend $100-$120 per week. I have a couple apps on my phone that list the local grocery store sales and I plan meal around that. The two thing that helped me reduce our food spend from around $1,100 per month down to $400-$500 per month was to stop eating out and planning meals. Every Friday afternoon we look at the sales and plan our meals for the week. We then make a shopping list for only those items we need. Do not go to the grocery store without a list and certainly not when you are hungry. We usually wind up going to at least 3 stores to get all of our items for that week. You do those couple things, you will cut your spend in half.

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Pajamas
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by Pajamas » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:20 am

I was thinking about this some more yesterday but forgot to post.

Since you eat all of your meals out, something you can consider doing is buying just a box of fried chicken from Popeye's (the best) or fried or rotisserie chicken from a grocery store. Popeye's often has specials and some grocery stores reduce the price after 6 or 7 PM. You should be able to get 3-4 meals out of a chicken.

Supplement that with your own sides such as rice, potatoes, or noodles (frozen tater tots are very good if they get crispy in the oven) and a salad or other vegetables. You can also buy a frozen lasagna or similar main dishes that will last several meals.

This is less expensive and perhaps healthier than buying fast food meals individually but does not require as much devotion to cooking as preparing meals from scratch.

Some grocery stores also sell ready to eat meals much like a cafeteria and often they are less expensive than fast food.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by livesoft » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:42 am

an_asker wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:30 am
Most (if not all) canned food has way too much sodium which is just not good for health (and worse as you grow older!). Instead, get the dried black (or kidney beans), soak for a few hours (or a day even), pressure cook the beans then add salt to taste (which will invariably never be close to how much the canning companies put for food preservation).
Canned black beans come in the reduced sodium variety (240 mg sodium per serving is on the can, about a tenth of teaspoon of salt). I'm not going to waste my time and energy to soak/cook a 30 cent portion of beans. Nor am I going to ask a grad student with a can opener and microwave to do anything, except zap them to warm them up. :)
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PhilosophyAndrew
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by PhilosophyAndrew » Thu Jul 19, 2018 11:31 am

OP certainly you can spend a lot less money — and eat more nutritious foods — by learning how to shop and cook for yourself. You have an oppprtunity to inculcate a lifelong healthy — and financially prudent — habit!

The Fooducate app, which focuses on grading the nutritional quality of grocery store items, may be a useful resource for you.

https://www.fooducate.com/

Andy.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by shell921 » Sun Jul 22, 2018 2:24 pm

livesoft wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:42 am
an_asker wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:30 am
Most (if not all) canned food has way too much sodium which is just not good for health (and worse as you grow older!). Instead, get the dried black (or kidney beans), soak for a few hours (or a day even), pressure cook the beans then add salt to taste (which will invariably never be close to how much the canning companies put for food preservation).
Canned black beans come in the reduced sodium variety (240 mg sodium per serving is on the can, about a tenth of teaspoon of salt). I'm not going to waste my time and energy to soak/cook a 30 cent portion of beans. Nor am I going to ask a grad student with a can opener and microwave to do anything, except zap them to warm them up. :)
a crock pot comes in handy for cooking beans.

start watching at 2:08
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swqYBYhkEbc

so easy and cheaper than buying canned beans.....you can cook enough beans to last 4-5 days !!

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by livesoft » Sun Jul 22, 2018 3:20 pm

My son has a crock pot, so I will pass that on to him.

But 4-5 days worth of beans for me is less than $1.20, so say dried beans costs 15 cents and the energy costs 20 cents, I'm not saving much if I use a manual can opener and a microwave, am I really?
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golfCaddy
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by golfCaddy » Sun Jul 22, 2018 3:48 pm

You could eat cheaper. I'm a lot more skeptical than other posters about the existing state of diet research. Too much research is based on observational studies and not randomized controlled trials. Too much research only looks a single disease, instead of all-cause mortality. Think about everything which is supposedly bad for you.

Seafood - Most seafood has mercury and other metals. Even farmed salmon has high levels of PCBs.
Carbs and starchy vegetables - can spike glucose and lead to diabetes
fruits - can be high in sugar
red meat and egg yolks - bad for cardiovascular health
dairy fat - could be bad for cardiovascular health

So what's left? If you had the discipline to go on a diet of non-starchy vegetables, you might approach some ideal diet from a health perspective. If not, and if you're a healthy weight, ignore the hyperbole like this:
Bigger issue is that you are slowly killing yourself.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by JBTX » Sun Jul 22, 2018 7:50 pm

OP, the numbers you put up aren't shocking. When I get sloppy what I spend on fast food isn't much different.

There are a lot of good ideas on in here, but if some of them are too drastic for you, make some goals. Decide you will eat out only once per day, and eventually only 2-3 times per week Get some healthy cereals. Eggs are easy to make for breakfast and take about 5 minutes. Or boil some eggs in advance.

Get some bread and sandwich meat. Campbell's chunky soups are fairly filling. If that isn't enough get some cans of beans (red/kidney/black) in cans, rinse the beans and put them in the chunky soup. Or just get some oil and Cajun spices and warm up a can of redbeans on a skillet. Some frozen meals are tolerable.

Bannanas and apples or other fruit is filling and easy.

Get an app to Walmart or other grocery store that has a pickup app, select and pay for foods online and just go pick it up and never leave your car.

The trips to fast food become a mental break and a reward, and can be hard to break. Try making your meal and taking it somewhere, outside, a dining hall, a park or somewhere you still get to have the outing while not spending $8 each time.

I've lived your lifestyle many years and now I'm starting to pay for it. These are habits that are hard to break.

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responses are a bit over the top

Post by Socrates » Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:08 pm

I spent $50 a week on food.....

a Chipotle burrito bowl is three meals for me.....

my goodness


You can cut back your spending:

1. Don't eat out as much
2. Buy in bulk: for example Costco sells a box of 10 organic frozen burritos for about $8. Split a membership with someone
3. try to eat at home: beans, hot dogs, tuna sandwiches, PB sandwiches, spaghetti, cereal, chicken on the grill/stir fry if you can't cook....
make double triple portions so you have left overs
4. find a low cost super market like Trader Joes....great food choices for cheap. I live in a college town in Northern California and it is packed with students

lots of options
Last edited by Socrates on Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by golfCaddy » Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:11 pm

shell921 wrote:
Sun Jul 22, 2018 7:15 pm
There are healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs. Not all carbs are the same.

When I say I eat a lot of carbs I mean I eat healthy carbs. I eat no fish or seafood or meat or dairy-no animal products.
Even so-called good carbs get broken down into glucose, which can spike blood sugar levels.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by livesoft » Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:52 pm

golfCaddy wrote:
Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:11 pm
Even so-called good carbs get broken down into glucose, which can spike blood sugar levels.
So true. Potatoes turn into glucose right in one's mouth from the enzymes found in one's saliva.

Of course, the whole potato does not turn into a sugar cube. Things are more complicated than that.
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by euroswiss » Mon Jul 23, 2018 9:59 am

Check out if your university offers a meal plan for Grad students (for example, Rice Univ has a way for Grad students to tap into the undergrad meal services). These are not always cheap options, but at $540 a month you have A LOT of room...

smectym
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by smectym » Mon Jul 23, 2018 10:21 am

No, “$540 [or any other number stripped of context]a month on food for a grad student” is not in some absolute sense or on some moral scale “too much” or “too little,” and while the meal budgeting suggestions on this string are useful, the “why, when *I* was a grad student” anecdotes are mainly unintentional self-parody. It’s always great to economize of course and if OP wants to find ways to save a few bucks each month that’s a good thing.

I am the dad of a current grad student, I have a sneaking feeling that the kid’s food budget is meaningfully over >$540/mo. Not too concerned about it

Smectym

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by LadyGeek » Mon Jul 23, 2018 3:12 pm

I removed a few off-topic posts which did a deep-dive into details of the McDougall diet. The discussion was getting derailed.

Please stay on-topic, which is a food budget.
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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by jlawrence01 » Mon Jul 23, 2018 3:48 pm

pax4235 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 6:59 am
Does anyone know a good site that gives you ideas on recipes to buy that is designed to minimize your food budget while giving you healthy recipes?
Other than vacations, we spend under $300 a month for two adults. Out of that amount, we also provide meals for many of our elderly neighbors on a weekly basis. We eat a lot of fresh vegetables and rarely any prepared foods. I think that those who say it is impossible to find fresh food at a reasonable price need to work a little harder at it.

Cooking takes me approximately 40 minutes a day in actual work MAX. I did a lot of cooking when I was in graduate school and I have found that you can do a few minutes of food preparation and study while the food is cooking.

There is a YouTube series called the Brothers Green who talk a lot about cooking on a ridiculously low budget. I think that they may go overboard a little at times, but they have great food at a fraction of what I am spending.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BrothersGreenEats

Some of their recent titles are 4 meals, 4 ingredients, $4" and "How to live on $3 a day" and "10 creative dishes using just an egg."

This is one of my favorite videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjeY6Bzg6jw
Last edited by jlawrence01 on Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by lthenderson » Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:03 pm

pax4235 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 6:59 am
As a graduate student, I am wondering if I am spending too much on food per month. I am basically eating out for every meal right now (subway, chipotle burritos, burgers/tacos, etc) and the cost comes out to $6-$7 per meal. Even if you buy subway $6 dollar sandwiches, that would be $6 * 3 subs/day * 30 days/month = $540 /month on Subway sandwiches. I am guessing that to save on food I would need to go to the grocery store and buy rice or pasta and it would be much cheaper. If I live in the Houston, TX area will it always be cheaper/greater bang for my buck for me to buy groceries than eat out like this? I find $540-$600+/mo for 1 person very expensive for food (more expensive than rent almost!).

Does anyone know a good site that gives you ideas on recipes to buy that is designed to minimize your food budget while giving you healthy recipes?
When I was a student, the easiest, cheapest, best nutritional balance for the convenience and price was to get a meal plan through the university to eat at one of their many food centers. I usually got a 20 meal a week plan and did my own breakfast and weekend meals.

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Re: $540 a month on food for graduate student budget too much?

Post by Kalo » Tue Jul 24, 2018 7:02 am

livesoft wrote:
Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:52 pm
golfCaddy wrote:
Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:11 pm
Even so-called good carbs get broken down into glucose, which can spike blood sugar levels.
So true. Potatoes turn into glucose right in one's mouth from the enzymes found in one's saliva.

Of course, the whole potato does not turn into a sugar cube. Things are more complicated than that.
I read online that one can cut up a potato into cubes and put them in coffee instead of sugar cubes.

Kalo
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