hether a college student, young adult, or single professional, living on one’s own can be daunting. Household chores are one matter, but for some people, cooking for oneself is a completely foreign idea! As a college student living off campus, I wondered how I was going to feed myself. Going to fast-food restaurants would not work—I wanted to maintain good nutrition, and I didn’t have the money, anyway. I was also concerned about implementing a nourishing vegetarian diet.
As the school year progressed, however, I exchanged my worries for a series of creative techniques, recipes, and ideas. I developed shopping and preparation habits—as a result of suggestions from department faculty and my mom. I learned to prepare healthful meals that didn’t deplete my wallet.
Packing my own lunches seemed to be the most affordable option. Rather than using the stereotypical “brown bag,” however (discarded bags would create only more litter!), I obtained a reusable insulated bag that could maintain heat or cold as needed. I took care to buy one large enough to hold several plastic containers of food as well as a bottle of water.
When I used a student ID card to pay for food in the school cafeteria, I never realized how much of my bill was spent on drinks. Now I buy bottled water in bulk; if you prefer, you can purchase a spill-proof thermos or sport bottle and then continually refill it throughout the day at the drinking fountain. The drink container could also hold juice—frozen concentrate mixed in a pitcher with water is less costly than a jug purchased at the grocery store.
An entrée can make lunch tasty or torturous. When packing food, I always make sure to alternate entrées so that I will not become tired of the same meals. This variety always makes lunch more enjoyable and less of a task. Supper leftovers make for a quick and easy lunch preparation.
Salad is a delightful luncheon choice, as long as the vegetables are balanced by protein—nuts, cheese, or vegemeat strips can dress up the lettuce and tomatoes and transform a side dish into a meal. I always pack the tomatoes, dressing, and croutons in small separate containers, to keep the lettuce as fresh and crisp as possible.
The sandwich—perhaps the most popular lunch choice—offers the most versatility in preparing and packing. One can eat peanut butter and jelly, vegemeat, spreads of all flavors, grilled vegetables, or any combination between two slices of bread. Or you can skip the bread and try bagels. Tortilla shells can redefine the sandwich altogether! It is also one of the simplest ways to balance a meal with as few ingredients as possible.
To supplement entrées, I like a serving of chips or crackers, though the small individual-serving packs are too pricey for my budget. Instead, I buy in bulk and bring containers filled with a serving of chips or crackers with cheese or hummus for protein.
Instead of buying a package of individual serving-sized bags of carrots, purchase a larger bag of carrots and fill small containers or reusable plastic bags with them. Take along another container of salad dressing or hummus.
If I want dessert, I don’t buy the six-packs of Jell-O or pudding; they are too expensive. Again, small plastic containers provide a simple solution. I make a package of instant pudding, for example, and then portion it into 4-oz. containers with snap-on lids (one small box of pudding divides evenly into four containers), and bring one each day for dessert. Dried fruit makes for an excellent and very healthful treat as well, which usually can be purchased more cheaply in bulk.
Having survived both academy and college dorms, I have endured my fair share of ramen noodles and boxed macaroni and cheese (I confess that I still enjoy the latter!), though I know there are far more healthful options available. But I determined to avoid TV dinners because of the cost and the often high sodium level.
Thus, I began collecting recipes from my mom and family friends to expand my choices. The Internet also contains endless Web sites or links to recipes, with never-ending, simple dishes. Even if you’re not a “gourmet chef” by nature, you can still eat healthful, reasonably priced meals that satisfy your taste buds and put other instant or boxed dinners to shame.
Pasta is one of the cheapest and most versatile nonperishable food items you can find in the grocery store. Different shapes and forms of pasta allow for endless meal possibilities: fettuccine and Alfredo sauce, paired with garden vegetables, can become pasta primavera; while vermicelli and marinara sauce make for a simple, yet tasty, supper. Vegemeat and various sauces can be mixed in multitudes of combinations to create a different meal each time. You can make your own sauce or buy jars at the grocery store. If you don’t consume dairy products, then olive oil, garlic, onions, or herbs can flavor noodles just as well.
Rice is perhaps one of the best staple carbohydrates, because it can be a side dish or part of an entrée. You can buy fresh vegetables and whip up a stir-fry to serve with the rice. Curries are simple and substantial, plus they make for great leftovers. Lentils also taste delicious. Rice and beans together provide a complex carbohydrate. All these options allow for flexibility in cooking, without stretching your budget.
Soups can also easily feed one person or a family. While canned soups tend to be high-priced, buying ingredients and making your own can be less expensive and provide leftovers for many meals.
Cooking ideas can be found anywhere: on the Internet, at a potluck, or cajoled from friends and family. Keep recipes and ideas together in a binder, so that nothing gets lost.
Taste and See
I grew up with the words of the psalmist ringing in my ears: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8, NKJV).* But it’s so much more meaningful juxtaposed to the next phrase in that same verse: “Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” I believe this verse applies to a life of abundance when we trust in our Lord.
When I took a chance on cooking and trusted God to supply my needs, I found a table with plenty. God has taught me to trust Him with all aspects of my daily life—including my food consumption and cooking habits. Thus, I have learned that vegetarian eating on a modest budget can be fun—and it does taste delicious!
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Bonnie McClean, a recent graduate of Andrews University, was an intern for Adventist Review when she wrote this article.