Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Eat Well as a Grad Student

Or rather: How do I eat well as a grad student?

Because I have NO IDEA. Yesterday, I googled "how to eat well in grad school" and got lots of sites that told me how important it was to be sure to eat well while you're in grad school! But none of them gave any advice at all. I don't know how I got through a year and a half without ending up either super-skinny or hugely overweight. Lots of grad school programs, like mine, pretend that they are a good fit for people who work, even people who work full-time. They are not. It is physically possible to get from a full day's work to an evening class, but it is not physically possible to do so while being able to eat a healthy, home-cooked meal, nor, for most of us, is it financially possible to do so while being able to eat a healthy, restaurant-bought meal. It boils down to two options: skip dinner, or eat dinner out of the vending machine.

I don't work full-time, not quite, which in theory should make this problem easier. Less time at work = more time for cooking, right? Oh, but also: less time at work = less money! Right. I don't know why I've been particularly frustrated by this problem this week, but I have.

Four days out of the week, this is what my schedule looks like:

7:30: Breakfast at home, make sandwich
8-4:30: Work (eat sandwich at noon)
--3:00: Start to get really hungry.
5-10: Ether class or the gym. Class is over by 8, on gym nights I head home by 9:30.
Between 8:30 and 11: Arrive home. Tired. Hungry. Some days, I haven't eaten in almost 12 hours.

Now, I have 2/3 of my meals figured out. Eggs for breakfast, PB&J sandwiches for lunch. Cheap, healthy, and portable = grad student-friendly. But I am entirely at a loss about what I can ever eat for dinner. On class nights it's not too bad. I can suck it up, and eat when I get home at 8 or 9. Not horrible. I'm hungry, but I'll live. On gym nights, since my gym class doesn't start until 7:30, I could eat between work and the gym. But given my current income, it's financially irresponsible to expect to be able to eat out 3 nights a week, and I have yet to figure out how to prepare all three of the days meals before I leave home in the morning. So lately, I've ended up skipping the gym to go home and eat more often than not, and on days when I do manage to work out, I'm cranky and hungry throughout. Then I get home, eat a full meal (you should have seen the astonished looks I got last night when my (temporary) roommates saw how spaghetti I could pile on a single plate), and go immediately to bed, it invariably being almost midnight. Sleeping on a full stomach is supposedly not good for you, either, but what choice do I have?

Those of you who have somehow survived this stage of your lives: What did you eat for dinner?


  1. Having survived med school, I"m pretty sure I know what you're going through.

    First off, make some beans. On Sunday night, make yourself a big ol' pot of beans with onions and whatever seasoning you like. Then take them with you to heat up for dinner. Or at the local grocery store with a salad bar - fix yourself a side salad for a couple of bucks, and use their microwave for your beans.

    Another thing I did in med school was cook a bunch of stuff I liked and freeze it in single size servings for the coming month. Pack your prepared single serving in a little cooler with your lulnch sandwich and microwave it for dinner.

    Hang in there. Your body will get you through it and then you can treat it with extra love and kindness when you finish school.

  2. I second that - make a big pot of something, and freeze individ portions. Lasgana, baked ziti, etc. are good and can be cheap if you get stuff on sale. My favorite is crockpot chicken tortilla soup: 2 cans black beans, 2 cans diced tomatoes, 2 cans chile peppers, 1 cup salsa, 1 pkg taco seasoning mix and a package of chicken breasts. (Or any cheap parts, breasts are just easier.) Throw it all in a crockpot on low all day or high for 3-5 hrs. Take the chicken out, shred it w/ two forks (it will come apart like nothing), throw it back in and mix. A whole crock pot should yield a week of dinners. Also, crock pot chilii, chicken soup, lentil soup, etc. Beans and lentils are really cheap and good for you. And you can buy "day-old" bread and freeze it - take some out each day to go w/ the soup.