April 13, 2009

Healthy Eating on a Student Budget

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I’m broke. Most of us are broke. Some of us have thousands of dollars in loans and credit cards that are always in the red. I complain about this just about every day of my life to my parents who have this weird perception that being a broke college student is a rite of passage or something. Its gotten to the point where the twenty dollars of “mad money” my mother sends is like gold. And for a girl who literally has expensive taste, having no money in my pocket is like my own personal purgatory. I can’t survive off ramen or pizza or wings every single night of my life. I need the good stuff to get me by. Freshly baked artisan bread, exotic fruits and vegetables, fresh fish right off the truck. This is where my “mad money” goes.

Now I’m no economist. Actually, my perception of money is pretty terrible. But I hear that everyone’s wallets are a little slimmer than they used to be. Especially as college students, most of us aren’t exactly making the big bucks. So how is a girl to survive off a twenty-dollar bill and still go to bed satisfied with the meal I just ate? The key is to shop smart. I could walk around Wegmans or Greenstar for hours and not get bored. But for those of you that want to grab what you need and go, it is crucial that you make a proper grocery list. This not only gets you what you need, it also prevents you from buying things you don’t and thereby saving you those precious greenbacks. Buy things in bulk. Greenstar has a nice selection of bulk grains to choose from and Wegmans is stocked with bulk meats. For instance, if you buy ten pounds of chicken, freeze the rest. The freezer is your friend. It is often difficult to cook a meal in a portion size for one. If you invest in Tupperware or heavy-duty zip loc bags, you can freeze just about anything. If there is a sale on bread, buy it in bulk and freeze it until you need it. Search for recipes that enhance cheap foods. Healthy foods like broccoli, spinach, kale, eggs, chicken, tofu, rice, and potatoes cost only a few dollars and can be prepared to pack huge amounts of flavor. It is also an option to use these cheap foods as flavor enhancers for a star ingredient that may cost a little more money. Fresh fish tends to cost more than we are willing to spend but it can be prepared with few ingredients to be enjoyable. Make a budget for yourself. I usually only allow about fifteen dollars to make myself a nice dinner. One of my favorite blogs has a list of budget friendly meals. On that note, I recommend starting your money saving efforts with Smitten Kitchen’s Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw. It’s a quick dinner that is incredibly delicious, easy to make, and gentle on your wallet. It serves four, so round up your friends and get them to pitch in on the cost. Pour yourself a corona with a lime wedge and you got yourself quite a night!

Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained

1 teaspoon ground cumin

5 teaspoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 cups coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

4 white or yellow corn tortillas

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Place beans and cumin in small bowl; partially mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix 2 teaspoons olive oil and lime juice in medium bowl; add coleslaw, green onions, and cilantro and toss to coat. Season slaw to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add tortillas in single layer. Spoon 1/4 of bean mixture onto half of each tortilla; cook 1 minute. Fold tacos in half. Cook until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Fill tacos with feta and slaw.