Grad Student Gourmet

03Aug06

For whatever reason, I’ve serendipitously stumbled on several “cooking for grad students” posts online and think it’s time for me to share them. I should specify what I mean by grad student gourmet. Graduate students are short on time and cash but have ample appetite and fastidiousness about their food. Not to mention, many graduate students spent their undergrad years in the lab, rather than learning how to cook for themselves. As a result, the student who can splice genes can’t slice onions, the student who can solder machines can’t sautee mushrooms.

I’m still a novice grad student chef, but I do recognize the importance of the “grad student gourmet.” Given limited stipends, grad students need to stretch their food budget. And if one isn’t interested in stretching one’s waistline, either, one will be hard pressed to find cheap, healthy food in restaurants. Buying and preparing one’s own meals is the best way to eat inexpensively and healthily.

The opportunity cost, of course, is the amount of time one spends shopping for food and preparing it. One can minimize prep time with experience and with choice of meals, but my philosophy is that if one views this time as “recreation time away from research,” then it’s not wasted. Of course, I actually enjoy walking through farmer’s markets and preparing new food, so there’s a slight bias there.

Buying in bulk is one way to keep costs down, but this doesn’t work for perishables. Also, this is particularly difficult if you are cooking for one. At any rate, produce tends to be healthier, anyway. When one cannot buy in bulk, I have tried to buy for versatility. Versatility makes up for perishability. For example, I buy large packages of blueberries (at a price discounted from smaller packages) since I can use them in my cereal, as a snack, in my salad, in muffins, or in jello. So for a week, my foods become blueberry flavored, and at the end of the day, the added cost of having those blueberries is negligible when one considers the many places it went to.

Also, save leftovers. After spending four years at Stanford, I’ve almost forgotten what “leftover” meant (unless it was what overzealous students leave on their dining hall trays). However, just because it’s hard to buy fish (for example) in single person servings–so I go ahead and purchase the larger fish. Perhaps one night I’ll have fish with rice and vegetables. The following night I’ll marinate and fry the remaining fish and eat some of it. If there’s any leftover, the following night I’ll mix it into a salad with some artificial crab meat. That way, a single fish purchase lasted three days. So not only do you avoid doing too much cooking over the week, but you save money and you control the size of your portions since you don’t feel guilted into eating a larger amount of food on behalf of all the starving children in the third-world country of your choice. This also carries over to taking leftovers from meals at restaurants–that “expensive” $15 meal suddenly isn’t so bad when you can save time and money by reheating the leftovers tomorrow for lunch.

With some care in shopping, healthy meal choices (which tend to be more filling) can end up being even more cost effective than unhealthy fast food.

Some links about the grad gourmet:




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