No time, no money, no meat? Learning to be a vegetarian in grad school

I was talking to a friend a few days ago when she told me she had Googled “how to eat cheap in grad school.” Apparently most of the advice the internet could come up with mentioned sneaking into events with free food (which, in all honesty, is pretty solid advice).

Our conversation got me thinking about my own eating habits and my continuing mission to eat healthy without overspending. Being a student, whether you’re an undergrad or a postgrad, often means that you’re either crunched for time or money (or both). And if I’m being honest, for me that often results in lazy dinners and a lot of repetition in my diet. I’ve also decided to cut out most meat this year (still eating fish), so my sad and tiny repertoire of cheap and easy weekday meals has gotten that much smaller.

I’ve been mostly vegetarian (read: it took me ages to stop eating chicken) for about eight months now, and I still only have about five go-to meals that don’t include pasta or some variation of beans on toast. That being said, I have enjoyed playing around with new recipes and I’ve made it a general goal to try something new about once each week.

This week I even managed to try (technically) three new recipes. On Wednesday I made baked sweet potato with spinach, onion, feta and pumpkin seeds

Baked sweet potato with side salad. Made two servings for £1.28. Light lunch at 311 kcal per serving, but could have had the entire potato or added another protein.

Friday I tried my hand at a traditional British jacket potato with tuna (no sweet corn, I was working with what I had in the cupboard). And today I made. Well. I don’t know what it is. A quesadilla? Kind of.

Quesadilla with spinach, onion and carrot with feta topped with makeshift Sriracha sauce. Excluding store cupboard items (oil, butter, sauce), £0.77 for one serving at 508 kcal. Not my healthiest creation, but it’ll do.

Ignoring the bit of the tortilla I tore off to taste the weird but oddly delicious sauce I made, behold the above…thing I made for lunch today. I was torn between going to Tesco and going to Subway, when I decided to see what food I had left. For the first time in ages I didn’t have any tinned tuna or baked beans at the ready, so I had a feeling I was going to get creative or go hungry.

My half-empty fridge shelf contained a container full of questionably aged rice, half a package of spinach, two spring onions, a spiralized carrot (we were testing a new gadget last night), a bit of leftover feta, half a block of cheddar and some tortilla shells that were a tad stale. The cupboard offered little help, unless I was in the mood for something with honey, peanut butter, red lentils, or butterbeans.

I thought I would go with the standard cheese, spinach and onion quesadilla. I could have used cheddar, but I was pretty sure the feta was closer to its use-by date. I went through the typical motions of washing and chopping the things, buttering the tortillas and heating the fry pan. It wasn’t until I was throwing the onions into the pan that I remembered there was some spiralized carrot in the fridge. For no reason other than I was curious, I chucked the carrot into the pan.

After heating through all the veg and transferring the mixture to a bowl, I turned down the heat and began constructing the quesadilla in the pan.While waiting for the second half of the quesadilla to finish browning, I decided that a proper quesadilla needs some sort of spice. And instead of doing what any normal person would do (just throw some Sriracha on it), I decided to make some sort of sauce.

Don’t judge me, but this sauce contained unknown measurements of (1) Sriracha, (2) mayonnaise, (3) soy sauce and (4) salad cream. Stop laughing. Also stop cringing. It was surprisingly awesome. It had the kick and chilli bits of Sriracha, the tangy bits of mayo, a bit of salt from the soy sauce, and a bit of sweetness from the salad cream. Spicy, sweet, tangy, and a tad savoury. I know you’re not convinced, by trust me on this.

The end result is the blurry picture posted above, and you know what? It was surprisingly decent. Like, I would eat it again decent. Albeit with melted cheese next time, but I would definitely make this or some other variation of it. And I think that’s one of the most helpful things I’ve found while trying to eat on a budget: get creative. Keep an eye out for food items that are on sale (this time, for me, it was the feta). Play around with different combinations of things you like and might go well together. And take advantage of those days you don’t have time to go shopping (or are just too lazy to leave the house) by playing around with what you’ve got.


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