Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eating Part II: The Spartan Student Cook Book

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 the average person spent $6.47 on food a day. After a month and a half of radical living, I’ve calculated that I’m spending an average of $4.71 a day on food, which, given my large appetite, is pretty damn good.

Fortuitously, buying lots of expensive foods isn’t even an option for me. Because I don’t have a fridge, foods like meats, juices, some dairy, and veggies, never make it into my shopping cart.

Instead, I’ve resorted to dry bulk foods, which are oftentimes the cheapest. I picked up large bags of spaghetti, macaroni, rice, beans and oatmeal.

But more than just eating cheap, I wanted to see how far I could push my hunger. If I could eat frugally, just as I shopped frugally, I thought I could save hundreds of dollars over a given year.

My first two weeks were the toughest. I deliberately ate as little as I could: oatmeal in the morning, a sandwich in the afternoon, and then an evening pasta dish.

After the first week I was five pounds lighter and I could start to see my abdominal muscles for the first time in years. As much as I would have liked to one day admire a set of chiseled, baby-smooth abs, I realized (when coming across a bunny on the campus lawn and pondering if I should strike it with a rock and devour it raw) that I needed to start eating more.

Conscious of my nutritional wellbeing, I started to buy cereals, fruits, veggies and a few other items which have become staples of my diet. Now, between frequent visits to the gym and my healthy diet, I might be in the best shape of my life.

In the past month and a half I’ve inadvertently accomplished two personal milestones: 1. I haven’t had meat (the longest streak of my life) and 2. I haven’t had a beer (perhaps the longest streak of my adult life). Between my low-fat, low-sugar and physically active lifestyle, I’ve discovered an invaluable benefit to radical living.

Though I am by no means a talented chef, I find that that the following meals nicely blend my needs for nutrition, economy, and taste.


Bowl of cereal

As you can see, I am passionate about my cereal. I don’t know why, but whenever I shop I feel that I must purchase food in such great quantities as if to prepare myself for an impending nuclear holocaust.

Obviously I can’t keep regular milk, so I have it in powdered form. To be honest, I can’t tell the difference between powdered and real milk. Sprinkle a little powder, mix in some cold water and it tastes like it just came out the supermarket fridge.

Ingredients: Cereal with milk
Cost: 75 cents a bowl


Oatmeal is super-healthy, easy to make, but exceptionally boring and tasteless. I mix in a glob of peanut butter to give it flavor or I just hope that the remnants of my previous night’s dinner give it a little pizzazz. I’ve also found that oatmeal does an incredible job cleaning out the dish, so sometimes I cook it for that reason alone. If anyone has any ideas on how to liven up my oatmeal, let me know!

Ingredients: Oatmeal with peanut butter
Cost: 77 cents



Because jelly needs refrigeration I just subtracted the “J” from a “PB & J” sandwich and eat it plain. Sometimes I’ll stuff a banana in there as I did here. Usually, I’ll take other typical lunch items to campus with me like apples or bagels.

Ingredients: PB sandwich with a banana
Cost: $1.14


Rice and Bean Tacos

I like to have a feast almost every night. My favorite night—hands down—is taco night. I let the red beans soak while I’m on campus and then cook it with rice, wrapping it all in a tortilla usually with some tomato and onion. It’s my theory that anything will taste good in a tortilla. Moreover, anything wrapped in a tortilla with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce will taste exquisite. I could wrap a turd in a tortilla, douse it with a little Frank’s and probably enjoy it.

(If the people of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce Inc. are reading and are seeking an online persona to shamelessly headline a new ad campaign, the Spartan Student will say just about anything for a few cases of that heavenly cayenne nectar.)

Ingredients: Rice, beans, tortilla and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
Cost: $1.40 ($1.72 with onion and tomato)

Spaghetti Stew

I have a spaghetti or macaroni meal several nights a week. I used to make the sauce in a separate pan but that just creates more of a mess. Instead, I have a spaghetti stew with everything going into one pot. Always a delicious and filling meal.

Ingredients: Spaghetti noodles, seasoning packet, can of tomato paste, and tomato and onion
Cost: $1.95

Peanut Butter Vegetable Stew

Many vegetables won’t last long without refrigeration so after shopping I’ll make a big vegetable stew. It was quite boring until I added a glob of peanut butter, which does wonders for soups. Now I even put it in my spaghetti. I got the bread roll from the discount rack at Krogers, which they were practically giving away for free.

Ingredients: Potato, carrot, onion, green beans, macaroni, Italian seasoning, peanut butter, dinner roll.
Cost: $3.44


Peanut butter and cereal tortilla

Again, anything tastes good in a tortilla. I slather some peanut butter on there and then sprinkle some high-sugared granola cereal on top. Superb.

Ingredients: Tortilla, peanut butter, cereal
Cost: 93 cents

Other meals that I’ve left out: homemade macaroni and cheese, Thanksgiving stuffing tacos, and powdered mashed potatoes and gravy. Feel free to recommend other nutritious and low-price meals in the comment section.


Anonymous said...

I'm in a public library and almost made a scene when I read about your turd tortilla! I can't stop laughing! That's so nasty dude. And maybe you should re-consider the rabbit, you look little in your photograph!

Anonymous said...

Right on with the Frank's hot sauce, it's a miracle worker. I got addicted to hot sauce, it keeps room-mates from eating your food when you leave it in the fridge, but of course that's the beauty of living alone in a van, you don't have to worry about those things.

Try some flax seed meal with your oatmeal - its real healthy, costs about the same as flour, it's a nice addition to anything, really.

A few years ago, I had a friend that worked at a bagel shop, and twice a week, they would get fresh bagels from a bakery. They would throw the old ones away, even if they were only three days old. So my friend started giving me and my housemate all the old bagels. Check out bakeries in your area, I'm sure you can charm them into giving you old bread for free. (My friend quit her bagel shop job and started working at Hooters... at first, I was joyous, but alas, she couldn't swipe food from there, corporate bastards.)

And lentils man, lentils and frank's hot sauce has kept me alive before.

Ken said...

Luke--great recommendations. I'll try the flax and lentils.

Oddly, there is a bagel shop right next to me but there are so many homeless around I figured they already beat me to the bagels.

Chris said...

You really have stepped to a new level man. Try some raisins in the oatmeal or brown sugar. Both of which don't go bad and add a lot of flavor. You could always put some PB in there or your granola cereal.

Ken said...

ha- Chris, I'm always amused with your constant state of shock. ;)

Early Retirement Extreme said...

Consider the warrior diet. Then you really only need to stock one kind of food (dinner). I usually eat my oatmeal uncooked with raisins and water + the occasional cornflakes.

Lentil soup was a mainstay of mine when I was in grad school. Red lentils, can of tomatoes, diced onion, spices, ketchup.

Check on how to cook on a boat for some tips on how to store food without a fridge, e.g. you could brine your eggs.

Tracy said...

Don't quote me (or sue me) on this, but eggs don't need refrigeration at normal room temps. Of course, the van is probably too hot in the during the summer, but otherwise....
Now, eggs, tortillas and hot sauce - that's a meal.

obadobadope said...

"complete" pancake mix powder - just add water. Jiffy brand is my favorite.
Throw some eggs in there
Or get a bag of chocolate chips and toss some in for chocolate chip pancakes

Eggs will last you about 5 days at normal room temp

Ken said...

Tracy, Obad-- just read your comments now. Thanks for the recommendations. Pancakes and eggs--I'll give them a shot. I suppose I was reluctant because of the potential mess they'd make. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

oatmeal: brown sugar, hot water, almonds, walnuts,peanuts,raisins, craisins, any dehydrated or dried frut, or a little trail mix, makes a great meal.
try pb and honey.

Rob said...

Laughed my ass off reading the part about the bunny.

Anonymous said...

Having a sleepless night and stumbled over your blog--highly entertaining!! Have you ever thought about buying some protein powder in bulk? Just mix with water and enjoy. Also, while it's cold outside, you can probably buy refrigerated items that you wouldn't normally purchase. Just keep a thermometer handy to monitor the 32 or below temps necessary for optimal coldness.

How about some bouillon cubes? Slice an onion, put in hot water with cubes, add rice and beans.


Anonymous said...

Buy some cinnamon to sprinkle on well..... everything, it tastes good and is super healthy for you. It especially makes oatmeal taste way better.

Dolly Iris said...

My BF made a sort of risotto dish a lot that was delicious. He would cook rice slowly with beef/chicken stock, add in a dry cup of soup pouch and if we had them some meat or veg. Yummy! The variety here is limitless.

Heinz makes a really good butter chicken in the can. Just add to cooked rice. Delicious and super easy.

Anonymous said...

Hereabouts in Hillbilly Heaven/Haven where the average IQ is likely akin to that possessed by a turnip where the hills and hollers were once the abode of the Clampetts as referred to in that boob tube marvel labeled "Beverley Hillbillies" and transmitted to the huddled masses yearning not freedom but the next mall sale or vapid "award show" self-promoting various entertainment "stars" etc.

Yeah, this area of especially severe sub-human mental impairments are retail stores generally labeled as bakery thrift stores with the trademarked "bakery" label/logo prominent.... in case you Wonder what kind of Bread is within.

But, inside is typically MUCH more than just bread!!!! And the source is not always just the products made or distributed by the "brand" to grocery stores.

And prices are often scraping-the-floor low.

Almost as low as so many politico's or high-level corporate scum's morality level.... and that is woefully low among most of those groups!!!!!!!!!

Donuts, many types of breads. Ready-to-eat cereals; breakfast and otherwise.

Mix and eat soups; heat or don't heat.

Gosh... lots of goodies!!! Spices, gravies, dead processed animals rendered into such allowing packaging into plastic sheaths needing no refrigeration until opened (not really cheap even here).

What else?

Pop-tart-like things. Muffins, rolls, etc.

Gosh... sometimes I am surprised by a new oddity awaiting the frugal buyer.

And MANY sales!!!!!!!!! seldom advertised.....Wander in, mosey 'round, converse with the usually friendly Hillbilly gal after you ensure your vocabulary and speaking style is reduced to around a 4th-grade level.

Plenty of affordable grub sand those 2-for1 sales can greatly extend one's discretionary dollar.

I peruse expiration and sell-by dates and there was, according to the printed data, ample time for usage before the time allotted for use arrived...... though I am convinced that for legal reasons that date is not drawn out as far into the future as it could be.

Lawyers and lawsuit fears pretty much, in MANY ways, rule many (but not all) aspects of the USA nowadays.

Nuthin' says lovin' akin to sumpthin' outta' the oven..... or the bakery thrift store.

The Disgruntled Old Coot huddled within his shanty told ye this.

tentaculistic said...

"As much as I would have liked to one day admire a set of chiseled, baby-smooth abs, I realized (when coming across a bunny on the campus lawn and pondering if I should strike it with a rock and devour it raw) that I needed to start eating more. " Bwahahahaha!!

For oatmeal, the best thing in the world is to cook it with ripe banana (note the word ripe!) till it dissolves - no need for sweetener. Top with a little bit of chocolate, coconut flakes, crushed-up toffee... or all 3. Peanut butter is also good (alone or with banana). Ground flax seed is also good, but mostly from a health standpoint.

For awhile I was really trying to add protein powder, but it ended up clumping in nasty little bullets (especially the egg-based one, duh!). After much experimenting, I finally gave up on protein powder in my oatmeal.

Noodles & Co gives away its rice krispie treats in the late evening, I think around 8 pm. Just go in and ask, they are usually about to pitch them. And those things are the size of a baby's head!

obbop, thanks for the heads up, I have passed a "bakery thrift shop" and always had bizarre mental images, of Lady-Gaga-like food clothing, but bread and baguettes instead of meat. Amusing but odd. Thanks for explaining.

The Noughty Graduate said...

I'm not sure what they are putting in the eggs in America, but in the UK, I have discovered that eggs will last just as long at room temperature than they do in the fridge. My trained chef-Uncle taught me that you shouldn't put your eggs in the fridge, as they are very porous and will absorb the smells, which in turn will alter their taste.

Of course, there is also the consideration that British eggs are very high quality. It's very hard to find "barn" eggs over here; the vast majority in supermarkets are free range. Animal welfare is very important in the minds of supermarket shoppers here. And a common sense theory I have only just arrived at leads me to believe that a stronger chicken produces a stronger egg.

I have eaten eggs over a week past their use by date. No trouble. There are tests which you can find on google which will tell you if your egg is off. Basically, put it in a pot of water and if it sits upright on the bottom, it's past its prime. Even so, if my egg "hovers" upright on the bottom, I claim that the clock is still ticking. The theory is based on an airpocket that forms within the egg as it ages.

Keep on Vanning

MamaBear said...

Here's the thing about eggs: they do not need refrigeration unless they have already been refrigerated, then, they do! We are probably the only country in the world that sells eggs in the refrigerated section of a grocery. Every place else has them on the shelves. But once they have been refrigerated, condensation can seep through their porous shells and rot them.

Anonymous said...

What kind of horrible men would strike a bunny with a rock? and then eat it raw? You're an honest man.

Anonymous said...

Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins and fiber, and are cheap. There are many ways to cook and season them: slice cooked and add apples, cinnamon, walnuts and craisins, roast fries with rosemary and olive oil, cubed with red and green peppers or mashed with cinnamon.