The Creative's Guide to Eating Happy & Cheap
Updated: Jul 21
Repeat after me… NO MORE MICROWAVE RAMEN! NO MORE MICROWAVE RAMEN!
That’s the ongoing joke, right? When you’re 1. a student or 2. an artist of any sort, you’re part of this club of people who those with practical jobs assume must have nothing but those ramen packages in your pantry to heat because you’re so broke. And hey, when it comes to me, they ain’t half wrong! I’m on a serious budget a lot between gigs and during the dead season of winter.
But I bet you didn’t know that there are tastier, healthier and cheaper meals out there that you can concoct, whilst staying on that oh-so-tight budget you have wherever you are in life. (Quick, get the word out so we can all stop eating those dang packaged worm blocks for every meal!)
But before we get into delicious food stuff, this post is about eating happy & cheap, so happy's coming first.
I don’t know about your history/relationship with food and your body. But if you're anything like me and my friends, the road to loving your bod has been a rough one. In fact, only in the past few years have I begun to really love and take care of my body. Let's back up...
My parents owned a hot dog/hamburger diner where I worked & ate countless meals growing up. I was raised on mac’n’cheese and Sloppy Joes (tasty and cheap yes, becomes-concrete-in-my-stomach, also yes). This made me an incredibly picky kid. My version of veggies was canned corn.
I started getting over this pickiness in college, as I first tried Indian, and Thai, and other cuisine that’s made with more whole foods & less crap (every new dish had my taste buds screaming where has this been all my life?!) Then the digestion problems I’d had my whole life miraculously began to go away. (Coincidence? I think not).
But just because I began to eat healthier, my relationship with what I was eating still wasn’t the healthiest. Throughout my early twenties, I was really worried about my weight and focused on controlling it. I hated my body for a lot of this time. I was binge eating, and trying all these ridiculous fad diets, and hating my thighs for refusing to give up their curviness, and hating myself for not being able to make them stick thin.
Then a couple of years ago, I began making exercise an actual priority. I had started running to try to lose weight, but after a while it had become this pathway to appreciating my body for what it could do, for carrying me where I wanted to go. I still get self-conscious about my appearance, believe me… but now I listen to my body in a whole new way, and I give it love, and I put my focus on serving it right as it has served me so loyally.
You might be thinking, “what the heck is this tangent?” I thought this post was about recipes and saving money!!” Well, here’s why:
Both mental and physical self-care is essential to prepare yourself for the inspiration that will come to you, and the creations that will come through you.
This includes what you eat and how you treat your body.
As a creative, you need to take care of your bank account...
but you also need to take care of your body and soul.
So throw away the fad diets, dude. There are 2 elements of eating that are painfully simple, yet changed my whole relationship with food when I actually used them, and I think they’ll change yours too.
It is SO important to enjoy what you eat, and there is so much to enjoy… the process of making it, the process of eating it, and then getting to observe how it fuels your body to do cool things.
Can I get an amen?! Join my community of creatives here:
All you need to start are a few basic whole foods, and a couple recipes you love.
So finally… let’s talk food!!!
Drinks | The importance of TEA in my creative life
Tea is magical. I hated tea growing up. It tasted like plants. Then, my best friend in college, an AVID tea drinker, showed me the way with her giant cardboard box filled with teas from all over the world.
Making a hot cup of tea brings you into the present moment. It clarifies your senses with its smell, its taste. You cannot drink it fast because it’s hot and will burn, so every sip you take is meaningful. Each sip is filled with layers of tastes, and each can uncover a memory or a place or a picture in your head.
Basically, hot tea revves up your creative mind, puts you in touch with your self, and readies you for the work that needs to be done.
I drink a lot of tea throughout the day, and now I have my own huge cardboard box of different varieties. Each morning I check in with myself to see where I am that day. Is it an Earl Grey day? Or maybe a spicy chai-with-milk day? Maybe I need extra calming, so I’ll go for a chamomile with honey.
Usually, I save coffee for when cabin fever hits and I need to get out of the house to write or get other work done. I’ll go to a coffee shop for some stimulation and a change of scene, and plop down in my ‘office’ chair for a few hours. The price for the office and stimulation? 1 cup of coffee. F yeah.
Breakfast | The magic of Toast… different ways
Ok, ok, I know bread isn’t necessarily a whole food. But it’s one of the oldest foods there is. Good bread just isn’t given enough credit in our culture, you guys.
Get yourself a loaf from the fresh baked section of the grocery store (or one that fits your dietary restrictions) and a stick of butter. This is your breakfast for the whole week. Just pop 1 or 2 slices in the toaster, and voila! The magic of toast really lies in its diversity. Maybe one day you top it with an egg. The next, you spread an avocado on it mixed with pesto or whatever plant-y stuff you have at the time. The next day, sprinkle that shit with sugar and cinnamon, and let yourself shout YES at the amazingly simple tastiness of that first bite.
Plus, whenever I’m craving a snack in the mid afternoon, I’ll just make a plain piece of toast with some butter, and it satisfies my soul and belly so much.
The delight that comes from finding a new jar of jam from some farmers market or another is totally underestimated and thoroughly satisfying. You feel me?
Lunch | So I have this thing for roasted veggies…
Meaning I loooove them. If I had to eat the same thing every meal for the rest of my life, it would be a bowl of veggies roasted with olive oil on some brown rice.
Pretty much any vegetable can be roasted in the oven and automatically taste upgraded 100%. The keys are olive oil, salt and pepper baby. Keep it simple (or experiment with spices as much as you want!)
My favorite veggies to roast are broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, bell pepper, and brussels sprouts. Have another idea? Get creative, yo!
Pick one or two of these up at the store, cut them into bite sized pieces and spread them all out flat on a sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss with salt and pep, and put in the oven on 425, give or take a couple degrees (again, experiment on this one, dears).
Lemon juice. When the veggies look good and golden and a little charred, take them out and squeeze a quarter slice of lemon onto them. Trust me. It’s a flavor explosion.
Parmesan Cheese. If you’re feelin’ extra fancy, sprinkle some parm flakes all over that veggie too.
Eat in a pretty bowl, with or without just a bit of brown rice (I make a quick-bowl rice in a bag, put a quarter of that rice in my veggie bowl and then but the rice bag in the fridge to use the rest of the week).
This meal is sooo painfully simple in its ingredients and will make your body and your pocketbook very happy. I usually eat a variation of this for at least one meal every day, and I do not skimp on the veggies (I mean I make a LARGE veggie bowl and no matter how much I eat of this I don’t feel terrible, it’s great).
My go-to add-ons:
Sauteed garlic and kale
Chopped up almonds
Dinner | Get creative with leftovers
Ah, the old see-what-we-can-make-with-these--random-ingredients routine. I LOVE doing this!
First keep a small running list on a dry erase board in the kitchen of ingredients you have that need to be used up. (Then you won’t forget about that farro you bought forever ago and the kale hiding in the drawer that’s on its last leg).
Then, think of something that can be made with these. When in doubt, you can make a killer pasta or pizza dish with almost anything. For example:
Recently I made this pizza. It is comprised of
Pumpkin butter leftover from the holidays
Onion jam that has been sitting in the corner of the fridge since fall
A half tub of ricotta cheese I had gotten for something else a while back
Baby spinach that was starting to wilt
Sliced almonds because why not?!
It was freaking delicious and really fun to come up with.
So go take stock of what is in your pantry (if there’s only ramen packets, never fear… you can begin collecting things weekly that you can spread out into different leftover meals over time!)
Besides veggies/fruits/fresh things that are perishable, make sure you have some of these on hand for your leftover creations:
-anything in a can or jar you can pop out at any time
-spices you prefer (basil, rosemary, etc)
Sweets | Dark chocolate chips from the baking isle… FROZEN.
The cheapest dessert in the land, but oh, so satisfying. This is again another moment to come into your senses and slow down the process of eating food. Trust me: keep the bag of dark/bittersweet chocolate chips in the freezer (I like to splurge and get the $3 bag of Ghirardelli), then take one or two out at a time when you've got that sweet tooth. Pop one in your mouth and feel it melt as you taste the bitter and the sweet at the same time.
HEAVENly, not terrible for you, AND cheap.
Well, there you have it, folks. Find staple foods that you love and stick to them. Enjoy the process of eating and feeding your frikin’ amazing bod, because it deserves it. Then go make something!