Cooking

Under(fed) Grad

Recent graduates tell us how they cope with eating outside the dining hall
Photo: Tasting Table
Ramen

You turned in your thesis, moved the tassel to the left, posed for photos with every single member of your family: You're officially a college graduate. While that last exam probably induced tears of joy, the final midnight bowl of Cocoa Puffs over soft-serve ice cream (chased with pizza) in the dining hall may have left you wearing graduation goggles. How will you eat once you're out in the real world?

"Most college students don't have the time, resources or money to cook," says Priya Krishna, author of Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks, a book that guides twentysomethings through creating gourmet food from their meal plan options. Krishna, a veritable expert on the young-adult eating style, is full of advice on how to create meals that work with the odd hours twentysomethings tend to keep. "It's not realistic to expect a student to cook for himself or herself every night, no matter how easy the recipe is."

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Which leads to the question I often ask myself as a 23-year-old college grad: How are we supposed to feed ourselves without the backup plan of the dining hall? Even when I was living in an apartment my senior year and not technically on a meal plan, running across the street for food was a lifesaver.

A year-plus after graduation, most of my contemporaries aren't earning huge paychecks. According to Business Insider, millennial women working full-time in 2013 earned a median salary of $30,000; men in the same category earned about $5,000 more. And that's not counting the unemployed (13.8 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in May 2015, according to Newsweek) or those who are employed only part-time. Still, the workday is long, and the end-of-day exhaustion breeds a culture of forking up money for food that's cooked for us—even though we really don't have the cash to support it. "I think there is a mental block to cooking—even if a recipe only takes 15 to 20 minutes, it does require work," Krishna says. "After a long day, people don't want to think. So ordering takeout becomes the easy out."

The living—and therefore eating—situations of postgrads is just as diverse as the subjects in which we majored. I spoke to a number of recent grads to get their perspectives and narrowed down the list to three very different lifestyles.
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Kelsey and Madison, both 22, live in Brooklyn with "too many roommates." Kelsey is a graduate student, and Madison has several part-time jobs.

Do you shop for groceries to cook meals at home?

Kelsey: "A majority of the people in the apartment make enough food for everyone, so it's an unofficial rotation of family-meal duty. When I go grocery shopping, which is kind of rare, I stock up at a discount grocery place, and that usually costs me about $200 to $250, but the haul can last, like, a month. I do eat a lot of meals out and a lot of meals from Seamless."
Madison: "[Not often.] When I think of cooking, I think of grand meals with three parts: a protein, a carb and a veggie. I haven't really been good at that kind of cooking since I stopped living with my family. Half the time when you want to cook yourself a nice meal, the price is similar to eating out. So in the end, it doesn't really matter."

Do you have an established budget for food?

Kelsey: "I don't . . . I live off of savings and my very supportive partner provides supplementary funding."
Madison: "I have a vague budget of how much to be spending a week, which I sometimes go over. [It's] probably somewhere close to $115."

Do you go out to meals?

Kelsey: "Yes, very frivolously and often. Oops. Also, when I'm in class, I have to grab lunch from Fresh & Co, because I'm on campus all day."
Madison: "Probably about three or four times a week. I work at a restaurant and am there during meals, so it works out that way. Also, I get a discount."

If, like Maddy and Kelsey, you live with several people and are interested in cooking affordable group meals, try one of these TT recipes:
Sheet Tray Spatchcocked Chicken with Mushrooms and Kale
Sheet Tray Salmon with Mushrooms and Bok Choy
Perfect Instant Ramen
Breakfast Focaccia (It makes a great dinner, too!)

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Sarah, 23, lives with her parents in New Jersey and has a full-time internship.

Do you shop for groceries to cook meals at home?

"I don't frequently cook, but when I do, it's usually only for myself. I don't shop for groceries."

Do you go out to meals?

"I go out for meals once or twice a week. I usually order takeout once a week or once every other week. I prefer to eat at restaurants. I do buy lunch almost every weekday though. I could bring lunch from home and save a lot of money, but I'm too lazy and tired to plan ahead. [If I did], I'd probably make better eating choices; however, I've started to have mostly salads for lunch."

Do you have an established budget for food?

"I should, but I don't. I try to spend around $10 for lunch and do that four days a week. Combined with weekends, I probably spend between $60 and $80 on food a week."

If, like Sarah, you love ordering from restaurants, check out TT's top spots here or in our DINE app. Treat yourself!

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Ben, 24, lives in an apartment in Manhattan with three roommates and has a full-time job.

Do you shop for groceries to cook meals at home?

"I shop for groceries pretty regularly, and I cook one-pot and one-pan meals at home about four or five days a week. I also save leftovers and stir-fry them with new veggies or meat."

Do you go out to meals?

"I do, often, probably two or three times a week."

Do you have an established budget for food?

"I have a certain budget for monthly groceries and another for eating out, booze and recreation. I try to spend about $250 a month on groceries and $300 a month for eating and drinking out."

If, like Ben, you make a lot of one-pan and one-pot meals, try one of these TT recipes:
One-Pot Meal: French Lentils with Chicken with Escarole
Shakshuka
One-Pot Amatriciana Sausage Pasta
Chicken, Basil and Bok Choy Stir-Fry

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