This summer, I was enrolled in full-time classes. I would be on campus several days a week from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.. As a commuter, unwilling to burden myself with more heavy things to carry, I bought pasta every day for lunch. By September, I had twelve dollars left in my bank account.
It hadn’t taken me long into first-year to realize that I often had to choose between healthy eating and cheap eating. Loaded with extracurriculars, my days spanned twelve hours; I would subsist off snacks, water, or cave in and buy a sandwich or pasta. When I first discovered food trucks, I had been delighted — finally, a filling meal for under five dollars! But I soon realized that each poutine — however cheap, hearty, and delicious — made my body feel bloated and uncomfortable for hours afterwards.
The only other option was to pack food, which cut into my busy schedule and was cumbersome to lug around. I also only knew three or four quick recipes, and kale salad every day of the week got boring very fast. Only this September, when faced with no more funds, did I finally resort to bringing proper lunches.
I have a big advantage in living with my parents at home; I don’t have to cook every night. This past month, I have been bringing leftovers from dinner of the night before. Initially, I had been quite picky about what I would eat. Cold food had no appeal. But microwaves are magical and easily found on campus: at Sid’s Café, Robarts’ food court, Ned’s Café, and more. Leftover pasta, fried rice, chicken, mashed potatoes, or salmon definitely did the trick. On the days when no leftovers were available, I tossed arugula or baby spinach with cherry tomatoes and bocconcini cheese balls (almost no cutting or preparation necessary) into a Tupperware, and brought a separate container of olive oil dressing, pre-prepared, to pour over when ready to eat.
To solve my heavy backpack issue, I started carrying around another bag, usually a tote bag or gym bag, on the days I had many books to bring. It is still cumbersome, but worth the effort. This allowed me to also bring a few granola bars, and more importantly, a water bottle to stay hydrated daily. To my surprise, with water always at hand, I would drink three or four bottles a day — a huge difference from my water intake without convenient access. Cutting in fresh lemon slices in the morning also makes the taste consistently appealing.
I have been quite happy with my lunch routine so far this month. For the first time, I look forward to my meal without the ensuing guilt of having bit into more of my savings. To make sure that I was on the right track and to see if I could pick up more tips, I dropped in to the Healthy Habits workshop at the Hart House Reading Room this Monday.
Part of the Hart House Weekly Wellness series, Healthy Habits is a nutritionist-led talk that takes place every Monday (except Thanksgiving) from noon until 1 p.m.. Each week’s session focuses on a different theme; last week’s was eating on a budget, and this week’s was nutrition for a healthy mind. The themes get decided at the workshops, based on students’ requests, but I found most of the time was taken up by unstructured questions and discussions.
I came away from Monday’s session with plenty of useful tips and guidelines: eggs, avocados, and oats are the best breakfast foods; the fastest way to waste money is to buy junk food (including food truck food); packing a quick salad as I was doing (add seeds, hard-boiled eggs, or grains for more nutrition!) did make for a great, healthy lunch. It was a casual and enlightening hour. I left the room not only knowing more but also feeling inspired to keep up my packed lunches, learn more recipes, and stay away from the cheap and easy options — even if it means spending Sunday night making salad dressings.