I'm a grad student. What are some quick & nutritious meals I can make for dinner after being in class all day that won't hurt my budget (& might even have left-overs for lunch the next day)?

When you are as busy as I suspect you are, “quick and easy” is the name of the game. But, you want to consume healthy foods that will help boost your brain power for late night studying. And as you said, you don’t want your food budget to be out of control. When it comes to making quick and healthy dinners, planning is so very important. You have to have a variety of healthy ingredients to allow you to whip up a dinner in a bind. So make sure your trips to the grocery store are planned out (and it is not a bad idea to plan the menus so you can cut coupons for the food supplies you need!)

I am a huge fan of healthy grains to act as a base for a quick meal so stock up on whole wheat wraps, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, barley, etc. Now, check out the produce aisle. Grab a variety of colored peppers, onions, broccoli, spinach, zucchini and squash, and cherry tomatoes and you can pretty much make a handful of dishes from these ingredients. While you are around the produce, don’t forget the hummus! This healthy bean dip can act as a high fiber and protein snack. If you are worried that your fresh produce may go “bad” don’t hesitate to hit the frozen food aisle for many of these items. You can take any of these out to thaw before you leave for class. Now find some lean protein sources like chicken, turkey and fish (again with the frozen suggestion as needed). Grab some low fat dairy like 2% cheese and sour cream and don’t forget to hit the bean aisle for a variety of black, red, navy, and kidney beans. Finally, make sure you have a variety of spices in your pantry (or go fresh!) like basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, chili powder, paprika, curry, garlic powder, thyme, and rosemary.

Now you can start planning your meals. Just last night I whipped up a very quick, but healthy, barley salad. Boil the barley and at the same time cut and sauté some peppers, onions, and black beans. Top the barley with the vegetables and white wine vinegar and any spices you want (I added thyme, rosemary, and garlic). If you want extra protein at this meal, bake or stir fry a chicken breast to add to the mix. I had enough for my lunch today! Another dinner suggestion could be vegetarian chili. To save time you might think to pre chop the vegetables and have the diced tomatoes ready to go the night before/have them in your pot. Add chili powder and red pepper flakes along with your chili beans (and I add black beans also) and get the pot on the stove. You can serve this with a crusty whole wheat bread or simply eat with a dollop of sour cream and cheese. Spaghetti is always a quick meal. Just be sure to pick up the sauce at the grocery store and don’t forget the whole wheat noodles. To make it even healthier add some vegetables to the sauce (I use canned/rinsed mushrooms or sliced zucchini) and like the other suggestion if you are hoping to increase the protein add some ground up chicken or turkey. Sometimes when I am exhausted but hungry, I will take a whole wheat wrap and fill it with hummus, romaine lettuce, sliced Kalamata olives, and a few chunks of Feta cheese. Finally, you might want to check out a “quick and healthy” cookbook from the library and take a look through it between classes. I really believe that anyone can be an efficient chef on a budget if they practice and get ideas from professionals. Good Luck!

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