Things My Daughter Eats as a Busy Student

Dutch oven with minestrone soup

Written by Mary Katherine Glen

To be honest, I buy some of my groceries with packaging these days. In high school it was easy to write [my] blog as a “perfect” plastic-free website because I lived with my parents and I didn’t pay for any of my ingredients. Now I make minimum wage so I have to shop at No Frills.

I avoid waste when I can but I buy regular dairy since the stuff in glass bottles is 5+ times more expensive. I also don’t buy in bulk very often because I look for clearance items at No Frills most of the time. If I want to go to Bulk Barn it’s a farther drive and I don’t have gas money. When I’m older I can be more conscious about what I buy but right now I don’t have the money or time to shop at multiple grocery stores.

This is actually an informative experience because it’s showing me how being a “perfect” zero waster is inaccessible to a lot of people. I’m simply too poor. We need more solutions to deal with waste that don’t require average people to bankrupt themselves.

Why should I have to pay extra money out of my meager paycheck to compensate for the fact that corporations manufacture enormously vast quantities of waste? Why aren’t they held accountable for that? Maybe they could hire some engineers to design new materials and downsize their packaging. Or maybe they could give grants to poor municipalities to build composting facilities. If you have any more ideas along those lines please leave them in the comments! I am curious to hear what other people think about this.

That said, here are some ways that I save time and money these days—and sometimes manage to cut down on waste.

Soaking beans with a piece of kombu makes them more digestible

Time-Saving Tips for Students (or Anyone)

Make pancake batter and store it in your fridge

I was a baker in one of the kitchens I worked in, and I learned that some batters can be made ahead and stored for a week or even 10 days. So I make pancake batter, store it in empty yogurt containers in my fridge, and fry up pancakes quickly on busy mornings. Yogurt containers are plastic but I like to repurpose what I can. There is yogurt from a biodynamic farm sold in returnable glass jars in Guelph, but it’s $6 which is too expensive for a student budget. So I buy the $2 plastic quarts and reuse the containers. They are actually really handy not just in the kitchen but in general. I will write a post about that sometime.

Make a big batch of oatmeal and store it in your fridge

If you reheat oatmeal in a pot with a bit of water, you can get it back to the same consistency as hot oatmeal. You can do this in the microwave too. I like doing this in the morning because its faster than cooking oatmeal from scratch. It takes about the same amount of time as making a packet of instant oatmeal.

Soup is a great thing to bring on the go (if you have a way to heat it up)

There are a couple microwaves on campus, so I bring soup from home in a jar and heat it up and eat it here. I like simple blended vegetable soups because they’re easy and quick to make and they help me up my vegetable intake. I’ll post an easy vegetable soup recipe next.

Hardboiled eggs are another great thing to eat

Eggs are super cheap and if you make a big batch of hardboiled eggs then you can have them ready to go from your fridge. At some farmers’ markets, you can give empty egg cartons to egg vendors and they can reuse them. I’m able to do that in Guelph, but I’m not sure about other places. In some places this isn’t allowed because it’s not considered sanitary. If this isn’t allowed at your farmers’ market, egg containers are compostable and recyclable.

Cook a pound of of dry beans in a large pot and freeze them in containers for use in individual recipes

I wrote a post about how to cook black beans a few years ago. Cooking times vary from bean to bean, but the cooking process is basically the same for most beans: soak, drain, add to a pot with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Before you remove the beans from the heat, take out a spoonful of beans and check them for tenderness. Wait for the beans to cool then transfer them to jars or containers of your choice. 

Leave at least an inch of headspace, especially if you’re using glass! Food expands when it freezes and glass jars can explode in your freezer. Transfer the containers of beans to the freezer and thaw as needed for refried beanshummus or whatever you want to make with them!  Making a big batch doesn’t save as much time as eating canned beans, but the significant cost savings make it worth it to do this. A pound of typical dry beans (chickpeas, pintos, etc.) costs no more than $2.50. So when I cook a pound of dry beans, I get probably the equivalent of four to five cans for the price of one! Even if you consider the cost of electricity/gas for your stove and water, this saves money.

Last point: I add a strip (1-2 inches) of kombu seaweed to the soaking water and cook the beans with that same strip of seaweed as well. This seriously works to make the beans more digestible.

Carry fruit with you

This sounds like pretty straightforward and simple advice, but I’m serious. If you have fruit with you, you’ll be less likely to make an expensive packaged vending machine impulse buy of candy or chips. Sometimes if I’ve been studying for a while, I get bored and I just want to eat something for the sake of it. Eating out of boredom is a bad habit, but eating fruit is generally pretty harmless.

If you buy cheese, shredded cheese is more expensive and has more packaging

A brick of cheese is packaged in plastic too but it’s less plastic and its cheaper for the same amount of cheese. I like to buy cheese on sale then shred and freeze it.

Mary Katherine Glen graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in Environmental Governance and is now enrolled in a post-graduate certificate program in waste management at Fleming College.

This post first appeared on Plastic-Free Chef.

12 Replies to “Things My Daughter Eats as a Busy Student”

  1. Madeleine Lawrence says: Reply

    Some great tips there Mary Katherine, and as one of our financial experts says ‘if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it’!

    You are right about responsibility needing to be taken further along the line. Whilst I still do my very best to produce very little waste, I now also devote some of my time to writing to companies and manufacturers. I offer suggestions for ways they could improve and in some cases also let them know I will be voting with my dollars. We really need to start to tackle waste at the source because for many people it is just not feasible to spend hours trawling the shops to get everything we need with a clear conscience.

    When I lived in Sydney I could pretty much just shop in one place, other than going to a supermarket for cat food. Now that I live in a large country town I spend many,many hours shopping each week, as well as buying online and growing a large proportion of my food. Some shops are not open every day or even regular hours due to the fact that the delivery trucks come in the morning and they have to unload before they can open the shop! I find it frustrating to say the least. The good thing is that some shops are now stocking some bulk foods and we now have farmer’s markets more often – it used to only be twice a month which is not enough for fresh foods.

    I’m slightly concerned about how long you are keeping your pancake batter! A chef told me that mixes containing raw egg should not be kept more than 24 hours (I am making the presumption you have egg in the batter). As he is not the sort of guy to throw away something with a little mould or stress about a use by date I trust him completely – he would not waste food without a very good reason.


  2. MK, first of all congratulations on your good work in school; keep it up!! Your article is thoughtful and honest and especially appeals to those of us aspiring to be less wasteful…for most, its a journey. Your suggestions are straightforward and useful and we’re sending the link to our niece who is in college on the east coast. We love that you are adding your voice to the movement for greater respect in honor of the earth.

    All good wishes for you,

  3. I love what Mary Katherine said about the inaccessibility of the perfect zero waste lifestyle and I couldn’t agree more with her sentiments about holding corporations accountable. I said something similar in a recent post I wrote on my blog ‘Citizen of Earth,’ which I’ll link below for anyone interested. Thank you 🙂

  4. Kristina Lundbergh says: Reply

    Well spoken! But most of all; I am great full knowing we have one more intelligent and caring woman on our team☺️👍💪

  5. Thank you so much for this! I am a 40-year old working mother, our household includes 4 kids, we live on Portuguese wages and this is the perfect depiction of our struggle regarding waste vs. cost options. I hope my kids will experience reduced waste as a more cost-effective option in the future but right now we must manage our sustainability expectations.

  6. You have raised some valid points which does depend on where you shop and your budget…I also reuse containers …I wouldn’t keep batter if it has eggs that long even in the fridge. Many places where I live are cutting packaging or using natural packaging..bamboo and banana leaves but I do believe manufacturers should be taking more responsibilty for packing…Good post 🙂

  7. Mary Katherine. Nice to see another Fleming College person here. I graduated from that institution many years ago, I hope you are enjoying your time there. I am glad that you are shopping at bulk barn and that bulk barn allows people to bring their own containers into the store to be refilled as many take advantage of that. More corporations need to be on this side of consumerism. All the best.

  8. Debbie Pyle Verhoeven says: Reply

    Mary Katherine, you’re doing the best you can given your circumstances. Good for you! My son went to Fleming many years ago at the LIndsay campus.

  9. Good points made in both the article and comments.
    Our family loves to drink slurpee’s on hot summer days. Although we are not allowed to use our own cups we don’t take lids nor straws. Its a small thing but every bit matters. I am surprised when I see food with lots of packaging being less expensive than those not packaged. It’s lunacy! I believe that consumers voicing to company’s what they would like to see and making more sustainable choices will be the only things to push these changes forward. Its just so sad when we don’t have the choice due to lack of funds. Sometimes in these cases I just have to not buy the thing and change my meal plan.

  10. It sounds like you aren’t cooking your beans in a pressure cooker. It will change your life.

  11. Each weekend we make a big thing of pancakes (kids) and freeze them! Then it’s even faster because we pop them in the toaster and no mess breakfast all week. Seriously, they are like 90% as good as the fresh ones.

    Thanks for posting your experience. I worry that the “zero waste” trend is becoming hip and for the elite. (Sort of like Tiny Houses, my husband and I always joke they have been around forever as trailer parks—just visit any rural town in America). We need to make bulk food and better choices available to everyone. Our town just switched to no plastic bags, and it’s been so interesting listening to the community debate the “need” for plastic bags (many people saying old people need them because they are more sturdy, and the “old folks” reply, “I remember when we didn’t have plastic bags”).

    Thanks again for sharing your experience. Keep up the good work.

  12. Great tips! I’m no longer a student but live on a super frugal budget. Have you tried Steel cut oats? So much more filling than regular oats and healthier as well. I like to buy a huge bag of them when I have a 5$ off coupon from Bulk Barn, and it makes them even cheaper than the normal price (and saves me from making several trips to buy more!). Also, shopping from the flyers are great, buying yogurt and other things only when it is really reduced in price (and stocking up) has saved alot of money. It’s not always easy to be zero waste and frugal, but keep striving onwards!

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