Q+A: Making it Easy and Cheap to Eat in the US

by Annisa Budiman - Posts (4). Posted Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Silliman Dining Hall - by Flickr user superfem
Creative Commons photo: Flickr user superfem

Many of my friends back home are on the verge of graduating and are planning to continue their studies overseas. They’ve had a a multitude of questions for me ranging from, “Do you have to go to parties every week?” to “How is Obama treating you there?” But surprisingly, the topic I get asked about most often is food!

In my country American food is relatively expensive – even fast food is priced like a gourmet meal. But it is also considered delicious and known to have big portions. My friends have been curious to know whether this will be the same when they get overseas and to know the tricks for eating well once they’re in the U.S.

One of my friends is about to move to the States for her job, and I had a short question and answer session to help her get ready for eating in the U.S.:

Q: How much money do I need to survive for a week?
A: There are a lot of options for how to get through the week cheaply. You can get value meals that are offered by any fast food franchise, or you can stock up on instant microwaveable foods (such as macaroni and cheese or instant ramen). To estimate, you might need around $6.00 a day with these options, but they’re not the healthiest choices. As convenient as they may be, this is not the best eating plan for a long stay.

Instant ramen
One possibility, but not the healthiest one. (Creative Commons photo: William A. Clark)

Q: How should I minimize the cost of food but still keep it on the healthy side?
A: I’ve learned to invest in the magic of a microwave and, as my Eastern roots crave, a rice cooker. This allows me to buy food in bulk and control the portions I need daily.

Q: Can you share some easy recipes with me?
A: When I’m sick, I crave bubur ayam (chicken porridge) so bad, but I don’t want to go through the trouble of breaking out the pots and pans getting the chicken going and constantly staring at the pot. I have found that I can make it easier by using the rice cooker. You just need one scoop of rice (trust me, I eat a lot and that amount creates a waterfall), three cubes of chicken stock, a fair amount of salt and pepper, a dab of ginger, and cut up slices of two chickens. The easy part is you just throw everything in at the same time in the rice cooker, fill it with water up to the limit of the bowl, and then press cook and leave it until it’s done. You can keep the porridge and just reheat it whenever needed.

The real way to make bubur ayam

You can also make an omelet in the microwave! Goodbye hassle of washing the pots and pans. You need non-stick spray oil, eggs, cheese, salt, pepper, bell peppers, and other ingredients to your taste. Spray a microwaveable mug and combine all the ingredients together. Microwave and stir the omelet every minute until the egg is fully cooked. Congratulations you have a minute breakfast!

Investing in a blender is also a good way to go. You can use it to mix together different fruits. I know this might be a given, but this option is so much cheaper than buying juice in supermarkets. You can also save the juice!

I was always one of those people who thought that I would burn the house down when I started cooking. Thankfully, I found a less flammable way.

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