I moved to New York City in August 2015 from Auckland, New Zealand, leaving behind a commercial law career to enroll in a Master’s program at NYU’s journalism school.
Living in New York required me to quickly adapt to several big changes at the same time: the lack of living space, the noise, the subway system that always seems to break down when you can’t afford a delay.
One of the biggest adjustments I had to make, however, was around money.
Naturally, my disposable income as a graduate student was much less than when I was a lawyer. At the same time, many of my expenses were higher due to the cost of living in New York City.
For the first few months, my husband and I would budget between $US100 and $US150 ($A200) to spend on food per month.
Surprisingly, even in one of the most expensive cities in America, this amount still allowed us to whip up a variety of meals that were both nutritious and tasty.
Here are five of our favourites:
Sample shopping list
I'm a foodie who doesn't like to eat the same thing every day, so my shopping list varied from week to week.
This is what my shopping list might have looked like one week:
• Two 14-ounce cans of black beans (Trader Joe's, 79 cents each, $1.58)
• Two 14-ounce cans of chickpeas/garbanzo beans (Trader Joe's, 79 cents each, $1.58)
• One pound of Goya dried lentils (New York corner store, $1.40)
• Two 14-ounce packets of pasta (Trader Joe's, 99 cents each, $1.98)
• Six bananas (Trader Joe's, 19 cents each, $1.14)
• Two 8-count cartons of eggs (Corner store, 60 cents each, $1.20)
• One loaf of white bread (Corner store, $1.20)
• Two 14-ounce cans of coconut milk (Corner store, $1 each, $2)
• One 24-ounce Hunt's pasta sauce (Corner store, $1)
• One avocado (Trader Joe's, $1.49)
• Two onions (Trader Joe's, 69 cents each, $1.38)
• One 16-ounce packet of frozen spinach (Trader Joe's, $1.49)
• One 16-ounce packet of frozen broccoli florets (Trader Joe's, $1.49)
• One 16-ounce packet of organic carrots (Trader Joe's, 79 cents)
• One quart milk (Trader Joe's, $1.29)
• Three cans of tuna (Corner store, $1 each, $3)
Additionally, I'd occasionally purchase items that would last several weeks, such as rice, curry paste, peanut butter, mayonnaise, plain flour, and oats.
I also accumulated some inexpensive seasonings, spices, and sauces (soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce) from 99-cent stores and discount grocery stores when I first moved into my apartment.
You'll notice that these recipes are largely vegetarian. My husband and I aren't vegetarians -- in fact, we were big meat eaters before we moved to New York.
However, we found that swapping animal products for legumes cut down our grocery costs significantly.
It took time for our minds and taste buds to adjust, but once they did, we started to enjoy having less red meat in our diets.
1. Lentil bolognese
Even though my husband and I were on a budget, we didn't want to sacrifice the healthiness of our food. So we strived to cook dishes with lots of vegetables and sources of protein.
We ate a lot of lentils, as they are quite filling and can be cooked in many different ways.
One of our go-to recipes was lentil bolognese, which we often ate with pasta. The bolognese sauce usually consisted of lentils and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, spinach, and green beans. We would also add sauteed garlic, onion, and seasonings such as oregano and paprika.
2. Black beans and vegetables with rice or tortillas
Throwing black beans together with a bunch of cooked vegetables, seasonings, and salsa became our default lazy lunch/dinner. We'd either have it over rice or with corn tortillas.
Since this dish is easy to make in bulk, we often made enough for at least two meals each time.
3. Chickpea/lentil curry with rice
Curries are versatile, delicious, and easy to make in bulk. Especially during the winter, this dish became our staple for lunch and dinner.
If I felt like an Indian-style curry, I'd mix canned tomatoes with curry powder, garam masala, cumin, and turmeric, before adding yogurt or coconut milk for extra creaminess. I'd also add a bit of coconut oil to the rice for extra flavour.
If I was in the mood to step the meal up a notch, I'd make a homemade roti, a simple combination of flour, salt, water, and oil.
Almost any vegetable is great in curry, so this was a great dish whenever we needed to use up vegetables sitting in our refrigerator.
4. Black beans and vegetables in satay curry sauce
This is a dish I'd make when I felt like treating myself, and when I had an hour or two to spare to wait for the curry to simmer.
The dish is essentially a Thai red curry with a few tablespoon of peanut butter and lime juice. It's usually made with beef or chicken, but I have discovered that black beans provide the best non-meat substitute.
My go-to recipe for this dish comes from Taste.
5. Tuna and chickpea fried rice
This is a quick and lazy meal. I'd throw rice, canned tuna, garlic, chickpeas, and whatever vegetables I had into a frying pan with soy sauce and sesame oil.
Sometimes I'd add sriracha and mayonnaise if I felt like something creamy, or I'd throw a fried egg on top for protein.
This meal is a good substitute for Chinese takeout, and I would whip it up whenever I craved Kung Pao chicken.
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