FEED THE INTERNS: Five Tips for Eating Well on an Intern’s Budget

1. Set a monthly budget for yourself.

Interning in one of the the country’s fastest growing food capitals, it is all too easy to burn a hole in one’s wallet by eating out at the many fine restaurants that dot the DC/NoVa landscape. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep track of your food expenses by setting and adhering to a budget.  If you’re a finance dork like me–or just really anal about your spending habits, you should create a Google or Excel spreadsheet, save your receipts (or remember the amount you spent) and record the amounts.

 Here’s a peek at mine(conditional formatting, FTW):


Note: If you also have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll want to set aside a budget just for cupcakes and macarons [I will literally starve myself for a week just to destroy a six-pack of those suckers–don’t tell my parents].

You should set two budgets–one for groceries and another for eating out. I eat at the pace of a gerbil, neglect to eat meat and vegetables and love my carbs, so a budget of $90 for groceries should tide me over for the entirety of my ten week internship. For the average adult, however, I would recommend $60 for a month’s worth of groceries and $70 (or less, preferably) for eating out. Another alternative for the smartphone users out there is Mint, a (free!) online budgeting tool that you can link to your bank accounts, credit cards and etc. to keep track of your spending.

2. Keep some basics in the pantry.

There are a couple inexpensive items that every intern/college student/broke graduate/starving artist should always have on hand. Peanut butter, Eggs, Milk, Bread, Oil, Pasta, Tomato Sauce and the requisite ramen. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few meals/snacks you can scrape together with just these ingredients: peanut butter sandwiches, egg sandwiches, egg noodle soup, peanut noodles, french toast, croutons, spaghetti and more. When you’re broke, you’ll eat anything (trust me…) and you’ll find inventive ways to create meals. This quote from one my favorite French authors, sums it up nicely: “L’esprit de l’homme est capable de tout” or the mind of man is capable of anything. Spill that tea, Maupassant.

My “pantry” (above), Brittney’s pantry (below)

ImageFact: Brittney subsists entirely on teriyaki sauce and Lean Cuisine

3. Mayonnaise is your best friend.

On the topic of mayonnaise, you can never go wrong if you have this condiment in your fridge (unless you’re like Mama June). It pulls the simplest things together in a form that you can throw onto a sandwich or roll. Got any leftover rotisserie chicken? Shred the meat, dump it in a bowl, add a dollop of mayonnaise with a shake of pepper (heck, throw in some diced celery if you want some texture), mix it all together, slap that shiz in between two pieces of toast and you got yourself a meal! If you see that your eggs are expiring soon, boil those bad boys, chop it up and repeat above. Chicken salad, egg salad, potato salad, salad salad–take your pick!

 4. Cook everything in bulk.

As an economics student, I maximize my utility/happiness by refraining from cooking as much as I can help it. Swear to god, I am almost too lazy to function (but not nearly as lazy as Daniel). Anyways, here’s the dealio: cook up a pound of spaghetti (lasagna, pasta salad, kimchee fried rice, whatever!), store it all in tupperware (sauce and pasta in separate containers), pop it in the fridge or freezer and nuke it in the microwave when ready to eat. Follow the above steps and you will be set for the week for less than the cost of a burrito bowl. Cha-ching!!

5. Follow these other tips.

  • Browse and take advantage of the circulars/weekly specials/coupons of popular supermarkets in your area, such as Safeway, Giant, Trader Joe’s and Whole Stipend Foods.

  • Pay attention to expiration dates for dairy and meat products. If an item is expiring soon, such as a roll of sausage, cook it as soon as possible and store it in the fridge for later consumption. Milk and eggs are usually good for a week after the sell by date–you also have the option of freezing your milk or any anything else for that matter.

  • When ordering a dish at the restaurant, immediately ask your server to pack up half the portion of your meal in a to-go container and serve you the other half. This way you won’t be tempted to gorge on your food–plus, you’ll have another meal for later.

  • Attend company or organization-sponsored events in DC which often provide FREE catered meals as well as plentiful opportunities to network with interns and stay informed about current issues. See: Brookings, National Journal, OCA. Also, be sure to RSVP to these events. Shout out to the CAPAL-sponsored WLP, every Wednesday evening at 6:30 in the Capitol Building!

Hope these tips are helpful and that these tips save you a couple bucks…or pennies, at the very least!

Until next time, fellow un(der)paid interns!


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