10 Holiday Gifts For Busy Cooks and Hungry Grad Students

Another semester of medical school has wrapped. With Christmas around the corner, I’m feelin’ festive, although with boards in June, slightly panicked as well. It’s the good kind of panic. The kind that keeps you in motion. Medicine is a lifestyle, and it slowly consumes your free time until you wrest it back with conviction. Throughout this second year (hard to believe there are 6 months of didactic training left!), I’ve been determined to hang on to those things that make my heart content: homemade meals with fresh veggies, sand volleyball with classmates, and daily meditations. In spite of the stressors–and a couple of gray eyebrow hairs (!)–I’m happy. Truly. When you wake up each day excited to face the challenges inherent in pursuing your dream, you know you’re on the right path.

A highlight of 2016: Meeting Kevin MD of kevinmd.com at the American Medical Association Annual Meeting in Chicago this summer. I had to pinch myself because it felt like being in a dream, attending a conference with so many fine minds and people passionate about making a difference.

As silly as it sounds, one of my greatest fears about this grad school journey was that I’d become overly stressed and dive face first into comfort food, regaining the 30+ lbs I lost in college. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. My key to success is still–as it has been ever since the start of my low carb journey in 2009–cooking wholesome meals, on a regular basis, whether I feel like doing it or not. During the past year, there’s been ample opportunity to share my weight loss story and meal prep tips with fellow med students (shout out to Preventive Medicine club!), patients in our free clinic, and anyone who asks what that tasty-looking dish is that I’m eating from a Tupperware container. It’s encouraging to see that most people, including my med student friends, want to hear more about how they can make changes in their daily routine to eat better. They just have no idea where to start.

In medical school, the main obstacle to eating well, aside from laziness, is time. With every waking moment crammed with a task to be accomplished, time feels accelerated, with whole weeks flying by in the blink of an eye. Since every moment is precious, we med students value efficiency and certainty of positive results. There simply isn’t time to linger over a stove, which explains the crumpled McDonald’s bags filling up our study room trash cans. I’m fairly certain the male students at our school could single-handedly keep the fast food establishments in our tiny rural town in business.

Therein lies the inspiration for my first post back from school: “10 Gifts to Eat Well as a Grad Student.” Alternatively, this list could be called “10 Essentials for Busy People Who Don’t Have Time to Cook, But Do It Anyway.” Please forgive my shameless promotion of consumerism centered around holidays that are so meaningful for religious reasons. I’ll have you know I’m frosting Jesus-themed cupcakes for His birthday party at my niece’s preschool next week. Clearly, the deeper meaning of December 25th is not lost on me. 

P.S. – The snippets of cookbook #2 you saw back in June are still in the pipeline. Between board prep questions, I’m making revisions to the recipes, ensuring that they’re workable for busy cooks. I’m confident the finished product will better meet the needs of so many of you who expressed interest in family- (and career-) friendly snacks.

My Top Ten Kitchen Tools for Busy Cooks

  1. Handheld Spiralizer. For the cook with a desire to eat more veggies, but limited space and zero desire to clean bulky appliances. I’m always amazed at the beautiful, long “zoodles” this little gadget produces, in the time it takes to boil water for pasta. A 2″ nub of zucchini at the end gets leftover, but you can chop it up and save it for stir fries. I’ve had my Vegetti for just over a year, and it’s still going strong.

spiralizer-spiral-slicer-vegetti-review-zucchini-noodles-zoodles

2. Instant Pot 8-in-1 cooker. This single appliance has saved me from a trip to Zaxby’s (a Southern chain with every dish >1000 calories) on multiple occasions. It’s a pressure cooker and crock pot in one, and it faithfully cooks chili, Alton’s Brown’s delectable pepper pork chops, and countless other soups and stews with minimal effort. My favorite recipe by far is the 8 minute pressure cooked hardboiled eggs. You can cook up to 12 eggs at once and have them ready to go for salads throughout the week. The best part? Pressure-cooked eggs peel perfectly (!). I get a little jolt of pleasure every time the shell slides off nearly intact, with the little fragments stuck to the casing.

3. Leak-proof Coffee Thermos. Every poor grad student or mom on the move could use one of these. I purchased a stainless steel thermos last year, when school was a 25 minute commute each way. Factoring in the cost of coffee from the café on campus, it paid for itself after only a few cups. Be sure to get a BPA-free model so the hot liquid doesn’t leech chemicals from the plastic liner. Bonus: You can freak out your seatmate by bringing hot bone broth for breakfast. 

4. Silicone Baking Mat. You might think I’m recommending a pastry mat to assist with rolling out pie dough since this is a baking blog. However, its true power lies in tidying up your cooking space. Have you ever sliced up a head of lettuce on a standard cutting board, and looked on in horror as the shreds overflowed onto your counter? Fear not, for this oversized silicone mat is here to save you from your messy ways. You can lay it in front of or underneath your cutting board to catch the overflow and tip your chopped veggies neatly into gallon bags. You’ll never again have to claw at bits of rogue veggies strewn across the counter. Hooray!

5. Magic Bullet blender. For making protein shakes when you need breakfast on the go. It’s not the most durable blender on the market (I’m on my third bullet after 7 years of using this machine), but it’s extremely affordable and easy to store in tiny apartment kitchen cabinets. Washing it is a breeze, with only a quick rinse under water required to clean the cup and blade. When I commuted to school during MS-1, smoothies sustained me. Every morning, I’d blend up frozen berries, yogurt or coconut milk, protein powder (Egg White protein powder for dairy-free), lemon juice, and Truvia into a protein-packed breakfast before running out the door. Don’t shell out for Smoothie King when you it make it yourself, at home, with better ingredients.

magic-bullet-blender

Image credit to magicbulletblog.com

 

6. Silicone Muffin Cups. For low carb egg muffins (a ridiculously simple meal on the go), frozen pucks of broth, homemade PB cups, and any other single serving recipe you can think of. No need to buy paper liners. Keep in mind that you’ll need the silicone onto a cookie sheet because it’ll flop all over and spill its contents otherwise. If you need a good breakfast, I’m a huge fan of the egg muffins posted over at Eat-Drink-Love.com.

egg-muffins-from-eat-drink-love

Image credit to Eat-Drink-Love.com.

 

7. Super Sharp Chef’s Knife. The difference a good knife makes is noticeable instantly. I’ve been using my trusty Zwilling J.A. Henckels knife (shown below) for the past five years, but Deb over at Smitten Kitchen loves her Wusthof, which has a comparable pricepoint. Being able to chop veggies in half the time makes it an indispensable tool in any my arsenal. Bonus: A sharp blade is less likely to slip and slice off a finger. Counterintuitive, but true!

8. Mandoline Slicer. If you’re struggling to eat more veggies, this super sharp cutter will make it a painless proposition. Since these slicers were all the rage in the 80s, you can probably pick one up at your local thrift store. I use my mandoline (with a protective glove ’cause I’m a klutz) on a weekly basis for salad prep, stir fries, and dicing onions without tears. It makes cutting crunchy low carb veggies like cucumbers, radishes, carrots, and jicama into matchsticks for batch prepped salads (shown below) so simple. My favorite use? Shredding a head of cabbage for low carb crack slaw!

14633252_10101627705486964_5076167160824617673_o9. Convection Oven. The essential gadget for quick dinners. It reheats meals beautifully, keeping crusts crispy and meats tender. I use it at least once a week to bake perfectly flaky salmon. My roommate likes to torture me by baking single servings of frozen cookie dough into crispy, gooey perfection.

10. Baking Racks. I’ve raved about the usefulness of racks for baking cookies, but have come to values their other functions: Draining the fat off oven cooked bacon (the tastiest low carb salad topper), and making a big of batch of extra crispy baked wings. Make a big batch of ’em on Sunday and eat well all week. Check the youtube video below showing the method of how to bake the crispiest wings ever.

Items that have nothing to do with cooking, but make your life as a busy professional infinitely easier:

  1. Portable iPhone battery pack. Has your battery ever died while you were at the store, cutting you off from your grocery list app? With this portable charger, you’ll never again waste time hunting around for an outlet. Sticking to a shopping list can help you save time and money at the grocery store. It’s as easy as pulling up a couple of recipes you can prepare in batches, and listing out the ingredients. When I do it, it curbs the temptation to buy random snacks (sugar-free ice cream bars, skinny pop popcorn) and ingredients I wouldn’t be able to use in time.
  2. Roll-Up Jewelry Organizer. Have you ever thrown your necklaces into a travel bag, and found them tied up in knots when you arrived at your destination? There’s a better way, friends. After hunting for a reasonably priced storage solution, I found this zip top 50 pocket case. It’s roomy enough for your whole collection, and the zip top keeps all your necklaces securely in their separate compartments.
  3. External Laptop Monitor. When the 13 inch laptop screen just isn’t enough. I like to watch school lectures on the monitor while typing notes or making charts on the main screen, but it’s well suited to design projects, blogging, and writing reports, too. Here’s the stand I got to hold it.
  4. A Treadmill. This is a premium gift that isn’t in reach for everyone, but it has been a game changer for me since I study so much at home. I picked up a used treadmill on Craig’s list for far less than $100, and I use it at least once daily. As someone who gets antsy sitting still for hours on end, having the option to move my legs while reading can make all the difference in my ability to focus. If you’re not convinced, studies show that walking on a treadmill can boost productivity.
  5. Blue-light Blocking Glasses. For shielding your eyes from blue light when you’re staring at your laptop late at night. I sleep noticeably better when I wear these while working on the computer past 9pm. In medical school, a good night’s sleep is critical since every hour lost erodes your performance. I can personally testify to getting a better test grade when I’ve slept 7 hours vs 5 hours. (That being said, every night my inner child fights going to bed at a reasonable hour.)
  6. Adjustable Laptop Stand. After we learned about the importance of ergonomically designed furniture in my osteopathic manipulative medicine course, I started taking my posture seriously. To prevent the aches and pains that stem from hunching over your laptop, you should elevate your computer so it’s at eye level. That’s easy to do  with this adjustable desktop surface. If pair it with a wireless keyboard positioned underneath to keep your wrists at a 90 degree angle, you’ll have a body friendly workstation designed to keep you working at full capacity.

Hope you’ve found some inspiration to spoil your loved ones (or yourself). Living well when you’re a busy student doesn’t have to be so hard. You just need the right tools and a little inspiration.

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11 Comments on 10 Holiday Gifts For Busy Cooks and Hungry Grad Students

    • Lauren B.
      December 20, 2016 at 7:05 am (6 months ago)

      You are welcome, Sheila! It’s a good time of year to get setup for eating well in 2017.

      Reply
  1. Frank Weir
    December 18, 2016 at 4:00 am (6 months ago)

    Lauren…So glad to see how well you are doing! Merry Christmas!

    Reply
    • Lauren B.
      December 20, 2016 at 7:11 am (6 months ago)

      Thanks, Frank! I can’t complain. How are things food-wise for you? Blood sugar alright? Happy to see you comment.

      Reply
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