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Poverty Nutrition: A Fugue in Egg Minor
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Poverty Nutrition: A Fugue in Egg Minor

As the recent recipient of a shiny new PhD, I’ve spent almost 20% of my life so far as a member of the impoverished and undernourished graduate student demographic. One of the things I wish I’d figured out earlier is how to eat well on a stipend—especially when it comes to breakfast, the neglected meal. For this guest post, I’ve compiled three breakfast options that cost less than $1 each, can be prepared in the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee, and contain only basic, cheap ingredients. I won’t bore you with the calculations, but I can certify that each breakfast comes in easily under a buck.

All three of these recipes feature eggs, which is no accident. The egg is the unsurpassed king of breakfast foods. It contains all the necessary materials to build a chick, which is composed of essentially the same materials as a human; even chicken beaks and feathers contain the same proteins—keratins—as human fingernails. Yes, the yolk contains cholesterol. No, don’t throw away the yolk. Egg yolks also contain the emulsifier lecithin, which is critical to the success of these dishes, and they’re full of fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients that are likely deficient in the average grad student diet of Little Debbie products purloined from seminars and symposia.


Peanut butter magic danish

  • 1/3 cup or 100 grams peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp sugar or honey

Warm up the peanut butter in a small bowl in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Beat the egg and sugar into it with a fork. Eventually the peanut butter and egg will come together into a sort of “dough”. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that the dough forms a cohesive blob. Microwave for about 1 ½ minutes. The magic danish is finished cooking when the outer edges have solidified into a bread-like texture so that you can pick it up like a danish, while the center remains slightly gooey to serve as the filling.



  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 slice stale pizza, chopped
  • pinch of salt

Beat the egg and milk together with a fork in a large cup. Add the pizza and salt. Stir well and let it sit for a minute or two so that the pizza crust absorbs some of the liquid. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir the quiche, then microwave for 1 more minute or until set. This dish is essentially a savory Italian french toast quiche, proving that a couple of eggs can turn just about anything into breakfast.


Nearly-instant oatmeal custard

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp raisins or other dried fruit
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup plain quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 tsp sugar or honey

Beat the egg thoroughly in a bowl with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Microwave until semisolid, about 1.5 minutes, stirring halfway through. If you have even a modicum of self-respect, you’ll never go back to the gloopy so-called oatmeal that comes in a packet.

It may be tempting to skip breakfast in favor of a few more minutes of sleep in the morning, but remember: good science happens with a clear mind and a full belly. I hope these recipes stimulate you to get out of bed and into the kitchen.


.Dr. Barrilleaux is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Davis, in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Knoepfler. She received a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Tulane University. She has eaten nearly 2000 breakfasts as a graduate student, many of which involved sniffing a gallon of milk to decide if the expiration date was serious or just a suggestion. She is also an occasional contributor to the Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell Blog.


For more Poverty Nutrition recipes, see Beans & Rice (And Their Infinite Variety)


9 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Gianpaolo Rando

    wrote on July 7, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    an egg breakfast, in contrast to a bagel breakfast matched for energy density and total energy, would enhance weight loss in overweight and obese participants while on a reduced-calorie weight loss diet

    source: International Journal of Obesity (2008) 32, 1545–1551; doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.130

  2. Shelly

    wrote on July 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Here's one for you, Bonnie. Egg Puff: spray a bowl with cooking spray, beat an egg in it, nuke it for 30 seconds to 2 minutes (basically until you hear it make a popping noise), and top with hot sauce (or whatever else you like).
    P.S. May I suggest beans and rice (and their infinite variety) as a sequel to this post? :)

  3. Dr Becca

    wrote on July 7, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    I've got to take issue with the Frankenquiche; a slice of pizza alone costs way more than $1.

  4. Bonnie

    wrote on July 7, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I probably should have specified that I'm assuming the pizza is club meeting leftovers. There's no shortage of free stale pizza if you're willing to endure a little parliamentary procedure.

  5. Kristy Meyer

    wrote on July 7, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    But I always had access to Pizza in college. It seemed to be everywhere. Maybe the ingredient should be "Free pizza for poor college students".

  6. Poverty Nutrition II: Beans & Rice (And Their Infinite Variety) | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on July 15, 2010 at 8:36 am

    […] a fellow starving grad student alongside Dr. Barrilleaux, who wrote an excellent post on creating cheap and nutritious breakfasts using eggs, I was pleased to be asked to follow her in discussing affordable nutrition for graduate […]

  7. Eating 3 Meals a Day is Harder than Phyiscal Chemistry | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on July 19, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    […] their recent Poverty Nutrition series (A Fugue in Egg Minor and Beans and Rice (& Their Infinite Variety)) Bonnie Barrilleaux and Shelly Gallendar […]

  8. Poverty Nutrition III: Empty Refrigerator Contingency Plan | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on January 7, 2011 at 5:48 am

    […] Poverty Nutrition I: A Fugue in Egg Minor […]

  9. Fitness John

    wrote on September 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    The one with oatmeal and egg in it is my personal favorite, thanks!

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