Graceful, Not Wasteful


The “do-over” is something we never get in life. One my list of things I wish I could “do-over” is to take better care of myself and save more money during my college and early professional years. This is the second part in my three part series of things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. The first article in the series was about how to be happy and treat our fellow humans. This installment focuses on eating better, saving money, and wasting less.

It’s definitely not the responsibility of colleges and universities to teach music students how to plan a week’s worth of healthy food options for musicians on the go or how to budget their money, but it could be extremely useful to so many.

How college music students approach food directly affects their future. If they are racing from class to class while trying to get in appropriate amounts of practice, sometimes the easiest and most convenient foods are not the healthiest of options; or, if the food is “healthy” it might be overpriced due to packaging-think energy bars at $1.50-$3 x 2+/- a day = $21-42+/- a week just on bars.

Either way, it’s a tough balance. How this balance is practiced subconsciously teaches the future professional to proceed in the same fashion. What was once racing between classes turns into a professional musician racing between gigs or racing to rehearsals while juggling family.

Graceful, Less Wasteful 101

If there had been a required “Home Economics” course at my music school (I’d call this class “Graceful, Less Wasteful 101”), here’s what I would have found helpful and what I pass on to my own students or young professionals:

  1. Sketch out what recipes and foods you need for a week. Have a list when grocery shopping so it saves you time and keeps you focused.
  2. Have about 4 days of salads in ready to go containers. Quinoa salads, bean salads, greens, whatever. Have them lined up in the refrigerator ready to go at a moment’s notice. And if you don’t go out for a frantic last minute rehearsal, you have dinner or lunch already made.
  3. If breakfast cereals are your thing because they are “fast,” try planning ahead and have oatmeal instead. You can make a batch of steel cut oatmeal and reheat throughout the week. One box of cereal is about $3-5 and doesn’t last as long as $3-5 worth of steel cut oatmeal. With the money you save you can add fresh berries and nuts to the top and have a healthier start to your day.
  4. Energy bars are ridiculously expensive. Make a huge batch of your own; freeze them in wax paper or Ziplocks-which you can wash and use again. Making your own allows for you to add what you want and know exactly what goes into each bar. Make them with friends as it cuts the work and cost, plus it’s more fun.
  5. Cut up a casserole or lasagna into individual servings and freeze for future busy weeks. Perfect to grab and go especially if there is a microwave at the rehearsal location, these can be easily warmed and enjoyed. I’d always have a stash of plastic forks and spoons in my glove box of my car as well.
  6. You can freeze rice, so make twice as much as you need so you have one less thing to do the next time you need rice.
  7. You don’t need fancy lettuces in a bag or box. For about a third of the price and a fresher variety, you can buy bunches of spinach, lettuces, and greens and chop them yourself. To wash, simply fill your clean sink full of cold water, dump the greens into the water and mix around to loosen dirt. Let sit for a while (practice your music, study your scores, whatever), come back, drain, repeat. Dry off the greens, and line a storage container with a paper towel underneath them. These greens will be fresher than what’s been sitting in a bag, and will last longer in your fridge. Less packaging, less waste, and more savings.
  8. Beans and lentils are inexpensive and healthy, so don’t shy away from recipes with these! Bean and lentil salads in the summer, bean stews and lentil soups in the winter.
  9. Peel your own carrots. Don’t buy the “baby carrots.” Like the greens, whole carrots will be fresher and less expensive than the prepackaged little ones. While peeling does take some effort, you can opt to just scrub the carrots with a brush and keep the healthy vitamin packed skin of the carrot in your diet if you like.
  10. Shop the bulk aisle as much as possible. Many recipes require only one cup or one teaspoon of some grain, bean, dried fruit, or spice that you don’t need a full box or bag of. Sometimes, that teaspoon of curry you need will cost you a mere .05 cents, if the weight is even calculable. Also some bulk aisles have honey, peanut butter, and oils. If you only need a third cup of peanut butter, you can spend under a buck and get the correct amount or you can buy a jar for a bit more. Same for honey! Less packaging, less waste, more savings.
  11. Freeze over ripe fruits that you didn’t eat. Those bananas you thought you might get to or that half orange you were sure you’d use will both make a good addition in a future smoothie. Just chop them up before tossing in the freezer so they will be easy to toss into your future smoothie. Wastes less!
  12. Chop up a bunch of onions at once and freeze the rest.
  13. Buy the biggest containers of oils you cook with. In the long run will save you money.
  14. Don’t freak out over the higher price of organic eggs; each egg is packed with good nutrition but costs less than a candy bar.
  15. Learn how to cut up a whole chicken, pineapple, or butternut squash.
  16. Start putting aside the money you saved from eating at home and preparing dishes yourself. Start an IRA or savings account and add to it each month.
  17. Decide what percentage of money should go into savings, retirement, towards job expenses, etc. Keep an eye on your monthly budgets to see what needs tightening or loosening.

Graceful, Less Wasteful 102

The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. So the next class of my “Graceful, Less Wasteful 102” course would be a two part challenge. And I invite you all, no matter what tax bracket you’re in, to take part in this challenge.

[fivecol_one]Week One[/fivecol_one] [fivecol_four_last]Take inventory of everything you eat and drink during the week. Write down the cost of everything you buy whether it’s take-out or grocery. Total it up at the end of the week and see what you could have done without, what you could have made for yourself and what you could have planned better. Did you count that daily visit to the coffee shop?[/fivecol_four_last]

[fivecol_one]Week Two[/fivecol_one] [fivecol_four_last]At the beginning of the week plan a menu that includes breakfasts, snacks, lunches and dinners. See if you can get multiple uses out of key ingredients for a few recipes. Did you make your own coffee?[/fivecol_four_last]

[fivecol_one]Extra Credit![/fivecol_one] [fivecol_four_last]Do it better, with friends! Team up with some friends who like to eat the same things as you and have a big dinner together. Make sure to have everyone bring their own storage containers because if you plan this right, you will each have about a week’s worth of leftovers that your friends cooked for you, and in return, your friends will have the same.[/fivecol_four_last][divider_flat]

If a dinner together doesn’t work, organize a dinner exchange with a group of friends. Everyone cooks a big dish, divides it into storage containers, and shares. Just have a few rules like spend $10-15 or all ingredients must be tomato free.

Last month I did a variation of the dinner part of the challenge. With my friends in the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, we had everyone bring their favorite dishes that they found healthy, inexpensive, and sharable.  Ideally the dishes should be easy to freeze, as well, since we were planning on swapping leftovers.

Music Director, Kayoko Dan brought a two part dinner:

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  • 1 15oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 TBS jalapeno from 4oz can (save the rest of the can for the next recipe)
  • juice from one lime
  • ¼ cup of cilantro (save the rest of the bunch for the next recipe)
  • One quarter of a large white onion (save the other three quarters for next recipe)
  • Salt to taste


  1. Mix everything in blender or food processor

This makes about 1.5 cups, and costs less than $2 to make


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Tortilla Soup


  • 1 Lb. of skinless boneless chicken thighs
  • leftover white onion (from salsa recipe above)
  • leftover jalapeno (from salsa recipe above)
  • 10 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt (and more for taste)
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 15oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 15oz can corn
  • tortilla chips
  • toppings as desired: cheese, cilantro (leftover from salsa), lime, avocado


  1. Put the chicken into a large stock pot and add cold water. Add 2 tsp salt.
  2. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to bring the stock to barely a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes periodically skimming off the foam that comes to the surface.
  3. Remove chicken from the soup.
  4. Bring soup to boil, and add tomato, corn, onion, jalapeno and 2 tsp cumin.  Cook until onion is transparent.  Meanwhile, cut the chicken in pieces.
  5. Add chicken back to the soup.
  6. Serve with tortilla chips, fresh lime, cilantro, cheese and/or avocado

Makes 12 cups of soup, total cost to make is $8


The next dish was offered up by CSO’s Principal Second violin, Sheri Peck. Sheri shared a pasta recipe which took her 15 minutes to make, cost a total of $12.40, and made roughly 10 servings (even though the recipe says it makes 4 servings!) Next she brought some tasty side dishes: kale salad costing a total of $4.39, organic beet salad costing $7.10, and Champ (which she made into a vegan dish by substituting the dairy), costing $4.45.

My first contribution was my favorite lentil soup. I double, sometimes triple this recipe. For this evening I doubled the recipe and the total cost was $7.60. My other contribution was a take on energy bars which was a very versatile recipe of peanut butter balls.

Our simple tasting party yielded wonderful leftovers and great conversation.
Our simple tasting party yielded wonderful leftovers and great conversation.

There was a lot of variety at our dinner and a good discussion about how we planned our weekly meals, what we felt was healthy, farmer’s markets vs. Whole Foods, etc. It was a fun social gathering, but more importantly we proved that teamwork mixed with planning yields a lot of tasty leftovers to enjoy for a week.

The biggest complaint I hear from my fellow musicians is the busy schedule not allowing for time to cook. I know firsthand how difficult it is, but have found when you add a social aspect and/or some planning, the hectic turns into enjoyment. And we all save money, eat better, and waste less with that!

I hope you all take the challenge and find enjoyment in it. Please add comments, recipes, and suggestions for your fellow musicians, college student, young and seasoned professionals alike. If you find you saved some money, share how you did it and how much you saved.

If you saved money during the challenge, why not think of donating some back to your local cultural institutions or buying some orchestra tickets for friends. That’s how to live gracefully and less wastefully.

Last in the three part series will be about how we make impressions in our career. Stay tuned!

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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5 thoughts on “Graceful, Not Wasteful”

  1. These ideas are BRILLIANT!!
    On the staff side of the arts, the 4-6 days before any concert and the 2 days after are a blurry whirlwind. I have a family depending on me as well (like most of us do), so I switched to emeals (dinner/lunch planning service) about 3 years ago. I cook more and can budget more efficiently, since I know what dinner will be for the week ahead. I always pick the larger family option, so I can freeze 30-50% of whatever I make in containers for the concert week to come. It’s also cut my time in the grocery store as the lists they send are organized into sections of the store (Dairy, Frozen, Meat & Seafood, Canned/Packaged, Produce, etc..). I can consistently do 2 weeks of shopping in 30-45 minutes. Yes, going to the grocery store or market is a strategic strike mission.
    Oh and crock pots are your friend. My grandmother is smirking in heaven, since I scoffed at the crock pot meals as a teen. Take that back, she’s laughing full out, since I’ve purchased 3 sizes of the blasted things.

  2. Great article! My suggestion is about clothes. After a few youthful mistakes, I followed my mother’s advice and started wearing garment shields, which is what they use for broadway costumes. I highly recommend (no, they’re not paying me!) They sell a wide range of products–some look a little s-and-m-ish, but they work, and you can dry clean maybe once or twice a season. I am partial to the “Stay-rite” version but they make all kinds.
    For non-concert/business suit clothes–don’t buy anything you will have to dry clean. Nearly everything can be washed, if done correctly, and you will save time and money. It’s all online, how to wash various fabrics. If you pay $5 to dry clean something, add that up over the life of the garment and it is shocking.


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