OK, you've got my life, but I won't get fat, damnit!
February 9, 2009 7:40 PM   Subscribe

I need some suggestions for nutritious foods to eat while I'm trapped in crunch mode at work.

I'm currently working approximately 70 hours a week, and have to eat dinner at work every night. I am gaining weight, and it is making me crazy. This amount of work is going to continue (and will likely get worse) until May.

I try to get out to the gym for an hour or so during the day (I haven't been great about this but am determined to do better), and have managed to mostly curb my snacking.

The company that I work for has a lot of folks working late hours, so snacks and dinner are provided. The problem is that all of this food is very fattening and I am gaining weight, which is making me even more tired and depressed.

I tried cooking a bunch of nutritious meals for myself that I then froze for the week, but this is not going to work for me long-term. I am working so much that finding the time or energy to cook for three hours on the weekend is nigh impossible, and then I have a ton of dishes to do on top of it. Do not want!

I'm not a big fan of frozen lean cuisine type meals, even though they are usually low calorie, they're not very satisfying and they are loaded with sodium.

My big plan is to take a lunch break tomorrow and go to a grocery store and stock up on good for me things. Fruits, veggies, etc for snacking, and some frozen foods for meals. We have plenty of room in our fridges in the kitchen at the office. What do you extremely smart people suggest? Trader Joes and Whole Foods are nearby options.

Adding a bit of complexity in: This is another period of long extended hours that I've been dropped into after working on a different high pressure extended hours project for a year and a half. I am fighting depression as best I can, but it is getting the better of me. This desperately affects my food choice judgement, so any suggestions you have to arm myself against that particular problem would also be greatly appreciated. I have little to no time for myself, and often a nice, carby snack (like a bagel with cream cheese, oh, sweet bagels with cream cheese) is a wildly tempting treat.

I went to the doctor recently because I'd been feeling bloated, fatigued and icky (no other real symptoms) and she mentioned off hand that it could be mild IBS, so bonus points for foods that help with that. I have some toasted flax seeds that I keep in my fridge at home and will bring them to work to stir into whatever I do eat. I have been mixing them into yogurt in the morning (when I wake up in time to eat something before I get to work).

And also, just because I know someone will say this, of course I have considered changing jobs, as I'm aware this kind of work stress is very bad for me, but for obvious reasons this isn't really an option at this time, and I need to survive this with my sanity in tact.
posted by pazazygeek to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
On the snacking side, I've recently discovered that I don't hate granola. I thought I did, turns out I hadn't had the good stuff. It's a great snack in that I like it, but not so much that I over eat. I've been munching on the bear naked brand.

This might sound silly, but sandwiches are often overlooked and can be awesome if you get the right stuff. I love some good bread, a combo of honey and spicy mustard, turkey, sprouts, lettuce, a slice of muenster cheese, avocado, and some pickled peppers.

Salad falls in to this category as well. I love big flavors and crunch in my salads so the end up with pickled jalapenos for flavor and sunflower seeds for crunch.

I'm sure your taste buds will be different, but if you can find a variant on salad that you love, it's a great healthy meal.
posted by magikker at 7:55 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: oatmeal in the morning is a good habit of mine. it has low glycemic carb content and will keep you full for half a day. you wont be craving snacks or meals. also don't add sugar if possible.
posted by michellein at 8:02 PM on February 9, 2009

do you have any control over where the company-provided meals come from? if not, can you gain some say there?
if you find two or three local places that have a nice, healthy meal or two you like, you're set.
posted by kickback at 8:05 PM on February 9, 2009

i like sugar snap peas. they are easy, snacky and crunchy and don't make me feel like shit if i eat too many of them. good with spinach dip or dressing, but also pretty good alone.
posted by lblair at 8:05 PM on February 9, 2009

Are you eating a good breakfast? It is easy to overlook, but for me it sets the tone for the rest of the day, I'm not as hungry for lunch, and then a smaller dinner is easier.

Complex carbs (whole wheat bread) and some sort of protein (egg whites or peanut butter for me) work well with some fruit.

Also, dark greens in salad work well and are healthier, spinach or kale is nice. A big salad before the rest of your lunch helps too. Get the most nutrition out of what you're eating... not sure how that works with what you're being served, but there is nothing wrong with taking something out of what you're being served, or buying your own greens and adding them to whatever you're being served.
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:20 PM on February 9, 2009

If you have access to a fridge, what I have done in situations like these is to make a whole batch of soup, take all of it to work and eat it until its gone. It can be a boring option since you have to eat the same thing for 4 or 5 days, but at least the thing you are eating isn't bad for you.

Metafilter has tons of good soup threads, and here's the one I made last week:
Red Lentil Soup (I've heard its also good with green lentils)
posted by mjcon at 8:25 PM on February 9, 2009

Best answer: Get some prewashed salad mix (dark greens are healthier, have more fiber) and some grape tomatoes, along with a light salad dressing/vinaigrette you like. I also like low-fat yogurt (vanilla) with walnuts and flaxseed, for the omega 3s and protein. You say you do this in the morning, but it's a good snack at other times, too. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and are likely to reduce heart disease, and it's been hypothesized they may reduce inflammation of the tissues in the brain, which may help fix the chemical aspects of depression. That's a bit far speculative at this point, but it's a good placebo.

Try to find a farmer's market nearby. They're often cheaper and have local produce, which is good for the environment and means that the produce was likely picked when it was riper. This means it should taste better and have more nutrients. Pick up whatever fruits and vegetables look good to you, and buy them in smallish amounts so they don't go bad and you don't get tired of them. This might take too much time, but it might be a neat thing to do on weekends. If it's winter where you are, your choices will likely be limited, but it'll add some novelty to healthy eating, so you'll be more apt to follow through.

I don't know if this helps, but I find I tend to feel better in terms of digestion when I drink coffee that comes from an espresso machine, aeropress, or french press. I believe it gets a higher amount of the soluble fiber out of the beans, which might help with your IBS.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:27 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you the kind of person who can eat dry cereal by hand? What about with little cups of applesauce on it? Pickles have kind of a kick, if you can keep a jar in the office fridge.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:27 PM on February 9, 2009

Be careful with granola and yogurt, a lot of it is loaded with sugar. Hummus and whole wheat pitas are a good and filling snack, so is a nice hearty whole wheat bread with peanut butter (non-hydrogenated of course). Also snacking on carrots and celery sticks is a good and guiltless pleasure (also good with hummus). As for dinner, I asked a question a while ago about good bulk vegan recipes that were easy to make. They are a lot of good and healthy suggestions in that thread. I remember hearing someone say once that it's okay to feel hungry, also keep that in mind.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:45 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to keep some frozen meals around for variety and health on the days when putting together your own healthful foods seems like too much effort, I would recommend the Kashi brand. They're more expensive than lean cuisine, but in my opinion much tastier and more filling, and definitely better for you.

The options I keep coming back to at my work are low-sodium canned soups (I like the Amy's brand) and my own veggie stir-fry sort of thing: I keep instant brown rice in my desk, which I can prepare in the office microwave (I also keep a measuring cup, since our kitchen doesn't have any). I have precooked grilled chicken strips (from the grocery store) in the freezer, or tofu in the fridge, for protein. I have frozen stir-fry or california blend or whatever frozen vegetables were cheap but chunky (I prefer broccoli and carrot coins to peas and corn for this, but YMMV). Everything gets heated in the microwave and combined, and then tossed with a smidge of soy sauce, caesar dressing, balsamic vinaigrette, or salsa for flavor. With the variety of sauces, this stays interesting indefinitely.
posted by vytae at 8:49 PM on February 9, 2009

I know you were wary of frozen food, but Trader Joe's frozen meals feel healthy and filling to me. Not at all like the Lean Cuisines. *Trader Joe's of Brooklyn, I love you*.
posted by sweetkid at 8:50 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find something hot is more satisfying when I'm hungry/snacking. Even drinking a hot beverage along with my snacks (lots of good choices above) helps my brain into thinking that I'm really eating dinner.
I think organic soups in a can are way tastier than dry soups that you add water to. So I open a can in the lunch room, + bowl, + microwave.
posted by sambiamb at 8:54 PM on February 9, 2009

Go for the Trader Joe's stuff, but DON'T get the Massaman curry bowls. They're the only TJ product I've ever not liked.

I drink a lot of lowfat milk as a snack to curb hunger, which might work for you, if you're into milk. (Bonus: The places where one would walk to get a snack, such as gas stations, almost always have milk, and it's generally the healthiest thing you can find there.)
posted by NoraReed at 8:58 PM on February 9, 2009

Best answer: Edamame!

All you need to do is boil it for a few minutes the night or nights before hand. Sprinkle some crushed salt on it and then just put it in a few small tupperware containers. It is served very well cold.

Easy, healthy & damn good
posted by Black_Umbrella at 9:07 PM on February 9, 2009

Yes, the vegetables and hummus program is good if you like that stuff.

I sure hope you're getting paid well for enduring this for two years.
posted by rhizome at 9:09 PM on February 9, 2009

Best answer: I've been where you are. You've got the right plan. The trick is to bring everything on Monday morning. Otherwise you get desperate when there's no food and you'll eat the crappy stuff. My thing was to make 1 big beautiful salad each day. You'll be stunned at how jealous your officemates are when their eating their third pizza of the week and you have a beautiful salad - On Monday do spinach, apples, chicken breast, pecans, and blue cheese. Tuesday sub strawberries, Wednesday swap out the fruity stuff and make a chicken Caesar.

Here is what I brought every week for months.

Breakfast -
Coach's Oats Oatmeal
Frozen berries from Costco

Snack -
1 bag sugar snap peas
1 bag of baby carrots

Dinner -
5 big grilled chicken breasts
2 bags for spinach or lettuce
1 small container of low fat blue cheese or feta
1 can mandarin oranges

Sweets -
90 Calorie Rice Krispie treats
Sugar free Hot Chocolate with marshmallows

Emergency supplies -
Jay Robb Protein Powder
Cans of turkey Chili
Nuts (pecans, walnuts, whatever)

Oh, and if you can send you print jobs to a printer on another floor. Those short walks up the steps will help keep your metabolism moving and will give you a second to clear your brain.
posted by 26.2 at 9:24 PM on February 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

Carnation Instant Breakfast will also fill you up if you're going with milk.
posted by sweetkid at 9:30 PM on February 9, 2009

Best answer: I have to do hours like this for a month or so a few times a year, so I feel your pain. I've never dealt with this as well as I would like, but there are some things that work for me.

General principle: it's hard to beat a mix of veggies, complex carb and lean protein for a healthy, filling meal. Some ways I like to do this when I don't have much time:

- Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread (Ezekiel bread freezes well for keeping at work, is super healthy and makes great sandwiches) with lots of lettuce, tomato, other veggies and light mayo or mustard.

- Caesar salad with grilled chicken. This is a good thing to get from the deli or a shmancy grocery store. Just make sure to get the dressing on the side.

- Trader Joe's has these frozen packets of brown rice that are so good. Zap one of those in the microwave, take half (each bag has 2 cups of rice), add whatever veggies you want (broccoli, peas, finely chopped bell peppers are good) and some pre-cooked meat or tofu, top with a premade sauce (teriyaki is good). Cook in the microwave again for a minute and eat. Not gourmet but can be tasty with the right combo of veggies/protein/sauce.

- The thing I ate for dinner almost every night for a month: Again, heat up some Trader Joes instant brown rice. Combine it in a bowl with canned black beans, some salsa and cooked chicken sausage/chorizo. Microwave again, top with sour cream or plain yogurt. This has no veggies, so you may want a salad on the side.

Oh, and as for the protein, you'll notice I say to add cooked protein. When I was living like this, I would regularly grill up a bunch of chicken breasts or sausages on a Foreman Grill to use over the course of a few days. I know you're tired of batch cooking, but I actually found this a lot easier and more useful than cooking, say, a huge stew. Because it takes less time and prep, and the results are a LOT more versatile. There are dozens of yummy things you can do with grilled chicken breasts.

And nth what others said about healthy snacks. My go-tos are almonds, apples and string cheese. Chopped up apples in plain yogurt are also surprisingly good.
posted by lunasol at 10:04 PM on February 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

I second the suggestion to do Oatmeal for breakfast, I have boxes of the Kashi brand instant oatmeal on my desk at work. They make a decent evening snack too. Try to go for a walk around the block after eating your meals at work. This is a manageable little chunk of exercise (and takes about the same amount of time as a smoke break), and it helps clear your head a bit, so you don't feel so trapped in the office.
posted by Joh at 10:08 PM on February 9, 2009

Get a jar of peanut butter (no sugar added), a knife, and then bring in some apples. This snack will fill you up and satisfy, yet is relatively healthy. The PB has real calories, but they tend to stick with you such that you don't crave more an hour or two later.
posted by caddis at 10:23 PM on February 9, 2009

Hard-boil a dozen eggs on Sunday, have two for breakfast every day the rest of the week.

Instant oatmeal packets.

Nthing veggies and hummus, I could live on this stuff, esp. carrots, sugar snap peas, and red/orange/yellow peppers. Hummus does have a fair amount of calories, so you don't want to go too overboard with it.

Single-serving cups of nonfat/lowfat yogurt -- blend in flaxseeds to make it extra-healthy.

Tub of lowfat cottage cheese with banana sliced on top.

You don't want to make it too easy to snack, these things are all either portion-constrained or a little too much of a PITA to eat all day.

Morningstar makes really awesome frozen meat analogues (hot dogs, hamburgers, chik'n strips) that are as good (better, IMO) than the real thing, really easy to zap in the microwave, with a substantially lower amount of fat (esp. saturated fat). We eat these frequently when we're too tired to cook.

I also like Amy's frozen meals, especially the Indian ones. I buy five every weekend and have one for lunch each day.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:39 PM on February 9, 2009

I also like Amy's frozen meals, especially the Indian ones.

Amy's foods are great but read the label carefully if you are looking for healthy food. Many are loaded with fat and sodium.
posted by caddis at 6:43 AM on February 10, 2009

Hummus and whole wheat pitas...

Read the labels carefully - they frequently are VERY fatty.
posted by GPF at 7:35 AM on February 10, 2009

I bring a packet of oats and a jar of honey to work, and use office provided milk to make a big bowl of porridge in the microwave every morning. Stir up half a mug of oats, half a mug of milk, and half a mug of water. Two minutes in the microwave, leave for as long as you can stand, reheat for a minute (keep an eye on it in this last minute case it goes volcanic).
posted by emilyw at 11:35 AM on February 10, 2009

I spend a lot of time at school each week, and while it isn't 70+ hours, it feels like it sometimes. My suggestions are:

Cheese that holds well at room temp, paired with crackers, or pretzels, or fruit, or a veggie. Cheese seems to make anything better. I've been carrying around the Baby Bell things, because they resist squishing and taste ok (not fabulous, but ok).

Peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat with a banana sliced in. The banana is the secret to this one. I sometimes drizzle honey in.

Baked pastas. I batch cook this once in a blue moon, and I wish I had the energy to do it more often.

Regarding batch cooking. Do you have any friends in similar circumstances? Because if so, you can make a party out of batch cooking, sort of. People can bring storage containers and the parts of a bigger dish with them, and you can throw them together and have some wine, snacks and board games while everything cooks. Then everyone goes home with stuff for the week, and you've thrown a party. It still takes the same amount of time, but you get a party and I find that in tough times like yours, the social interaction is so vital over time.
posted by bilabial at 3:47 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wait. You don't work at sony, do you? This sounds exactly like my problem and my schedule.

Frozen veggies and straight up deli meat are your friend. Long hours doing cognitively challenging work and simple carbohydrates don't mix.

Hit me up, I can talk for hours about this subject.
posted by milinar at 3:58 PM on February 10, 2009

Response by poster: These answers are fantastic, and very helpful!

I went to the local green grocer and picked up some veggies and fruit (not too much, I've learned that lesson the hard way -- just enough that I can eat what won't spoil). There, I found some Arrowhead Mills Instant Organic Oatmeal with Flax, cooked it in the microwave with some milk and added some blueberries -- and it was AWESOME. 100 million times better than the Quaker flavored instant crap you get in the grocery store.

Then I went to the regular grocery store and picked up a bunch of instant rice, frozen microwaveable veggies and some microwavable chicken and morningstar patties and the like. This is brilliant advice, I have no idea why I didn't think of it before.

Thank you for helping my life not suck quite so hard, mefi!
posted by pazazygeek at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by amycup at 10:26 AM on February 12, 2009

« Older Getting told to leave the U. S. by the government...   |   bored but not broke Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.