Mindful snacks for a busy person
June 1, 2016 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I've started seeing a dietitian who has recommended a mindful approach to food and eating as part of my ongoing progress towards health. I'm a busy student and freelancer who is about 50/50 at home or rushing about town to uni, meetings, jobs and shows, but I love cooking: I'd really like to have some mindful snacks that I can have at home or carry in my bag on busy days. What do you recommend, Mefites? [Special snowflakes inside, produced and packed in Australia]

Snowflake business: I'm a PhD student, on campus about 1 day a week an hour's drive from home. I also freelance in theatre, so I work erratically, for odd hours, at odd times of the day and night. I also serve on a peer review awards panel for theatre, seeing three or more shows a week - which are in the evenings. If I'm not doing those things, though, I'm at my computer trying to write, which is totally sedentary.

I'm overweight, for what that's worth, and there are health factors that mean weight reduction is inevitable, but I'm looking for recipes not dieting advice. My weight loss is being managed by medical professionals, including an excellent and supportive exercise physiologist.

My dietitian has recommended changing my relationship to eating and food, eating less food more often, 4-6 small meals a day rather than 2-3 big ones. The difficulty is that I am on the move and at home a lot, so they need to be things I can take with me if needed. When I'm out, I may not necessarily have access to kitchen or microwave facilities, so that's going to be a factor. I live in inner-city Melbourne, in an area with loads of food diversity - supermarkets and bulk food stores from many different cultures, whole-foods and organic stores, greengrocers, delis - but I'm not looking for superfoods or paleo snacks.

I really enjoy cooking - it's one of the ways I relax - so I reckon I could cook some things that can keep in the fridge or the shelf and fit in my backpack when I'm out. What are your favourite on-the-go recipes, Metafilter?
posted by prismatic7 to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Mini quiches are really good for this. They're incredibly flexible, so just toss in whatever odd veggies you have into the mix.

Pies are really easy on the mess front, check out the recipes here. The mac and cheese muffin is certainly not something I would've come up with on my own.
posted by Trifling at 8:01 PM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Can we get more details? In my PhD program, it's common to bring a bif Tupperware filled with what you may rat at home. This was more like a typical job (we had a fridge). This spilled over into post doc and prof life (at least the ones I know), where people would bring their own food all kinds of places. That way you bring rice + bean + meat + spice thing you made to last four days. Also a Tupperware of easy veggies and a couple servings of fruit (bananas/oranges/apples pack super well). If you have a insulated carry pack this can last without a fridge through the day. But I bring my own food everywhere. Bonus: having a giant Tupperware with seven servings of meal forces you to eat mindfully. You can't eat all seven, because you would explode.
posted by Kalmya at 8:02 PM on June 1, 2016

I went through a stage of making homemade date/nut bars to take with me. They are pretty great. The basic recipe is to put just about equal parts dried fruit and nuts into a food processor, process until it's very fine, and then squish it into an oiled pan, and refrigerate until firm. You can then cut it into bars, wrap them, and take them with you. They soften up a bit out of the fridge, but not unmanageably. You can roll the mixture into balls if you prefer.

Lots of variations here. The apple pie, lemon pie, and gingerbread were my favourites.
posted by lollusc at 8:05 PM on June 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

A classic suggestion would be onigiri - rice balls with various fillings. They're good at room temperature and depending on the filling can be safe all day without refrigeration. They are also dense little satisfying carb bombs - two can be a small but complete meal - but they're pre-portioned so it's not like accidentally eating a whole bag of chips or a pizza. They keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

The recipe is just to cook any kind of short grain rice, form it into a rough ball, poke some filling in the center and cover over it with more rice, place salt on your palms and form the rice ball until nice and tight. Some people prefer to use a small cup or plastic wrap to help form the rice balls instead of their hands.

You can wrap them in any kind of leafy green thing or seaweed, or not. You can use brown rice or a combination. You can mix seasonings and little veggies into the rice before forming the balls. You can use little pieces of chicken or tuna, jam, miso paste, pickles, fresh vegetables, roasted nuts and seeds or any leftovers for the filling, or not have any filling at all. You can make them teeny tiny or the size of your palm. They can be any shape. The only rule is to use short grain rice so it sticks together. The internet is full of onigiri ideas and techniques.

I think if you invested in a really good thermos you would have a lot more options. You could keep soups and stews warm all day, and things like dips and spreads well-chilled. Soups are fun to cook and get creative with. Something like a vegetable minestrone would involve making your favorite base stock, par-cooking different beans, and then shopping for produce that changes seasonally for lots of variety. Then you'd prep your veg, warm your stock and beans, and simmer. A great excuse to learn how to work with many different vegetables.
posted by Mizu at 8:14 PM on June 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

One of my favourite meals lately, similar in terms of time/eating restrictions, has been almonds + dried apple, or mandarins (so good and in season right now) with a muesli or date bar of some sort. I've made those kinds of bars - easy if you have a good food processor - but I mostly buy them now. I am not a fan of onigiri but my kid and my partner both really like them. My kid also likes tamagoyaki - very thin rolled omelette flavoured with soy (and sometimes sugar). It's a protein boost and easy to eat, travels well, goes with bunches of other things. I keep almonds and dried apple in my desk.

Oat bars are really nice as well, I prefer them. It's usually oats + nuts + binding agent. I've had a lovely peanut butter ball as well, which worked brilliantly too. Crackers and cheese is a lot more portable and lasts much longer than you'd expect as well. Rice paper rolls are good, a little less portable though. Pikelets with flavoured cream cheese is good too.

I highly recommend hitting a Daiso for some little bento boxes, or Ikea for their glass lunchbox range. I find most tupperware and adult stuff WAY too big - both for packing what I will eat, and for fitting in my bag - but kid's stuff is great. Bento boxes in general are good for portion control. Bonus cuteness too. The Ikea small glass containers with plastic lids are a perfect lunch size for me on days I am in the office.

I have a neat little thermos from Aldi so I take a cuppa (black tea with milk, green tea, herbal) with me when I can, it's a really nice way to get settled into the process of eating even when it is only a date bar and a mandarin. Makes it more 'meal' than just a snack I eat while I wander around. A thin soup and crackers/bread roll would work as well.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:36 PM on June 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Kalmya, I'm in a small department with very few dedicated facilities for its students (there's a kettle in the staff room, a four-seat hotdesk office, and no food storage) and on the day I'm on campus for a seminar and a writing group, I'm not in that building anyway. So anything I bring with me has to be for one day only.

If I'm rehearsing a show, the rehearsal venue or the theatre might have a kitchen, but generally nothing can be left overnight.

Mizu, I'm generally carrying a laptop, headphones, MIDI controller and portable hard drive in my backpack so I'm a bit leery of hot liquid, but I have some thermos options...
posted by prismatic7 at 8:37 PM on June 1, 2016

Congratulations on your journey towards wellness! I'm in Australia too, and eat mindfully for similar reasons. My go-to snacks are snack bags that I make up in batches of 10 or so every couple of weeks from dried fruit, nuts, and Babybel cheese. This week I have walnuts, cranberries, and Babybel. Other fruit/nut combos I've liked have been dried pear with almonds and dried figs/cashews. I've tried a few different dairy/protein options but come back to Babybel because it lasts for ever, is exactly the right size to satisfy me and, hey, I like the red wax.

Other on the go snack things I've tried at various times: Carman's nut bars (high protein, minimally processed); Mainland Cheese ''Tasty on the go' packs of pre-cut cheese and crackers; those Hans Striker things; Always Fresh sweet and sour whole cucumbers, taken out of the jar and re-packed for travel/work in double-bagged ziploc baggies; and 5am Organic Yoghurt in the small tubs.

Slightly more hassle, but still pretty easy: Ryvita and peanut butter, or almond butter, wrapped in lunch paper, then put in a ziploc baggie; a banana; boiled egg in a tiny tupperware, sliced in half, spread with a dab of mayo, salt, pepper, then two halves put back together in its box for travel; carrot or cucumber sticks with fresh dip from farmers markets; ziploc baggies of grapes, taken off the stem, or really ripe cherry tomatoes; those really thin flatbread wraps spread with peanut butter and honey, rolled up and wrapped in lunch paper and in a ziploc baggie.

(I do use heaps of plastic bags, but I'm sure there are more environmentally friendly options, or you can always re-use them.)
posted by t0astie at 11:37 PM on June 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I was finishing my PhD, I got into the habit of making and freezing "spanakopitas". I would use phyllo pastry to wrap little bundles of cooked spinach, rice, beans and feta. I also had a roasted red pepper version. It was part of an effort to include more vegetables.

My favorite was:

Saute together until spinach is tender:
Lots of spinach (State side = a bag of spinach)
1 table spoon Oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Press the water out of the spinach
Add feta cheese (to taste or diet specification)

Form the spanakopitas. I like making them into triangles as I found it easier to carry and eat. Basically, take a strip of phyllo pastry, spread some olive oil on, place another layer on top. Place filling towards one end of the strips and start rolling by folding into triangles.

Here's a different, likely more authentic recipe (yum dill!) where you can see the cook form the triangles. I usually have a higher spinach to feta ratio than she does and I always use olive oil to form the spanakopitas.

Cook in the 400F oven for 7-8 minutes, until top of pastry is gold. Flip, cook a 5-6 minutes more.

These freeze easily. You can also add rice, replace the feta with black olives. I even added black beans at one point for extra protein and fiber. Basically, you can make them pack as much nutrients as you want.
posted by Milau at 3:04 AM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Zip lock bags with carrot or celery sticks, cheese sticks, whole grain corn thins, rye ryvitas. The cold food section in the supermarkets have great squeezie yoghurts (chobani is a high protein brand). Boiled eggs, Brazil nuts & dried apricots. Loving mandarins at the moment too in season and apples are good at curbing hunger!
posted by Under the Sea at 5:54 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have Crohn's disease, and I've learned through years of dietary trial and error that avoiding as much (refined/added) oil/fat as possible is the best way to avoid flare ups. As a consequence, I've had to virtually abandon all convenience food, because it's almost all based on the idea that oily things taste great. The neat side effect here is that it's helped me become a mindful eater--if nothing convenient and prepared is available, well, I've got to make almost everything I eat. Making it is a step more mindful than buying it.

One of the first snack revelations I can remember was discovering baked, crunchy, deliciously seasoned chickpeas. Most recipes call for as much oil or butter as they do chickpeas, but it's completely non-essential. I absolutely love these things, and they're very portable, measurable, portionable.

There are a couple of recipe variations here, along with a couple other ideas in the same style.

Another small suggestion to put into your mindful eating toolkit: if you can ever replace using a blender or machine with something manual like a mortar and pestle, give it a go. Investing physical energy and time in food preparation anecdotally increases my willingness to eat more mindfully (there are some whiffs of this in the public health literature, but it's not the strongest evidence). I know it's not a recipe, but something I think about during my cooking routine.

And congratulations on having an exercise physiologist--what a helpful expert to have at your side!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:57 AM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm very busy at work and can't eat in my office for Reasons. I use the bento box approach. I fill it with raw veggies with a packet of ranch that I ordered from Amazon, maybe 50 count? I fill the next one with fruit, the next larger one with a protein- boiled egg, baked tofu, chicken strips. Then almonds or other nuts and a bit of cheese. I peck on this for hours.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

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