Dear Lifehacker, Like most people, I get hungry sometimes between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and quitting time. I don't want to starve myself, but I also don't want to just hit the vending machine. What can I nibble on that isn't unhealthy but doesn't require a kitchen to cook? Sincerely, Post-Lunch Muncher
Dear Post-Lunch Muncher,
Finding something healthy to nibble on between meals can be tricky. It's easy to reach for a couple of bucks and hit the vending machine, but doing so would inevitably lead you down the path to salty, sugary, processed, crappy food.
Of course, most of us don't have a full kitchen at work to use. At most, you might have a place to stash some food along with the rest of your office supplies, a fridge you share with everyone else, and maybe a microwave. We discuss some specific snack substitutions in our guide to rebooting your diet, but most of us don't have the luxury of a pantry at the office that's full of food. With that in mind, here's how you can snack healthily anywhere, anytime.
Stock Up on Healthy, Easy-Prep or Non-Perishable Snacks
Most of us are stuck at a desk or workstation for the bulk of the day, so even if we wanted to grab a snack, it would have to be something hand-to-mouth that we could eat while we work. If that sounds like your job, consider easy, non-perishable snacks that are high in protein, vitamins and fibre — you know, the good stuff that will give your body the energy it needs to keep going through the rest of the day, in a form that digests slowly enough that you won't get hungry and overeat at lunch or dinner time. A couple of examples:
- Nuts: High in good fats and protein, mixed nuts are almost always a good option (when eaten in moderation, of course). Go unsalted and un-roasted if you're a purist and want the best possible benefit, but there's something about roasted, salted nuts that's just delicious no matter what time it is.
- Popcorn: Even if you don't have a microwave at the office (and honestly, even if you do) popcorn can make for a great, healthy snack. Air-popped is best, but we won't be picky. Pop in advance and toss in a baggie or tupperware container and take it to the office in your lunch bag. Then you can season it the way you like, and won't torture everyone with the smell of popping (or burning) popcorn from the office microwave.
- Packet Soups: You have to be careful with these, since they can often contain a lot of sodium . We're particularly keen on instant miso soup, which you can find in just about any supermarket. Dump the packet into a cup, add hot water, and you have miso soup. Best of all, all you need is hot water and a cup or bowl. If you can find miso paste (which requires refrigeration), go that route, because it will taste even better.
- Porridge: Porridge is brilliant and easy to prepare — a great choice for office breakfasts or quick snacks.
So far, none of the snacks we've mentioned here require a fridge to enjoy. All you'll need is a hot water tap or a microwave to warm up some water, and they're all pretty good for you.
Go Fresh Whenever You Have the Option
If you do have a fridge, there's no substitute for going fresh. Fresh fruits and vegetables, greek yoghurt and fruit, the satisfying hand-to-mouth action of dipping veggies in hummus, guacamole or pesto — they're all great options for someone stuck at a desk. Here are a few fresh options that you can toss in a lunch bag that will keep in a fridge:
- Greek Yoghurt: Greek yoghurt is all the rage for good reason. Healthy fats, active cultures, lots of protein and nutrients — you really can't go wrong, as long as you get the good stuff that doesn't pack in a lot of sugar. Add your own sweetness if you wish with some honey or fruit so you can control the amount.
- Fresh or Dried Fruit: You know the drill here — apples, pears, bananas, grapes (frozen grapes make a great snack), asian pears (my favourite), are all easy to transport and keep well in a fridge (or in a lunch bag in your desk) over the course of the day. If you don't like getting messy while you eat, slice them up in advance and give them a quick honey-water bath to keep them from browning too soon. Don't forget shelf-stable fruits such as raisins, figs, dates or other naturally sweet dried fruits that keep well over the long haul.
- Fresh veggies: Baby carrots, celery sticks, snap peas and sliced capsicums are great options. They're packed with vitamins, minerals and lots of fibre. Stuffed olives also make a great, vitamin-packed snack (although they can be sodium-packed too). If you're a dipping fiend, pack a plastic container with hummus, tzatziki or guacamole and dip to your heart's content. If you like your veggies dried, go that route — all you need is a microwave for quick kale chips.
- Cottage cheese: If you have a fridge available, cottage cheese is another great option. It's packed with protein, it's remarkably filling, and it complements other fresh fruit.
These are just a few semi-shelf-stable snacks you can take to the office. You won't need a lot of storage space for any of them, and the most they might require is a shared office fridge. Just make sure to label your goodies so someone else doesn't get to them first!
Get Others at Work In On the Deal
Finally, if you want to really get into snacking healthy at the office, consider getting your coworkers in on the deal. After all, if you have all the best intentions and bring in fresh fruits and veggies every day, but one of your coworkers shows up with a box of doughnuts, you have a dilemma on your hands. There's a time and place to treat yourself to a doughnut, make no mistake, but it shouldn't be an everyday thing. Organise a group buying arrangement where you take turns bringing in snacks instead.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help and give you some tasty snacking options that won't wreck your healthy eating plans. Keep in mind that sometimes you'll want chips or a pie, and that's OK. Keeping those things as treats to be enjoyed in moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle. When you can sub the unhealthy snacks out for healthier ones though, definitely do it — you never know, you may fall in love with something that's also much better for you.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.