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This is the first post in a series of posts I’m working on for everyone who has requested that I share my tips on packing food for a long work day. 

As some one who (a) has 12 hour shifts and (b) has fairly high standards for what I put in my body, it’s easier for me to pack my own meals. 

The obstacles for such a feat include: access to a fridge, storage space for ‘yo extra stash, and anticipating cravings.

I’ll address packing my daily eats in a future post.  For now, I’m going to share what I keep stored in my locker.  There are several things I keep on hand at all times and that’s because I’m a former girl scout unwilling to resort to sub-par processed food options. 

The things I’m going to list are my personal faves.  I have a locker that I can keep most of these in, but as I eat things, I sub new items in.  Either way, I make sure my stash is always loaded with choices.  Salty, sweet, quick, just-add-water, chewy, crunchy, whatever.  For those of you who have desk jobs, you can just as easily devote one of your drawers to the following. 

Bars

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No, I don’t keep that entire box at work.  That’s part of my home supply. 

1.  Options with chocolate/peanut butter/nuts for dessert-like cravings. 

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They are healthier than a candy bar and do the trick if I’m in the mood for a treat. 

My favorites include:

  • Larabar (chocolate chip brownie, peanut butter chocolate chip, peanut butter cookie, cashew cookie, etc.)
  • ProBar Halo (s’mores, rocky road, nutty marshmallow, honey graham)
  • Clif bar (peanut toffee buzz, coconut chocolate chip, and the seasonal flavor iced gingerbread)
  • MoJo bar (peanut butter pretzel, dipped chocolate peanut)
  • Z bar (chocolate chip, chocolate brownie, honey graham)
  • Odwalla bar (choco-walla, dark chocolate chip walnut, mocha-walla, chocolate peanut butter)

There are many many others, but those are my top picks.  Costco sells great flavors of Clif bars and Z bars in bulk. 

2. Options with fruit and/or berry flavors for when I’m wanting a non-dessert-like bar.  

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Some of the best in this area are:

Corazona’s oatmeal squares (apple cinnamon, cranberry flax)

KIND bars (blueberry pecan, cranberry almond, apple cinnamon and pecan)

Odwalla bars (berries-go-mega, strawberry pomegranate, blueberry swirl, superfood, super protein)

Mrs. May’s bars (blueberry, cranberry, strawberry & tropical Trio bars) – also available in bulk from Costco

Clif bar (blueberry crisp, spiced pumpkin pie)

Larabar (blueberry muffin, coconut cream pie)

This list of bars is by no means exclusive, because I pick up new ones to try at random all the time.  At any given point in time I will have 3-5 bars in my locker.  I keep the ratio pretty much 50/50 between the chocolate category and the fruity category.  While some of these bars are processed more than others, they are still generally healthier choices than what you’d find in a vending machine.  And on night shift, there’s nowhere else to turn.  So there’s lesson one: stay stocked in the bars department.

Drink Mixes

These are helpful when you aren’t necessarily hungry, but you also need something to keep you going.  For me, this is often on night shift. 

And the best thing about drink mixes is that they take up little to no space.  Also, they don’t go bad, so you can keep them on hand indefinitely.

1.  Green mixes

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If you are die hard, Amazing Grass makes plain wheat grass and green mixes.  If you are into the more (ahem) flavorful options, I’m right there with ya.

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I adore Amazing Grass’ chocolate and orange creamsicle green superfood drink powder packets.

Seriously, these are SO good.  Just add water or milk and you’re instantly ready for the rest of the work day!  Patient in four-point restraints?  Bring it on!  [Ok, nothing makes me that amped]

2.  Emergen-C

I like nearly every flavor, but I usually get the pink lemonade because a portion of the proceeds goes to breast cancer research.  The fizz gives me an instant boost (and some mega Vitamin C too).

3.  VIA packets/tea bags

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Hospitals should have coffee available for their staff 24/7 if they want what’s best for patients.  Obviously, I bring my own java to work…but let’s be real, I have way more than one mug-full of caffeine over the course of a 12 hour shift.  Our cafeteria serves Starbucks coffee, but I can’t exactly leave the unit for a refill.  Plus, it closes at 10 pm, which doesn’t help me at all on night shift.  If you are lucky enough to work in a place that has a coffee maker in the break room, props to you.  We do, but it’s not good.  For these reasons, I rely on Starbucks’ VIA packets and the likes.  Instant coffee isn’t as good as the real deal, but it’s ok in a pinch.

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As for teas, I have many favorites.  I guzzle tea (way more than I guzzle coffee) so I go through my supply crazy fast (and am therefore constantly replenishing it).  I’m planning to write a detailed post on my favorite teas later, so for now, I’ll just say that I have a wide variety of tea bags in my stash.  Decaf, semi-caf, mega-caf, etc.  Tazo, Yogi, and Numi are my go-to brands.  Flavor-wise I love me some chai. 

4.  Protein powder

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I use these far less often that the previously mentioned drink mixes, but they are still good to have on standby.  Vega’s vanilla chai mix is the best.  Obviously it’s preferable to use it in a smoothie (blended with spinach, banana, and almond milk), but what can you do?  It’s still grrrreat when shaken not stirred into water, milk, yogurt or oats.

Packaged

1. Oatmeal mixes

DIY baggies of oats are simple enough to make – just throw oats in a ziplock bag and add in whatever extras you enjoy (dried fruit, nuts, stevia, brown sugar, cinnamon, etc.).  Then, when you are out of food and thinking you’re screwed because there’s nothing in the vending machine but Snickers and Lay’s, you’ll remember you have oats in your locker.  Pour into a cup, add hot water, and voila! 

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If you have enough room, you can always store Dr. McDougall’s hot cereal cups.  They have great flavors and they are pure, wholesome, and really yummy.  But if you’re lacking in space, the DIY baggies are way more practical.

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Three Sisters Cereal makes instant flavored oats too (plain grain, dark chocolate, cinnamon & apples, brown sugar & maple) that have nothing but pure, quality ingredients.  They are cleverly crafted to function as a measuring cup for the water too, but I already know how much water to add to my oats.  This brand is only sold at WF. 

In any event, having something healthy and hearty like oatmeal as a back-up is definitely a must.  Plus, if I ever feel crummy and/or my packed eats aren’t doing it for me, oatmeal is one thing my stomach can always handle and never gets tired of.

2.  Snacks

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Kaia foods has stellar products that defy the laws of packaged eats.  I love their raw granola and nut/seed mixes (they are usually in the raw section of the grocery store). 

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Love Grown Foods (among other companies) makes individual packets of items like granola, but don’t worry if you can’t find these in stores.  I get samples from companies, so I often bring them to work because the size is perfect.  But I also portion out cereal and granola into ziplock bags (just like I do with oatmeal) to keep on hand.  This is a more green (aka hippie-friendly) approach to food storage anyway and it’s generally cheaper than buying mini-servings of products.  Just remember to bring home the plastic bags to reuse once you’ve eaten their contents.  

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Annie’s Home Grown sells mini-snack packs too.  I don’t eat these frequently but I have some of the Bunny Fruit Snacks in my locker for no reason other than emergency purposes. 

3.  Nuts/trail mix

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Costco sells lunchbox friendly packets of both nuts and trail mix, which Kyle brings to school every day.  Even though, I also pack nuts in my lunches, I keep a backup plastic bag of nuts in my locker…just in case. 

Same goes with trail mixes.  DIY nut/fruit/cereal mixes are one of the most basic snacks and they are also what I turn to first.  For reals.  I go through home-made batches quicker than Gaga goes through hair dye. 

Here’s my #1 mix:

  • almonds
  • carob chips
  • dried cranberries
  • raisins
  • cereal (two kinds- ie cheerios, honey grahams)

4.  Dried fruit

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This is another simple snack that has a long shelf life.  I don’t keep the entire bag in my locker – just enough to get some fruit in my system when I’m running on empty.  It’s definitely a more healthy option for when I’m scrounging. 

5.  Nut butters

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My locker is small, so I don’t have room for an entire jar.  Thus, squeeze packets are my next best option.  In terms of storage, these are real estate gold.  They are tiny in size, but super nutrient dense.  Artisana, Justin’s, and Sunbutter all make a variety of nutbutter flavors in squeeze pack form.

Add to oats or on top of rice cakes, crackers, pitas, tortillas, whatever.

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I guess there’s nothing wrong with a straight shot of PB to the mouth either.

Just remember that variety is key, as is having healthy (but satisfying) options.  And you have to be realistic.  Bringing in a pound of carrots is neither practical nor pragmatic.  I try to anticipate my cravings, and rather than nip them in the bud, I honor them, but with a more wholesome food choice than whatever I would turn to without my back-up supply. 

So there you have it!  Locker loading 101 – lesson complete. 

Go collect these goodies to stash in your work space and you’ll never resort to crappy food again.  Questions?  Ask away. 

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Coming up next…power lunches!  Fresh fare to keep your appetite at bay the healthy way. 

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