Thursday, April 29, 2010

Eatin' Etiquette

We can't always have food from the Taipei airport, but lunch doesn't have to suck.

As you may remember from my cubicle survival kit, I keep quite the stash of food and drink options at my desk. Hey, when you're sitting or walking or meeting or typing or browsing for eight hours a day, you get sort of hungry. I eat frequently to keep my stomach from growling (distracting everyone in our row of cubicles) and also to keep my energy up for meetings.

Ideally, we'd all get to leave the office for a leisurely one-hour lunch break with a good friend or fun coworker. Realistically, that happens maybe a few times a week, due to time and money constraints (eating out adds up!). I've gone through stages of eating out a lot and bringing my lunch a lot; right now I'm in a period of brown-bagging.

But eating in the office is not the same as eating at home. Oh no. Messy things should be kept to a minimum and soup slurping stopped. I'm not a stickler for crunchy items (I love crunchy cereal, chips, crackers, and biscotti), some folks might find that a little grating as well. It probably helps that most of us at work have headphones to drown out ambient noise when we've got to concentrate.

As an experienced and frequent office eater, here are my tips for keeping your tummy happy while you work.

Snack time:
  • Keep a plate and/or bowl at your desk for snack time, and pour your snack out before you munch.  Eating out of the bag is messier and is harder for portion control.
  • Many people think they're hungry when they're actually dehydrated.  Make sure you're drinking enough water (or tea or juice).  Bring a reusable water bottle (bonus--they hold more than your typical disposable cup so less trips to the water cooler) and mug, and keep a nice variety of drinks on hand.  I drink 5-6 cups of tea a day, and switch around between the three or four varieties I keep in my cabinet (always green tea in the morning but different herbal teas later on).
  • This tip is fun--share!  Especially if your coworker hears you fumbling around for your grub, invite them to have a bite.  It's like kindergarten, you can make a new friend.  You may even be able to get them to start contributing to the snack pile, too.
  • If you know you have a long meeting and might get tired or hungry in the middle, plan a preemptive strike by noshing on a pick-me-up beforehand, like chocolate or nuts (I prefer trail-mix type snacks with both!).

Lunch time:
  • Prep facilities in most offices are minimal: a fridge, sink, and microwave. Use them strategically. While a frozen dinner or leftovers are easy (just nuke 'em), you can also try a hearty salad by packing your warm items (meat or other) separately and warming those up while you rinse some baby spinach in the sink (or prewash them at home and pack them in a baggie with some paper towels to soak up extra moisture).
  • Especially if your office has a sink, keep a plate, bowl, and mug at your desk.  Heck, why not a set of silverware, too?  Those cups, plates, forks, and spoons add up quickly, both in cost and environmental impact.  So maybe we don't feel the cost directly, but at least you'll be prepared if your company decides to cut those perks.
  • If you eat at your desk, you probably dispose of the trash at your desk. Which means your cube will smell like your lunch for the rest of the day. Consider this when planning your meal or take a stroll to the break room (or any other room) to dispose of your trash there, where it will mingle with everyone else's smelly lunches.
  • There are a variety of things you can keep at your desk without having a fridge. Healthy Choice has its Fresh Steamers, there's various types of instant noodles (nowadays even organic). And a tasty PB&J will keep the whole day at your desk (and you'll eat the evidence away, leaving no smell behind). Instant oatmeal or cereal or granola bars can also be a great pick me up mid-day when you're not super-hungry.
  • If you enjoy eating out but are watching your wallet, plan on eating out earlier in the week and save half of your meal away for the next day's lunch.  You don't even have to bring it home (but should probably label it in the fridge).
  • Alternately, if you want to maintain some flexibility in your lunch schedule, bring your lunch earlier in the week, and stash it in the work fridge.  That way if you end up with Monday lunch plans, you can eat the goodies on Tuesday, or any other time in the week when making it out of the office just isn't going to happen.

So there you have it, my advice to any fellow food-addicts (or even just dabblers). For some easy tips on how to bring your lunch more often, check out this article from All Recipes.

What tips do you have for keeping the munchies away or lunching at work? What's your favorite brown-bag lunch?


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  2. i always feel like you probably shouldn't bring food that too "ethnic" either. certain foods just don't smell that great to most people. if it's too pungent, maybe leave it at home.

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