What Healthy Snacks Can I Bring to the Office?
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 and eat candy and chips. What can I nibble on that isn't unhealthy but doesn't require a kitchen to cook?
Dear Post-Lunch Muncher,
Finding something healthy to nosh in the late morning or mid-afternoon 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. Sure, you might find a healthy option in there somewhere, but you can do better for yourself with a little planning.
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
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'd have to be something hand-to-mouth that we could eat while we work, either at our desk, or something we can sneak off and eat in a matter of minutes before getting back to work. If that sounds like your job, consider easy, non-perishable snacks that are high in protein, vitamins, and fiber-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.
- Soup Packets: You have to be careful with these, since they can often contain a lot of sodium and processed crap, but in this case I'm referring specifically to miso soup packets you can find in just about any grocery store (or asian food store). Dump them into a cup, add hot water, and you have miso soup; a nutrient-rich meal for breakfast, lunch, or just a quick snack. 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, it'll taste even better.
- Low-sodium beef jerky: Choose your jerky wisely, friends-a lot of it is packed with sodium and other byproducts that you won't get if you buy real jerky from someone who makes it lovingly. Jerky is a protein powerhouse, and while it can be really high in sodium (which may or may not matter to you) a little goes a long way towards filling you up. Plus, it's perfectly portable.
- Oatmeal: Instant can often come with a lot of sugar you may not want, but it's definitely easy to prepare-just add hot water and stir. If you prefer to roll your own, grab some rolled oats, a little brown sugar (or none, if you prefer), a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg (or any other spices you like), some dried fruit, and toss it all in a baggie. Viola: DIY instant oatmeal
that you can take to work.
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. You can tack on some office staples like granola bars or canned soup, but like we mentioned, make sure to read the label and make sure you know what you're getting. If you're trying to cut out a lot of processed food, sneaky sources of sugar and sodium, or just overall eat a more balanced diet, keep an eye on the ingredients list of those canned soups and packaged snack bars.
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 yogurt and fruit, the satisfying hand-to-mouth action of dipping veggies in hummus, guacamole, or pesto, they're all great options for someone who's stuck at a desk or a workstation but also has time to eat (or can get away for a quick snack.) Here are a few fresh options that you can toss in a lunch bag that'll keep in a fridge, or in some cases, will keep in a storage locker as long as you get to them before the end of the day:
- Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is all the rage, but it's for good reason. Healthy fats, active cultures, tons of protein and nutrients-you really can't go wrong as long as you get the good stuff that doesn't pack in a ton of sugar. Add your own sweetness with some honey or fruit.
- Fresh or Dried Fruit: You know the drill here-apples, pears, bananas, grapes (frozen grapes make a great snack), asian pears (my favorite), 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 though, like raisins, figs, dates, or dried fruits that keep well over the long haul and are still naturally sweet.
- Fresh veggies: Another easy one, but a good one to remember. Baby carrots, celery sticks, snap peas, sliced bell peppers, they're all great and great for you. They're packed with vitamins and minerals, and tons of fiber. Stuffed olives also make a great, vitamin-packed snack (although they can be sodium packed too.) Like we mentioned, if you're a dipping fiend, pack a tupperware container of hummus, tzatziki, or guacamole to go with them and dip to your heart's content. If you like your veggies dried, go that route-all you need is a microwave for some quick kale chips
- Cottage cheese: If you have a fridge available, cottage cheese is another great option, just like yogurt. It's packed with protein, remarkably filling, and compliments other fresh fruit really well.
- Trail mix or granola: We're putting this in the fresh category because you'll be better off if you make your own here instead of buying something off the shelf. Sure, you can get trail mix, energy bars, or granola at the grocery store, but it's often packed with fillers and sugar you won't want in a mid-afternoon snack. Instead, it's easy to make your own cereal or granola
, and even easier to bake your own energy bars and take them to work. Customize them to suit your tastes, use your own ingredients, and enjoy them when you want.
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 any of them might require is a shared office fridge to keep everything cool until you get to eat them. 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 too. 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 donuts, you've got a dilemma on your hands. There's a time and place to treat yourself to a donut, make no mistake, but it shouldn't be an everyday thing.
Instead, go in with some other like-minded coworkers on a NatureBox or Graze subscription, both of which send healthy snacks right to your door (or in this case, your office!) That way you and your coworkers always have something healthy and nutritious to munch on, and you all get to split the cost. Bonus, if there's a snack in that box you don't like, odds are someone else will love it. Remember, willpower is a tricky, often limited thing-if you can shore it up with the help of others, do it.
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 you'll want a twinkie or a cookie, and when those times come, enjoy them-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 far better that's also better for you.
Have a question or suggestion for Ask Lifehacker? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org