How to eat healthy while working from home

Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic means distractions like water coolers and small talk are in the rearview mirror, but in the era of social distancing, one major work-from-home distraction remains: the refrigerator.

Have a deadline? Sure, but first, you should probably check on last night’s leftovers — just for a quick little bite. Starting a project? You’ll need brain food, obviously. Of course, you’ve already had breakfast (and lunch — and snacks). 

Food can be a remote worker’s worst enemy, and sometimes the efficiency of working from home leads to people straight-up forgetting to eat at all.

Since overeating and undereating aren’t sustainable habits, we talked with veteran remote workers about their tried-and-true strategies for eating healthily while working from home.  

RELATED: Take a look at these common foods you may be eating wrong: 

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14 foods you could be eating wrong
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14 foods you could be eating wrong

Soup

If you think about it, the way most of us eat soup is just a recipe for dribbles. The proper way to do it is to place the spoon in the bowl at the far side of the bowl with the bowl of the spoon facing you, scoop the spoon toward you, bring it to your mouth and sip (not slurp). If the soup is served in a cup with handles, you may bring it to your lips like a two-handled tea-cup. Give this a try with one of these classic recipes.

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Ribs

Don’t worry—you don’t need to use a fork. Fingers are perfectly acceptable for eating ribs, just be sure to hold them by their bony edge and to take smaller bites. Make sure you’ve got a napkin close by to keep the mess under control, but know that there will be at least somewhat of a mess. It’s simply inevitable. Make sure you don't believe these food myths that are wildly untrue.

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Shrimp cocktail

Shrimp cocktail can make any meal feel kind of fancy, and yet two general rules go out the window when partaking. The first is the rule against double-dipping. The shrimp cocktail sauce on your plate is yours to double dip, so dip away! The second is the rule against not cutting your food; but when shrimp is served upright, it is almost impossible to cut with a knife, so it’s OK to spear it with a fork and eat it one bite at a time.

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Artichokes

Artichokes can seem intimidating—even the California Artichoke Board admits this. Using your hands, pull off a petal, dip it into the accompanying sauce, and pull through your teeth to remove the soft pulp. Place what remains of the petal to the side of your plate—don’t eat it all! Continue until all petals have been removed. Spoon out the fuzzy center and place to the side of your plate. Cut what remains (the heart) into small pieces with a knife and fork.

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New York-style pizza

When it comes to New York-style pizza (as opposed to Chicago deep-dish), eating it with your hands is the only acceptable method of food delivery, particularly if you’re in New York. You don’t have to fold it in half, but if there are lots of gooey toppings or some danger that the toppings may topple as you lift the slice, then please go ahead and fold that slice.

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Eclairs

An eclair may look like finger food, but it’s not. It should be eaten with a knife and fork, according to Etiquette Scholar. Be gentle so the filling doesn’t squirt everywhere. If you’re so inclined, make eclairs at home! (We won’t tell if you eat them with your hands in the privacy of your own home).

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Soft-boiled eggs

When a soft-cooked (soft-boiled) egg is served in an eggcup, the pointed end should be in the cup, and you should crack the shell with a knife in a swift horizontal movement. Then lift the shell using the tip of your knife and place it alongside the plate. Dip your spoon into the egg and sprinkle seasonings (like salt and pepper) over each individual spoonful. Here’s your how-to-cook-an-egg-perfectly guide.

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Cupcakes

While it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a cupcake exactly as it’s served, some find it a bit cumbersome to bite right into a mound of frosting. For when you’re seated a table, it’s perfectly acceptable to slice it in half horizontally and turn the icing upside down to create a mini layer-cake cupcake-eating-experience.

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Chinese takeout

The takeout containers are meant to be your plates! Break down the containers right around your food and eat with chopsticks. Cleanup will be minimal, and isn’t that one of the main benefits of doing takeout? If you want to make your own Chinese home-cooking, then check these Chinese takeout fakeout recipes.

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Sushi

There are a handful of rules when you’re eating sushi and all its accompaniments. First, you can eat it in one bite. Some sushi—nigiri, where a slice of fish is placed on a mound of rice—should be eaten, fish side down, with your fingers. But do use chopsticks for sashimi.

Other notes: The pickled ginger doesn’t go on top of your sushi. This is meant to be a palate cleanser to eat between bites. Also, if you’re a fan of soy sauce, dip your sushi on the fish side (not the rice). Don't miss these other foods you've probably been eating wrong this whole time.

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Peas

Some say that mushing peas is far preferable to chasing these little babies around your plate. Etiquette experts say “no” to that. Instead, use your knife to pile them onto your fork, held tines-up, or use the tines of your fork to spear a few peas at a time. Watch out for these kitchen mistakes you're probably making.

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Burgers

If it’s served on a bun and wrapped in some kind of wrapping (foil or parchment or the like), then eat it whole, with your fingers. If it’s served unwrapped but on a bun, you may feel free to slice it in half vertically, but don’t feel obligated. Only if it’s served without a bun should you eat it with a knife and fork. Check out these brilliant burger recipes.

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Strawberries

If they’re served whole, then feel free to use your fingers. Eat up to the stem and discard. If the strawberries are sliced, or served with any sauce or cream, then eat with a fork or spoon. Now that you know how to eat everything from artichokes to strawberries, learn which cooking mistakes you should avoid.

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Stick To A Schedule

Successful freelancers swear by routines — washing your face, putting on real clothes and setting smartphone boundaries — and those recommendations extend to eating. Nutritional therapist and longtime work-from-homerWilma MacDonald told HuffPost that snacking here and there is the biggest mistake she sees new remote workers make. She recommends setting up your day like any regular working day, with a lunch break, a few smaller breaks and a focus on the most important meal: breakfast.

“Eat breakfast away from your desk before you start work,” MacDonald said. “Think of something like warm oats with nut butter and fruit, or avocado and eggs on toast. Protein-rich breakfasts keep you full and keep your sugar levels balanced so you’re not looking for a snack in an hour.”

Try not to eat within reach of your desk while working remotely. It's important to take mental breaks and unplug.

Lucille Whiting, founder of jewelry brandSophia Alexander, has juggled working from home with five kids for the past 14 years. She recognizes schedules are a bit crazy, but finds following the needs of her children works best. “I try to eat when the children are eating, so breakfast with my toddler, lunch together before his afternoon nap and dinner all together in the evening,” she told HuffPost. “I buy or make cakes and biscuits for the children after mealtimes, but often make just enough for them to help me avoid temptation.”

When You Can, Eat Away From Your Desk

It’s easy to think eating breakfast or lunch at your desk could help you end the day early, but work-from-home veterans know it rarely works this way. There’s always something more to do, and your focus dwindles without dedicated breaks. That’s why MacDonald suggests eating all meals away from not just your desk, but your tech.

Whiting agrees — she institutes a no-tech at dinnertime rule — but she will work through lunch when her kids are occupied. For her, parenting while working from home is all about being flexible. “Having a total break from work helps clear my mind, but if I’m on my own when the children are sleeping or out, I almost always eat lunch at my desk,” she said. “There’s always the temptation to keep working and get as much done as possible. Having the children around gives my day a healthy structure.”

Set Caffeine Boundaries And Increase Hydration

Those new to the work-from-home lifestyle are often astounded by how much coffee they drink. If you brew a pot, you don’t want to waste any, and you end up drinking way more than you ever would at work. Surprisingly, this isn’t the worst thing you could do for your health. The FDA says 400 milligrams (the equivalent of four to five cups of coffee) is typically safe, depending on the person. The important thing is timing. 

“If you drink caffeine, have your coffee between 9 and 11 a.m.,” MacDonald said. “This is the best time to have caffeine so that it doesn’t interrupt your natural sleep and wake cycle by triggering a release of adrenaline and setting you up for a crash in an hour.”

Try not to drink coffee after 11 a.m., to avoid disturbing your sleep cycle.

Coffee gets people out of bed in the morning, but the same can’t be said for water. A 2016 report by theCDC showed most American adults between 20 to 60 years old drink barely enough water, while adults over age 60 drink less than recommended. In addition to hydration benefits, MacDonald says water can help people feel full, because thirst is often mistaken for hunger.

Whiting’s go-to hydration trick is to make water easily accessible. “I keep a pint glass of water on the worktop at all times,” she said. “The glass sitting there acts as a reminder, and it helps me avoid unnecessary snacking when I’m not really hungry.”

Keep Healthy Snacks Ready

You don’t want to overdo it with snacking, but you also don’t want to starve yourself. That’s why MacDonald recommends taking personal inventory prior to hitting the refrigerator. “Before you head to the snacks, check in with yourself,” she said. “Are you eating because you’re hungry or because you’re bored, stressed, annoyed or lonely? We eat our emotions from time to time. Feel those feelings — especially now — then have a drink of water.”

When it is hunger, not procrastination or emotions, MacDonald leans on go-to snacks like chopped carrots, pepper, celery with hummus, or stuffed dates with nut butter. “Smoothies are also good to have because they’re hydrating and you’re getting a boost of goodness,” she said. “Start with a base of a green vegetable, add fruit, some protein like chia seeds or protein powder, and some fat like nut butter.”

Whiting says fruit is her favorite snack, and it’s something her children can enjoy, too. “I have loads of apples and pears around, which is easy with small children,” she said. “I buy a lot so they have healthy things to snack on, and I buy extra for whenever I get hungry between meals.”

But sometimes, snacking isn’t the answer.Judy Bartkowiak, author and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) trainer and 30-year work-from-home veteran, sticks to a disciplined, no-snack approach. “I eat a big healthy breakfast, and stick to eating three times a day,” she told HuffPost. “That way, I don’t even think of going to the fridge during the work day except to get something at lunchtime.”

Keep A Food Journal

Nutrition is highly personal, and what works for one person may not work for another. That’s why MacDonald recommends journaling during your first few weeks working at home. “Keep track of how you’re feeling over the course of the day energy-wise, and keep a food diary to see any patterns emerging,” she said.

At the same time, self-isolation due to a pandemic is different than casually working from home. It’s all about adapting to these emotional weeks and months, and taking life in stride. 

“You might find yourself eating everything at first, then you realize how sluggish it makes you feel,” she said. “It takes a while to find your groove, and these are weird times. As people adapt to working from home, they need to give themselves grace.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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