The Freelancer’s Guide to Eating

Trends and Tools | Feb 26, 2016

by Cynthia Spring    

I’m new to freelancing. After recently completing a full-time contract in academic publishing, I decided I would give freelancing a try. Things are going fairly well: I’ve started to pick up some proofreading and editing projects, and I’m trying to make the most of my flexible schedule and working in different public workspaces and cafes. But at the top of my list of things to sort out, along with finances and finding more work, is how to manage eating food as a freelancer.

When I worked in an office, planning my meals in advance felt easy. I’d make my lunch in the morning or pack leftovers from the night before. My eating schedule was fairly regimented: every day I ate my lunch at 12:15 pm, had a snack around 3:00 pm, and I’d make dinner once I got home. Now that I’m left to my own devices, I often find that I’m suddenly starving in a public workspace wondering where I could get something to eat besides a muffin, or staring into the fridge wondering what I can eat in the ten-minute break that my tomato timer has allotted me. So I polled some fellow young freelancers to see how they try (and sometimes fail) to eat well in a way that feels good to them while working inconsistent schedules. Overall, everyone I spoke to expressed that it’s a struggle, but they’ve developed some great strategies to avoid hanger, low energy, or post-big-giant-meal fatigue. Here are some of their tips.

Drink water

Water isn’t food, but everyone I talk to says hydration is key to feeling good while working. Whether you are working in a coffee shop or at your kitchen table, it’s easy to forget to drink water. Sometimes I even avoid drinking water in public spaces because I don’t want to take too many bathroom breaks, which requires I ask someone to watch my laptop. Bring a friend or just get over it and ask! Drinking water and feeling good is so much more important.

Acknowledge that work requires you to eat

A good way to think about eating while freelancing, I’ve been told, is to think of it as fuel for your work, not just an afterthought. When your pay is contingent on getting the job done in a set number of hours, it’s easy to put work goals before eating goals. I cannot think of one day I skipped lunch while working in an office, but I’ve done so more than a handful of times in my short time freelancing.

We all know we won’t be happy workers if we are eating foods that don’t make our bodies feel good, and we certainly won’t be able to focus if we are hungry. I’ve been experimenting; I’m trying to figure out what eating habits feel best for my body and brain, whether that’s eating snacks every two hours, or planning to have three square meals a day. I’ve heard it’s wise avoid foods like onions or garlic that linger on tastebuds, and to allow yourself to eat only your favourite things to get through a difficult day. The one piece of advice that has been passed on to me repeatedly (and which I endorse) is to find the foods that make you feel good while working and encourage yourself to eat them; acknowledge your successes and failures with the same empathy and kindness you would offer to a friend.

Figure out your sugar

When I’m feeling hungry and burnt out because if I skipped a mid-day meal or collection of snacks, I often go for quick fix, usually something high in sugar cheaply available in whatever cafe or workspace I find myself in. This results in two things: a sugar low and/or the inability to focus (or worse, if it’s a bit later in the day, the inability to sleep!). I’m finding that eating things that have more substance—like nuts or yogurt or cheese—alongside these sugary things allows my body to break things down more slowly and my energy to last longer. Chocolate doesn’t ruin my day when it isn’t the only thing I’ve eaten in hours! But when you are out and about, these substantial foods are more expensive and harder to find, which leads me to the next tip:

Prepare snacks!

I find that when I’m leaving the house to work elsewhere for the day, planning to pack a meal can feel like a daunting task, especially when I’m just trying to get myself out the door. Also, because my schedule is often up in the air, I’m never quite certain when I’ll be returning home again. Packing snacks is an easy way to deal with these small but significant dilemmas. I’ve been told that preparing snacks (either at night or in mornings) can actually be highly motivating: my work is an endurance event I need to plan for and I’m going to be so well prepared! Plus, bringing a snack will save you money. Win-win.

Snacks: they’re very important. Here’s a list of some of the best ones for freelancers:

  1. Ziplock bags full of nuts (from Rebecca): “Cashews are my top #1 fave but I am also super into these spicy almonds and this amazing new peanut situation that president’s choice is doing that’s like, salt and cracked black pepper? These peanuts taste like chips and I’m apeshit for them.
  2. Packs of gum: especially important when feeling particularly stressed
  3. Raw green beans and snap peas (from Sarah): “Or anything to hydrate.”
  4. Carrots and hummus: obviously.
  5. Homemade energy bars (from Caleb): “Step 1: Take 1 kg dates. Blend those dates. Sometimes they need to be softened in water, sometimes the dates are already soft. Step 2: Once you’ve got a date paste add sunflower or coconut oil. As much as you feel comfortable with. The more fat you add, the longer if will keep you full. Blend until you have a light brown batter. yum. Step 3: Dump that gunk in a bowl. Add 1 jar of peanut butter and mix. Step 4: Almost there. Put that batter back in the emptied peanut butter and date containers and freeze. Voila! ENERGY BAR ICE CREAM. Step 5: Say goodbye to hanger. Notes: I usually double this recipe. Also, all proportions are variable. You can double any ingredient on its own or in combination.”
  6. Chinese dumplings to go: there are never enough opportunities to purchase this perfect snack.
  7. Spoonful of Nutella (from Jonathan): “I keep a jar of it with a spoon near my desk. I’ll nab a spoonful along side my sips of coffee throughout the morning.”
  8. Apples and peanut butter: a classic and so easy to prepare 
  9. Yogurt with berries and honey (from CJ): “I tend to do my best work late at night and like to make this snack when I’m trying to wrap it up”
  10. Cheese and grapes: for when you are feeling a little bit fancy.

These are the tips that are helping me figure out how I want to eat while freelancing. Allowing myself to put energy and time into thinking and planning for the food I’m going to eat feels very important as I develop my freelancing practice, especially since I’m finding working for myself has really affected my relationship to my own productivity. Eating good food can help you be more productive, but it’s also a good way to give yourself a break and step away from your work. Some days are better than others—just yesterday I ate potato chips for lunch—and it’s a work in progress. We’d love to hear your tips: please share in comments below!

Image by Nika Vee via Flickr