Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ask the Internet: Eating Healthy at Conferences?

Hey everybody! It's the second installment of our new Tuesday column, Ask the Internet. Today’s question comes from Amber, a student on a student’s budget. She travels frequently to conferences, and finds herself torn between eating healthy and eating for free. She writes:

Q: I am a PhD student, and go to conferences several times a year. The food at these things is deadly - coffee and pastries everywhere you turn. Occasionally you'll luck out and there will be a banana, but that's rare. I hardly ever see protein. The thing is, being a poorer than poor PhD student, I am compelled to eat lots of these free snacks to eliminate the cost of eating out. So I'm torn - be cheap or be healthy? I have tried a few things - sometimes pack some power bars for breakfast or some nuts to snack on, but that doesn't always tide me over. Any advice would be appreciated!

A: Eating away from home is never easy. You’re out of your comfort zone, you’re never sure when the next meal is coming, and the food that IS available is usually muffin-esque in nature. But never fear, Amber. You’re already on the right track, and with a few tweaks, healthy, cheap road food is within your reach.

My friend Rachel frequently tours the U.S. with her improv comedy troupe, and has some experience in this area. She suggests calling up the conference venue or hotel ahead of time and asking what’s on the menu, so you can prepare accordingly. If they’re offering edibles you’re not too crazy about, figure on packing some of your own food, including fruit (cheap, portable), oatmeal packets (cheap, easily prepared), and flatbreads and crackers made from whole grains and seeds like quinoa, flax, and wheat. Rach likes Mary’s Gone Crackers herself. Beyond that, Trader Joe’s should have dozens of inexpensive, healthy options in that realm.

If you can’t prep ahead of time, look for plainer base foods you can customize to your liking. Bagels with peanut butter and jelly will fill you up and sate your sweet tooth, as will oatmeal mixed with raisins and peanut butter. And don't worry if there really isn't anything available. The occasional muffin won't kill you. (Just beware of it becoming Plan A.)

Sweet readers, can you relate to Amber’s problem? What would you suggest? How do you eat healthy at conferences? How do you keep from blowing a bundle on road food? Do you know any good resources for her? The comment section is waiting for your brilliance.

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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