At MartianCraft, remote work is a big part of our lives. We’ve written about challenges of working remotely and we’ve explored the benefits of sharing in family life. For many of us, the step from on-site to remote work comes with a lot of changes, and challenges. One of the most noticeable changes I’ve experienced after I started working from home as opposed to an office was the subject of health, which comes down to two main areas: exercise/moving and nutrition.
I will focus on the nutrition part today, since that has become a big part of my life in the past two years, particularly since: a) I’ve become a parent and thus more health-conscious; and b) I’ve been moving less because of a desk job at home. Moving less means a lower energy requirement, which will have to be reflected in a remote worker’s diet, just like reduced exposure to sunlight for those of us who spend the entire day behind their desk.
Working from home usually means that we spend less time doing boring, dull tasks like commuting so we can make a lot more out of this time by using it productively, for example to go buy fresh groceries and preparing a healthy home-cooked meal. Also, less exposure to sunlight means an increased need for vitamin D, so consider that when planning your meals. One good source of vitamin D in food is salmon, for instance. Calorie and nutrition info is provided for anyone who wants to know. It was important to me to track the calories to understand the value of this new diet I was crafting for myself.
I want to share what I’ve learned about this topic in the past few years. (Legal says: I’m a software engineer and neither a nutritionist nor a chef, so if you have any concerns about whether the advice in this post is good for you personally, talk to someone more qualified on a personal basis before making any life-altering changes.)
There’s an old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and whether you subscribe to this theory or not, it’s definitely not a bad idea to get some nutrients in and keep yourself full until lunch — otherwise you might be prone to snacking on something unhealthy in the meantime.
This is an old classic that comes in so many different variations, it’s absolutely impossible to list them all. Usually, you’ll find some sort of oats — or other grains, like spelt — at the basis of this meal plus a few other ingredients to add flavor and, of course, liquid like milk, water or a mix.
This works so well because it’s really easy to make and it’s both really nutritious and healthy — unless you get a variety with a lot of added fat and sugar, like chocolate or dried fruit. Not that these things are generally bad for you, they might just add a lot of unnecessary calories. If you feel that your oatmeal_porridge_muesli is too bland, consider adding some fresh fruit instead.
Throughout the day, you might find yourself craving a snack — and more often than not, a lot of people give in to this by grabbing some junk food like a chocolate bar which is incredibly high in sugar and calories, but has little value in terms of nutrients or making you feel full. However, the craving is usually satisfied because it originated from the brain requesting dopamine and not from an actual feeling of hunger. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to eating a ton of high-density calorie foods with little nutritional value.
A strategy that works for me when I feel a craving for a snack is to go to the kitchen to fill up my water bottle (see the section on hydration), maybe get a cup of coffee or tea and find a healthier snack in the time it takes for my cup of coffee or tea to brew. After drinking some water and maybe getting a healthy snack - which can be as simple as eating a banana - your craving might already be satisfied, just in a much more healthy way. If not, try one of these snack ideas.
This one is really quick to make and only leaves a minor mess in the kitchen - just get some veggies you like, cut them into sticks or bite-sized pieces and take a bowl of them back to your desk. You can snack on these while you solve the next big problem and you won’t even need cutlery to do so.
Raw vegetables are a good fit in many ways, and from the point of nutrition they’re no exception. Vitamins, fibre, protein — you can get all these things from veggies. And if you eat plenty of them, they’ll keep you going until the next big meal without spiking your blood sugar level.
Since there are so many different veggies you can try, you can easily mix this up by getting different kinds every day. You can either buy what’s in season, whatever the grocery store has on sale or whatever you fancy that day. If you want to get some steps in despite working from home, you can even make the walk to the grocery store a daily ritual.
Here are some suggestions on what works well for this kind of snack:
- Bell peppers
Yoghurt with a Variety of Berries
In my quest to find tasty, healthy and easy-to-make snacks that I can whip up quickly, I came across an old classic - yoghurt with assorted berries. Not only is this really tasty, it’s also rather low in calories and rich in important nutrients.
To make this, I prefer to use Greek yoghurt, but you can experiment and use whichever kind you like. If you want to watch your calorie intake and your trans fats, you can opt to use a low-fat or even fat-free version, but all in all yoghurt usually only ranges from between 60 and 90 kcal per 100g, but make sure to stay away from anything that contains extra sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or the likes. For those who are lactose-intolerant or prefer to eat vegan, there are alternatives made from coconut milk or other substitutes.
Feel free to use as many or as few berries as you like and play around with different kinds, too. I used raspberries, blueberries and blackberries for this example and it turned out incredibly tasty. And since berries are incredibly healthy and don’t even create an insulin spike despite their fructose content, this does really well as a snack at any time of the day or even as a desert.
Berries in general have very few calories per gram, ranging from 32 kcal/100g in strawberries to 57 kcal/100g in blueberries and most of these pieces of fruit even have good amounts of dietary fibre, especially blackberries and raspberries.
Of course, you can use other readily available fruits like bananas, oranges and kiwis, too. Berries just have the added comfort of needing very little preparation - just wash them properly under running water and they’re ready for consumption.
Combined with some oats or other cereal you can also quickly turn this into a full-blown meal for breakfast or lunch, just make sure not to use anything overloaded with added sugar.
It’s no secret that we need liquids to survive, but a lot of people simply don’t drink enough water to keep healthy. Many others drink a lot of the wrong kinds of things, like sugared fizzy drinks or way too much coffee (of which the author is also guilty).
Dehydration can have very serious consequences, both in the short and long term and is often hard to detect since thirst alone is not a reliable indicator, particularly if you’re doing some very focused work.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to make sure you stay hydrated properly. You can use a water intake diary, of which there are probably hundreds on the App Store, or you can use other ways to remind yourself to drinks enough fluids.
Your best choice for drinking lots is probably water. It has no calories, it is generally inexpensive and it can come with a lot of important minerals.
It’s also a good way to start your metabolism in the morning. Simply drink half a liter (roughly a pint) of water between getting up and breakfast and you might start feeling more awake and ready right away.
If you want to make sure you get enough water throughout the day you can use an app to remind you, or grab a glass every time you go to the kitchen. What has worked best for yours truly is a reusable plastic bottle with a one finger opening mechanism that makes it easy to use at the desk, while exercising, driving a car or anywhere else, really.
Tea & Coffee
There are countless opinions on the effects of these hot beverages, some based on irrefutable proof, some based on myth and others are somewhere in between, taking the results of studies into account but claiming causality where there is only a correlation. This all is especially true for coffee, which might explain that there are a lot of common negative perceptions about it, but even tea has its fair share of myths surrounding it. If you want to make sure that your coffee and tea drinking benefits are healthy for you, consider the sources in the links I posted above and see for yourself what the associated risks and benefits are, and whether there is actual causality or merely a correlation.
The overwhelming majority of people I know drink either one or the other, or even both, on a regular basis. Our love of these drinks is deeply ingrained into many of the world’s cultures, and rightly so. However, in the last few decades, there’s been a trend to make these drinks sweeter by adding gross amounts of syrup, so that a single serving of coffee or tea can end up having hundreds of calories. These things should definitely be considered a treat and not a good alternative for your daily coffee consumption.
Compared to restaurants, you can save a lot of money and calories by eating a home-cooked meal every day. And since you’re saving time by not commuting, you can hopefully afford to invest the time you need for that. And by cooking extra, you can save some for another day, either for lunch the next day or you can even keep it in the freezer for another time.
One thing that has worked exceptionally well for me is using a service that sends me a box with recipes and ingredients for a few meals per week. I have grown a lot as a cook since I started doing that, since I keep learning about new techniques and ingredients as well as getting a lot of practice. An added benefit is that many such services provide a healthy, balanced selection of meals and they send you just the right amount of ingredients to avoid overeating.
Example: Vegetable Paella
I love good dishes with a great mix of fresh vegetables, some fresh herbs and a good foundation like some nice basmati rice. This particular dish checks all those boxes and then some.
As for paella, I used to be under the impression that it’s mostly a seafood dish, but that might have been influenced by many Summers spent on vacation on Spain’s coastlines. On a trip to a small village named Teror on the island of Gran Canaria, I discovered that there is a lot more to paella than I initially suspected. When I stumbled upon this German HelloFresh Recipe I modified it a bit to my own taste substituting in seasonal veggies and my own mix of spices to personal taste.
Ingredients (serves 2) 1 bell pepper 1 onion 1 clove garlic 150g/~5 oz. button mushrooms 100g/~3.5 oz. green beans 200g/~7oz. cherry tomatoes ½ lemon 10g/~⅓ oz. parsley 30g/~1 oz. cashews 1-2 tsp smoked paprika 150g/~5 oz. basmati rice vegetable stock, salt, pepper, olive oil or canola
Utensils 1 large frying pan or casserole dish with a lid 1 small pan
- Prepare 450ml/~15 fl oz. vegetable broth
- Heat up the large pan at about medium heat
- Wash and cut pepper into bite-sized pieces
- Peel and dice onion and garlic
- Clean mushrooms and cut into halves or quarters, depending on size
- Wash beans and cut into pieces of about 2-3cm/1in in length
- Wash and cut cherry tomatoes into halves
- Cut lemon into wedges
- Wash parsley, shake dry and chop into fine pieces
- Roast the cashews in a small pan without adding any oil until they’re light brown, then chop into coarse pieces
- Add one tbsp of oil to the large pan and wait until it bubbles when it comes in contact with a wooden spoon
- Fry the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, then set aside
- Heat up another 1 ½ tbsp of oil in the same pan, then add onions and fry for about 4 minutes
- Add the beans, pepper and cherry tomatoes, fry for another 4 minutes
- Add garlic and spice, keep on the heat for another 4 minutes
- Add the rice and half of the parsley, keep stirring and frying until the rice has soaked up all the excess oil
- Add the broth and mushrooms, stir well and reduce heat to approximately medium to low-medium
- Cover the pan and let cook for about 15 minutes, until the rice has completely soaked up the liquid. Don’t stir in the meantime, you want it to develop a light crust.
- Remove pan from heat and let rest for about 5 minutes, still covered
- Serve the paella with a lemon wedge, some parsley sprinkled on top and some roasted cashews
- Feel free to add some greek yoghurt if you feel like it
If you’re already working from home, I hope I could give you some ideas on how to organise your nutrition. It’s very easy to fall into some dark patterns when it comes to eating and drinking, like snacking on junk food or drinking a pumpkin spice latte on a daily basis, but by making some very simple choices, you can make a huge improvements to your health and get even more benefits out of working remotely.
And if you’re still commuting to the office every day, maybe it’s about time to convince your boss that remote work is the future?