In 2010, almost 30% of workers in the United States work “nontraditional” hours. This sometimes means working second or third shift; sometimes it means working 12 hours 4 days a week, or 26 hours 3 days a week, or 14 days on followed by 7 days off…the possibilities are endless.
Not surprisingly, this tends to make cooking more of a challenge, especially if you have to bring two or three meals to an extra-long shift without any refrigerator or microwave. But it’s still possible to make Paleo happen!
If you work crazy hours, batch cooking will quickly become your very best friend. The basic idea is simple: instead of cooking for every meal, cook once and eat many times. You can cook on the days when you do have time for it, and build up a store of food in the fridge for the days when you don’t.
This makes it possible to eat home-cooked meals even on work days, because it gives you a steady supply of leftovers for pack lunches (or breakfasts, or dinners, or snacks, or all of the above).
You can batch cook pretty much anything that tastes good the next day. Some ideas…
- Balsamic roast beef or sirloin tip roast: save the leftovers to eat in salads or just with some mustard and mayonnaise in a lettuce wrap.
- Turkey chili: easy to make and perfect for stashing in the fridge or freezer.
- Honey-mustard drumsticks: drumsticks are tasty finger food and perfectly good cold.
- Any recipe for a whole roast chicken (like this one) is a sure hit for salad-friendly leftovers. For extra efficiency, cook two chickens at once: the extra work is negligible but you get twice the payoff.
The danger of this approach is that you’ll cook up a huge batch of something and then get bored of eating the same thing halfway through the week. To avoid this, separate your big recipe into serving-size containers as soon as it’s out of the pot. Stash a few in the fridge and a few in the freezer for long-term storage. Then you can pull them out in a few weeks, when you’re ready to have some more of the same recipe.
Pretty much the same principle applies to shopping. Instead of trying to shop when you’re busy and on shift, save it for your days off and stock up really well. Then just eat through your groceries starting with the most perishable stuff (lettuce, cucumbers, fresh berries…) and saving the hardier ones (squash, carrots, cauliflower…) for later.
Packing for longer shifts can be tough. With a typical office lunch, provided you aren’t bringing ceviche and steak tartare, you don’t even really need a fridge. But when your shift is longer, food safety starts to become an issue – not to mention what a pain in the neck it is to haul all that food around. Here are some suggestions:
- Bring a cooler. Have you ever seen construction workers eating lunch? They often have to lug their food around hot outdoor sites with no fridge for miles, so they carry coolers or insulated lunchboxes. If you get a good one, it’ll keep food cool for hours, and you can throw in an ice pack to extend that time even more.
- Bring a thermos. Got the opposite problem? A high-quality thermos will keep your lunch hot for several hours. It won’t stand up to a full shift, but if you’re on for 24 hours and you eat for the first time 6 hours in, a thermos could definitely make it at least that far.
What you pack in your cooler and/or thermos will depend on what you have available at work. If you’ve got a fridge or microwave, your options are almost unlimited – just bring any leftovers from your big batch cook-up, reheat them, and chow down.
No microwave? Plenty of Paleo foods are good cold. Try some potato salad, hard-boiled eggs, or a fresh vegetable salad with some leftover meat. Guacamole is always a hit; if you want something a little fancier, you could also roll yourself some sandwiches or whip out some pâté with vegetables.
Just because coolers won’t hold an infinite amount of food, it also helps to build meals around Paleo foods that keep at room temperature, with no need for refrigeration or reheating. Some suggestions…
|Cans of tuna, sardines, or other fish
|Hard-boiled eggs (won’t keep all day, but they’re fine for a few hours)
|Trail mix or mixed nuts
|Nut butter or coconut butter (you can get it in individual squeeze packs)
|Olive oil (in salad dressings)
|Individual packs of olives
|Bananas or other fruit
|Dehydrated banana or sweet potato chips (just watch out for mystery oils!)
Don’t forget liquids, either, especially if your job has you working out in the sun! Water is fine, but if you’re planning to get hot and sweaty, you could also try some coconut lemonade for an electrolyte boost.
Another trick is to consider fasting for part or all of your shift. Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, but it’s awfully convenient to avoid a third meal and just bring a cup of coffee (or nothing at all).
Just to give you an idea, here’s a sample menu for someone working 16-hour shifts, with 3 meals to eat during that time:
In the cooler: 4 hard-boiled eggs, 1 sealed container of salad dressing, 1 Tupperware of salad greens, 1 serving of leftover roast chicken, 1 serving of leftover potato salad, 1 leftover burger patty, 1 sealed container of relish.
Out at room temp: 1 handful of trail mix (in a baggie), 1 banana.
Meal 1: 4 hard-boiled eggs and a banana.
Meal 2: salad with leftover chicken (pour the dressing on, add the meat, and shake it all up in the Tupperware).
Snack: trail mix
Meal 3: burger with relish; potato salad.
That’s all easy to throw together before you leave, even if you’re not quite awake yet. It’ll keep fine in the cooler, and you don’t even need to bring anything hot (although if you do have access to a microwave, you could warm up the burger).
It’s not easy or automatic to stay Paleo when your work schedule is going a little crazy, but it’s also not impossible by any means! You don’t have to rely on bags of chips or endless sandwiches, and you certainly don’t have to buy food every workday. It might take a few weeks to get a really good routine going, but it’s completely worth the initial effort to have real, home-cooked food to keep you feeling great through the long shifts.