The freelancer's pantry

Mar 15, 2018

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In Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, the nineteenth-century chef Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es." (Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are). If your answer is "coffee, cold pizza, wilted arugula, more coffee, and two cans of tuna fish you bought for your cat," you are probably a freelancer.

If you have an old-economy job at a traditional office, you can conveniently pick up food on the way home from work. As a freelancer, though, home is where you work and it's not always convenient to make a time-consuming trip to the grocery store as you're approaching the deadline on a major project.

You can save money and time without compromising on nutrition by keeping your pantry stocked with some easy-to-prepare inexpensive staples. While the items and menu suggestions below may not be the ideals recommended by health gurus, they will get you through the last week of a big project, a cash-flow crisis, or a period when your creativity is flowing and you just don't want to leave your keyboard.

When you go grocery shopping, as well as buying food to be eaten over the next few days, stock up on these staples and you will be prepared for any crisis.


You know fresh fruit is good for you but most fruits don't stay fresh long enough to count as staples. Apples will stay fresh in your refrigerator for weeks, provide fiber and vitamin C, and can be eaten with your non-mouse hand as you are researching your next project. Dip in peanut butter or slice up and serve with cheese for an easy nutritious lunch or snack.

Pros: Cheap, long-lasting, nutritious, convenient, and tasty.

Cons: None. What could possibly be wrong with apples?


Hard cheeses are long lasting, convenient, and filling. They can be eaten alone, with bread or apples, added to salads, grated over pasta, or sprinkled on roasted vegetables. They are a quick source of protein and perfect for snacking at your computer. Keep on hand three types of cheese:

Hard cheese for snacks: A sharp cheddar keeps well and is very versatile. Eat it on its own or with bread and apples, toss it over a roast potato or broccoli, or add it into a salad. Gouda is a good alternative in this niche.

Parmesan/Romano/Pecorino/Asiago: Choose any one of these to liven up salads, cooked vegetables, and pasta. They will last for a month or two in your refrigerator.

Lowfat mozzarella/string cheese: A relatively healthy quick snack as you work at your computer.

Pros: Decent source of protein, versatile, convenient, no mess, stores well.

Cons: Some people may be lactose intolerant. Many cheeses are high in fat and calories.


Couscous is a Middle Eastern dried pasta that is an ultimate convenience food. Zap it in the microwave for 60 seconds or just pour boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes. Add cinnamon, dried fruit, milk, and sweetener for breakfast or use it as a base for almost any cooked bean, vegetable, or meat dish.

Pros: Keeps for over a year, easy to prepare, versatile.

Cons: Nutritionally mediocre.

Canned kidney beans and chickpeas

Canned beans are a cheap source of high-quality vegan protein. Toss them with salad dressing and any fresh vegetables you have on hand for a no-cook protein boost or cook them with onions and tomatoes to create cheap filling meals such as vegetarian chili, chana masala, or dal makhani. Serve over rice or couscous for a hearty dinner you can share with friends or bring to a potluck.

Pros: Keeps for years, cheap, convenient, filled with protein, fiber, and other nutrients.

Cons: Given how many hours your cat spends licking his butt, your own flatulence shouldn't actually be a problem.

Frozen berries

The problem with fresh fruits is that they don't stay fresh very long. Plain, unsweetened frozen berries will survive in your freezer for weeks, keeping all their healthy vitamins and phytochemicals intact. A bowl of frozen berries has the sweet, cool taste of ice cream, but works as a finger food and is actually good for you. This is the perfect soothing treat for when you are dealing with difficult clients.

Pros: Healthy and delicious.

Cons: Price.


Eggs will stay fresh in your refrigerator for three to five weeks. Boil several eggs at a time as they will stay fresh for a week when hard-boiled. They make the perfect instant no-work no-mess snack, containing approximately 70 calories and six grams of protein each. If you want an excuse to procrastinate for a few minutes, create a fluffy omelette or filling frittata.

Pros: Cheap, high protein and B12, convenient. Give your cat an occasional egg yolk to make her coat shine.

Cons: Factory-farmed eggs can contain antibiotics, pesticides, and arsenic. High in cholesterol.

Frozen Vegetables

When you read the words "frozen vegetables," painful memories of mushy peas at school or summer camp surface from your subconscious mind where you locked them away with other past traumas, such as braces, your first kiss (with braces), and driving tests. Judicious shopping makes a difference. Avoid the peas, carrots, and any vegetables frozen with sauces or flavorings. Brussels sprouts, corn, asparagus, leafy greens (spinach, kale, mixed greens), Chinese vegetable mixes, and broccoli still taste good when frozen and reheated. Serve plain, with low-sodium soy sauce, or tossed with couscous or rice.

Pros: Cheap, convenient, nutritious, ultra low-calorie.

Cons: Can be bland.

Dry Cat Food

While this is not recommended for human beings, it is crucial to have an adequate supply on hand to feed the most important member of your freelancing household. Human food is generally bad for your cat and there is no chance you will be able to work productively with a hungry cat in the house. Bags of dry cat food, stored in mouse- and cat-proof plastic or metal containers, will keep fresh indefinitely and prevent your resident feline from demolishing all paper, cloth, and leather in the house to assuage hunger pangs and persuade you to fulfill your feline-feeding responsibilities.

Pros: Cheap, minimal mess, can be left out for long periods.

Cons: If your cat is not happy with his food, no one is happy. Paws have claws.

Canned Tuna Fish

With 20 grams of protein, only 100 calories, and plentiful omega-3 fatty acids, water-packed canned tuna is the pure brain food you need to get you through long hours at your computer. On the down side, it contains mercury. Even worse, it is ethically problematic as even "dolphin-safe" tuna can harm dolphins and many other forms of marine life

Pros: Your cat loves it.

Cons: Your cat loves it so much you will never get to eat any of it.

Carol Poster is a freelance writer and photographer who had published three books of nonfiction and numerous articles in print and web venues. Her most recent book of poetry is Returning to Dust, available from Finishing Line Press or Amazon.

Carol Poster

Carol Poster is a freelance writer and photographer who had published three books of nonfiction and numerous articles in print and web venues.