We've all had days where work was so crazy that eating didn't make it onto the to-do list. Sometimes we even spend a good chunk of that time around food, but it still doesn't change things. You know the situations: You're at a business lunch, and you're so busy sharing ideas that you barely eat. Or you're at a conference and spend the breaks and after-party chatting with clients and colleagues and balancing a plate of finger foods—maybe managing to eat a stuffed mushroom or two. If you're actually hosting the event or if you're traveling, your chances of eating go down considerably.
If the business at hand is stressful or high-stakes, eating is the last thing on your mind. Something so simple can suddenly seem complicated. I've been in situations where hopping from meeting to meeting suddenly transitions to a happy hour cocktail meeting. Add shifting time zones into the mix, and it's far too easy to end up too hungry to think properly or faced with a cocktail menu when you haven't even seen a food menu all day.
Your brain needs food to function, and you need your brain to conduct business! Here are some things I've learned about eating and meeting.
- Pick something simple to eat. We usually choose food based on taste and nutrition. But in a meeting, you also have to consider how distracting your meal will be from the business at hand. If you order potentially messy food like spaghetti or ribs, you may splatter it on yourself—or worse your client. Foods that require a lot of cutting or are involved to eat—like bone-in chicken, mussels and clams, or crab—take extra time and effort. Big burgers and sandwiches can mean sloppy fixings slipping out of the bread. Some easy to eat foods include sushi, penne pasta, salad, salmon, and light pizza.
- Think about efficiency and energy. Often times, you don't get to choose from a full menu but rather from a buffet or limited event menu. If there are a lot of finger foods, choose the ones that are not only the simplest to eat but also provide you will enough nutrition and substance. Downing a lot of fried chicken will leave you lethargic, but only eating a handful of carrot sticks won't fill you up enough. Similarly, it might be tempting to choose the steak and potatoes entree, but a lighter choice like a chicken and veggie stirfry will help you keep your energy up without feeling like you need a nap.
- Keep a secret stash and juice it up. Energy bars are great to have around in case you find yourself in a situation where you go from meeting to meeting, or day of meetings to happy hour, without getting the chance to have a proper meal. Stopping for a healthy smoothie or green juice can also give you a little boost—and can even be consumed in the car or on the walk to your meeting. If you're at a conference for several days, these options become more important since you've been outside your normal diet for so long and may need something healthier than the typical event foods.
- Recalculate your limits and listen to your body. Cocktails and wine are a big part of many business functions. If you choose to drink, remember that your normal limits don't necessarily apply. You may not have eaten as much as you normally do, so while one cocktail might affect you more than you expect. Drink slowly and make sure to keep the water flowing. If you feel like your drinks are landing in an empty stomach, sneak away to have that energy bar if there isn't any food available.