The Best Recipe for a Healthy Freelancer (Share Yours!)

Carol Tice

healthy snackWhen I started working from home as a freelancer, one of the first things I figured out was I needed to eat healthy.

Stand around the refrigerator snacking, and there won’t be a lot of writing getting done, and you’ll pack on the pounds, too.

By the same token, my freelance writing schedule rarely leaves time for me to stand around sauteeing spinach or waiting for pasta to cook or whatever. I usually have about 5-10 minutes tops to put a meal together.

When I’m writing on deadline, I get nervous and need to nibble. Again, that can’t mean a bag of Fritos or that will spell trouble.

Over the years, I’ve developed some go-to meals and snacks that are healthy and energize me rather than making me tired, overstuffed, or sleepy from too much fat or carbs.

Here are my fall-back staples for healthy freelance eating:


Hot weather: Cottage cheese with grapes and a few whole-grain crackers.

Cold weather: Half a whole-grain bagel with melted swiss, a tangerine and a half a red sweet pepper. Or leftover pasta loaded with vegetables.

Creative leftovers: I try to keep cooked brown rice or quinoa on hand as a base for quick meals. Throw in a little grated Mexi-cheese, Romano or feta, leftover salmon or chicken, a handful of leftover cooked veggies or raw spinach, and we’re good. Heat and eat in a bowl or throw it in a tortilla for quick wraps.

Alternatively, leftover salad that’s freshened up with feta, a few candied pecans, or maybe a handful of frozen peas (they’ll thaw out while I’m thinking about my outline). Salad also could be thrown into a pita with some leftover falafel balls and a bit of tahini.

Or in summer, plain vanilla yogurt with a little fruit or a half-teaspoon of jam.

Nibble-snacks for deadline writing:

When I’m stressed I get the jaw-clenching thing, so I like crunchy snacks that help that relax.

Raw almonds and raisins (when the almonds aren’t roasted and salted, you don’t crave and overeat them).

Nibble carrots or pea pods — these are my fave.

I’m no saint on eating, but I try to keep junk food out of the house so I don’t fall prey. The result: I weigh a bit less now than I did when I had an office job.

What’s your healthy quick-lunch or stress-nibble solution? Share recipes in the comments.

And while we’re on the subject of health, check out our guide to health insurance for freelancers.


  1. Zoe Uwem

    Hi Carol,
    Seems like I’m gonna be the first to share but really I haven’t taught about the importance of a freelance writer eating right. Nonetheless, I’ll carefully select what I eat now that I know (especially when my blog is finally up and running- I’m still working on it being that I’m just starting out). Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sarah

    Carol, glad you mentioned this. It’s easy to go snack-crazy when the kitchen is just down the hallway. It helps to think of eating as part of your biz plan – fueling you to be productive! My favorite go-to meals: Sardines, pasta, kale and garlic and – when I’m really tired from pushing late nights for deadlines – salads w/ hardboiled eggs or chicken. Carbs really drag me down when I’m already tired.

  3. Suzanne Wesley

    As a freelancer I am able to work with my kids at home around me. So, my snack breaks usually have to also be kid-friendly. Lately, our favorites have been frozen go-gurts (banana split is my favorite). You take it straight out of the freezer and then microwave it on 50% power for about 22 seconds … and then you can snip off the end and eat it just like a popsicle, but with more protein and nutrition. I also love cold snow peas dipped in Western dressing. Yum!

    • Carol Tice

      Snow peas are a major nibble…we’re growing them now and they’re the perfect snack right off the vine. So sweet!

      Go-Gurts have a lot of artificial colors and sugar both of which I’m trying to keep away from my kids, but there are healthier similar products…the one we have here is Toobers. The portable yogurt tube is definitely a winner with all ages. 😉

  4. Kat

    I’m so glad you mentioned the jaw-clenching, I thought that was just me being uptight! My personal fave is having a bowl of sunflower or pumpkin seeds alongside the laptop ~ sometimes I’ll even mix them up .. you know to add that Friday excitement to the event! These seeds are great for purposeful jaw grinding as well as, ahem, fiber! 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Looove pumpkin seeds!

  5. Marjory

    Well this question is right up my alley. I work from home and I write about food most of the time. I’ve got to have lots of fruit and nuts around for snacks. And…lots of gum for when I really don’t need to eat anything, but feel like munching!

    • Carol Tice

      I keep a big bag of raw almonds in my freezer…about 6-8 of those are often a good snack for me. And when they’re not roasted & salted you don’t crave and overeat them.

  6. Erica

    I work best when I have a big, protein-packed breakfast. And for that, I turn to scrambled and hard-boiled eggs. By loading up on protein first thing in the morning, I avoid major cravings and feelings of deprivation for the rest of the day and can therefore make better food choices. When I need something crunchy, my favorites are baby carrots, red bell peppers and raw almonds.

    Regardless, I will always have weakness when it comes to chocolate, though.

  7. Anne Michelsen

    I agree with Marjory. Gum rocks! I never used to chew it but I finally realized that every time I’d get a little stuck for words I’d want to gnaw on something. Chewing sugarless gum helps placate that part of my brain so I make far fewer trips to the kitchen. Fewer interruptions to work and definitely better for the waistline!

  8. Misti

    I love chia seed pudding for breakfast. I might have some hard cheese or turkey bacon/sausage on the side for protein, or a smoothie with hemp hearts or walnuts in it. (I’m unfortunately intolerant of eggs, pork, and almonds.)

    I love the toss-it-all-together-and-leave-it-be meals, like lentils & cheese (instead of mac & cheese) and roasted veggies.

    Unfortunately, snack foods are…difficult. I have a fast metabolism, and a LOT of allergies, so I actually CAN’T eat a lot of inexpensive healthy foods. I’m even allergic to stevia!

    Hard cheese or bean dip are common snacks, for me—but again, quantity is a problem. (Half a large pizza is a modest meal for me.) So I also like making sure I have leftovers from previous meals.

  9. Katherine Swarts

    I’m a jaw-clencher (and cheek-biter) too, especially when thinking “limited time to finish this.” And I’m now showing signs of stress-related health problems that make eating right even more important. My two cents:

    You can save even more calories by choosing plain skim-milk yogurt instead of vanilla; it really doesn’t taste that sour when mixed with fruit and nuts.

    For general quick snacks, I favor fresh fruit, raw baby carrots and broccoli crowns, walnuts and almonds, and whole-grain breads. (I have only myself to feed and don’t care much for cooking, so I stock my cupboards with “ready to eat” foods that are basic rather than pre-prepared; costs less, too!)

    It really does pay to eat light snacks or meals throughout the day instead of two or three big ones; keeps your energy levels constant, easier on your digestive system, AND motivates you to take breaks that are good for you in other ways, too.

    • Carol Tice

      We like to keep plain yogurt around and then mix it with a teaspoon of jam to make it different flavors — saving us a fortune on packaging for fancy yogurt aimed at kids. 😉

  10. Amandah

    I LOVE salads all year round! Why? Because they’re fast and easy and you can ‘dress’ them up with dried cranberries, pine nuts, almonds, red cabbage, crushed peanuts, shredded carrots, tomato, etc. I recommend using a low-cal salad dressing, homemade is best. My favorite dressing is Italian: oil, water, vinegar, and seasoning (garlic, parsley flakes, pinch of salt and pepper, etc.).

    Looking for a stress-nibble solution? Try sliced and/or baby carrots. Don’t like carrots? How about celery sticks? What about slicing up a juicy apple?

    Staying healthy has never been so easy. 🙂

  11. Jamie Alexander

    I tend to eat once per day, but that’s mostly because I hate washing the dishes twice.

    I love eating a healthy Thai curry with lots of veg, plus I use half coconut milk/ half water to bring the calories down.

    I eat it as a soup instead of using rice.

    The lack of carbs definitely keeps me energized all day.

    • Katherine Swarts

      Interesting; I’ve dragged my heels on picking up the common recommendation to eat “six small meals a day” because I’m afraid my electric toothbrush won’t have enough time to recharge between meals! But see the “Hungry” section of the newest MALW post.

  12. Alexis

    Awesome post! I have been clanging guest posts around in my head on this exact topic for all the writer’s out there! Creativity booms when your writing machine (aka, your mind and body) are running top notch. Keep up the healthiness! I also have a lot of tips on this topic at my blog Enjoy!

  13. Tim

    I am a big fan of a getting a high protein, high fiber breakfast to energize me for the day.

    To do that, I usually make a fruit and vegetable smoothie, or will put chia seeds, raw cacao and fresh fruit in plain yogurt.

    I’m definitely with you on raisin-nut mixes, that’s a go to snack of mine. I also mix chia seeds with a natural energy drink mix to push me through afternoon slumps.

    I would also note the importance of exercise for those of us spend a lot of time at the computer. I need to do this more often, but I’ve found doing a set of push ups, or other short exercises every 30-60 minutes when doing work really helps to re-energize and refocus.

    • Carol Tice

      You’re all making me want to try chia seeds, which I haven’t really been into!

  14. Lindsay Wilson

    I have an oral fixation that makes me want to eat every time I sit down at the computer. I usually reach for the easy snacks, which are carb or sugar laden. I’ve also been known to drink copious amounts of tea (with sugar) to satisfy this bad habit. I’ve tried to copy the habits of my brother, who pops grapes like M&Ms and has always been way healther than me. I found the only way to do this is to prepare fruit ahead of time (wash the grapes, slice the strawberries) and leave them out somewhere where I will see them because I also tend to forget about them. When I do this, the oral fixation works to my advantage! We have been making a special effort to make sure the three standard meals a day are healthy, sit-down meals away from the computer.

  15. Holly Bowne

    As a fellow jaw-clencher, I loved that tip about the unsalted/unroasted almonds!

    I stumbled upon my own healthy, quick meal ideas accidentally when I recently had foot surgery. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand for a while, so a couple of days before my surgery I planned out nine meals. I gathered/bought my ingredients and spent about six hours one day prepping everything: creating the marinades for pork loin and chicken; baking chicken and slicing it up for fajitas and stir fry; cooking taco meat, etc. Then I bagged up each meal and froze everything.

    I didn’t have to cook for a month! It was awesome!

    I decided I’m going to keep doing this. This way, if I suddenly find myself with a tight deadline, my family is still eating healthy.

  16. Lori Ferguson

    What a great post, Carol! Something we ALL deal with, yet it never would have occurred to me to write about it. For whatever reasons, I’m not much of a snacker, and I’m one of those whose appetite takes a nose dive when stressed–lost about 15 lbs going through my divorce. :-(. That said, I drink a lot of black coffee and seltzer water when working and frequently consume a handful or raw almonds or cashews when I’ve got a hankering for a little “something something.” You’re absolutely right–junk food is not the answer…

  17. Cindi

    Carol – My newest fave is to start the day with this spinach shake: 1 cup raw spinach, 1 cup frozen fruit, 1 tsp. chia seeds, 1 banana, 1/2 cup almond milk. Put all in a blender until smooth. Not only does it keep me from nibbling, it’s a cool way to start these warm summer days.

    • Carol Tice

      We are definitely making lots of fruit smoothies while all the summer fruit is around…keeping ripe bananas about and plain yogurt for our base. Our daughter is also now hooked on kefir. All way better than sodas, which are never seen at our house unless we’re having a party. They need to stay a rare treat.

  18. Jovell

    I’m now a firm believer of the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

    An apple, well sometimes 3 medium ones, has been my go-to lunch for more than 2 weeks now and I have lost the pounds baby! I feel full yet I’m getting slim.

    Sometimes I partner the apple with carrot sticks and slices of cucumbers. If I want it sweeter, I throw in some raisins. If I’m craving for something salty, I grate some cheese on top of the mix.

    Either way, plain fruit or the simple salad, it tastes great, is very filling, and overall a healthy and slimming lunch or snack. 🙂

    • Jovell

      By the way, with your post Carol and the rest of the comments, I think we already have a week’s meal planned out. Thanks!

      • Tiffany

        Haha. I think you’re right. Meal planning the freelancer way 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      I’m glad you mentioned cucumbers…forgot to say I love those. Can nibble on sticks, or make a salad for falafel. I buy huge long English ones that have thin skins that are greenhouse-raised in nearby BC, great for snacking and don’t need peeling.

  19. Kristen

    My easy snack while writing is dry cereal (Life, Cheerios, etc.). My daughter is thirteen months old, so we share while mommy works on her laptop. It prevents her from trying to type with me and allows a little more bonding time while I work. Small bites of cereal are much better while writing than my college days of pizza and Doritos, and less messy on my keys 🙂

  20. Amanda Cleary Eastep

    I like crunchy things, too, when I’m concentrating. I’ll pop organic popcorn in coconut or olive oil. No butter! Can’t type then. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      I’ve been fascinated to see how many other writers said they have jaw-clenching issues and how many of us want something crunchy while we’re writing…very interesting to note. But I feel like that crunch sensation does relieve stress.

  21. Humayun Kabir Chowdhury

    Hi Carol
    I liked your explanation of “Best Recipe” for healthy Freelancer. But as an Asian, items included in our healthy quick-launch is little bit different from yours. I think this difference is due to geographical diversity of food habit & cultural heritage. We are habituated to take small quantity of rice, one or two vegetable carry, one piece of fish or chicken(alternatively) in quick-launch – followed by a slice of any fruit. That’s all. Is it not a healthy recipe for a Freelancer? Of course, like U we also try to avoid junk food to keep weight restricted. Thanks for sharing.

    • Carol Tice

      I often have fish or chicken and brown rice for a quick lunch myself, tossed with whatever vegetables are around. I don’t think we’re so different!

  22. Renia Carsillo

    My two favorite deadline recipes are both college hold-overs: Pita Pepper Pizzas and Chipotle Sour Cream Dip for veggies and pretzel rods.

    Both can be made in 5 minutes, have less than 5 ingredients, cost less than $5 to make and are fairly healthy while satisfying the junk food craving that stress induces.

    The pizzas are simply a whole wheat pita piled with roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil from my basil “tree” and a 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella. Stick it under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese begins to brown. Use a pair of scissors to cut into four wedges.

    For the sour cream dip, throw a 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream, 1/8 cup mayo, 1 seeded chipolte pepper in adobo sauce, and a good shake of cumin in a blender. Pulse a couple times to mix. Serve with fresh veggies and pretzel rods for dipping.

    I am a salty foods addict when I’m stressed. Both these recipes curb that craving and energize me for a deadline push. Hope they help someone else too!

    • Carol Tice

      I love anything cheesy but am trying to get away from that as it’s too much fat and we fall back on it too often. Around here a quick quesadilla with sweet peppers in it (or any other leftovers around, chicken, etc) is popular. We also have an old-time toasty maker press that makes grilled cheese sandwiches…huge hit with the kids and a great quick-lunch helper as it makes it in about 2 mins.

      And of course a half a bagel with melted swiss on it is one of nature’s perfect foods (along with a vanilla soft-serve chocolate-dipped ice cream cone)…but not the best low-fat stuff for me when I’m writing!

  23. Alexandra Sheehan

    I swear by apples because they are so filling, and there is no preparation needed! Well, besides washing. Also, I love to make a big batch of hummus (super easy!) and some cut up veggies in the fridge for easy guiltless snacking.

    • Tiffany

      I keep telling myself I will make my own hummus but I haven’t tried it yet. I have a bag of chickpeas in the pantry. I should probably try this week…my fam spends a lot on hummus.

  24. Tiffany

    Thanks for these ideas Carol! I am definitely a stress-nibbler! Fruit comes in handy, especially frozen grapes. I love popping frozen grapes. In the morning i usually have an energizing banana chocolate peanut butter protein shake…it’s like dessert in the morning 😀

  25. Tiffany

    These sound delicious. I will definitely try them soon. Thanks!

  26. Susan Johnston

    I like edamame with a touch of sea salt as a snack. Also, popcorn (from plan kernels, not microwave popcorn with butter) microwaved in a paper lunch bag with a little butter spray and herbs. For a heartier snack, I make a lot of fruit smoothies with a scoop of protein powder.

    • Carol Tice

      I love edamame, but haven’t seen it in my store! I eat that steamed with salt as an appetizer at restaurants all the time…got to get it going at home.

      I love how you make your own ‘microwave’ popcorn without all the fat most of the commercial brands have. 😉

      • Susan Johnston

        Do you have Trader Joe’s in your neck of the woods? They sell frozen edamame that you can steam in the microwave whenever you get the munchies. I buy the unsalted one so I can add salt myself and control the amount.

        My new favorite snack is grape tomatoes with small slices of mozzarella from the farmer’s market. It’s crunchy and savory without the carbs from crackers. You can drizzle a little balsamic vinegar but I like it plain too.

        • Carol Tice

          My kids dip little tomatoes in pesto and eat ’em! We’re growing our own cherries this summer…almost ripe!

          We have TJ’s but not super-near…but great idea next time I’m there I’m definitely looking for the edamame.

          • Katherine Swarts

            You might be interested in knowing that there’s an “opening soon” section on–new locations planned for this fall in Asheville, Austin, Dallas, Evanston (IL), Shoreview (MN), Tallahassee, Amherst, Baton Rouge, Boulder, Denver, Hingham (MA), Libertyville (IL), and Stamford. It reached Houston, where I live, roughly a year ago.

          • Carol Tice

            We just got ours about a year ago. I used to live walking distance from one, and it was a major regional event here when ours came. Yummy!

          • Alexis

            Although, I always try to keep in mind that the major appeal of trader joe’s lies in their marketing and packaging. A good majority of their foods aren’t sustainable or organic- like they claim to be, plus they are a multi-national corporation despite the appearance of being your friendly neighborhood store. I still shop there sometimes too, but I also like to be aware of things like this…

  27. Christin Whittington

    I loved this post, and shared it with some solopreneur friends who are also gluten-free. Here are their comments to date (it’s still generating conversation!):

    – I like to buy raw walnuts or raw almonds, soak them in water all day with a little sea salt and then roast them in the oven all night spread on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (or foil) at the lowest setting (150-170).  They can roast 10-12 hours.  Makes the enzymes more available and the nuts more digestible.  And the whole house smells lovely!

    – Substitute lentil crackers for whole wheat. They are GOOD. All my gluten-eating friends like them.

    – Use corn tortillas (if you can find non-GMO) instead of wheat. There are a couple of GF tortilla varieties out there, but they are hard to find.

    – There are lots of good GF bread options to sub in for the bagel. The best is bread you bake yourself with fewer starches and without xanthan gum.* (I’ve found that eggs and flax meal do a great job of binding stuff together without gluten.)

    – Falafel is generally just fine since it’s chickpea flour.

    – Another nice idea is to use the lettuce for lettuce wraps. We do a lot of those at my house for lunch. Just take your cheese and leftover chicken or falafel whatever and your condiments and wrap them up in lettuce leaves instead of something glutenated. Yum. Have a few walnuts on the side.

    – GF pasta can be subbed in  – either rice or quinoa or corn based. We also do a lot of rice/quinoa bowls at my house.

    *I have pretty much given up on “fake” breads.  I just eat a lot more nuts and other grains in their whole form and eschew flours. Better for me in the long run – my digestive system likes it a lot.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for the GF roundup! We do usually eat corn tortillas around here, though gluten doesn’t seem to be our problem. Just general pigging out is my main problem… 😉

      I looked at my falafel mix a while back because I wanted to know if it had regular flour to see if it was kosher for Passover (can’t have any regular flour or bread of any kind for the week), and it wasn’t…it has flour. So watch out on that. Think you may have to make your own straight from the chickpeas to avoid the flour.

      But…substitute for a bagel? Surely you jest. There’s no substitute for a bagel. If I need to cut carbs (or for others, gluten), I’ll just eat something else. We like quinoa and brown rice and use them a lot.

  28. Mahala

    What a delightfully refreshing post! Something new and different and helpful in a unique way. My office connects to the kitchen – ugh! Have to fight the lure of the fridge every time I’m struggling for a new idea or the nerves of a deadline are frazzled. Thanks.

    • Carol Tice

      You bring up an important point, Mahala…besides what we’re snacking on, there needs to just be a discipline that working from home does not mean standing with the refrigerator open eating constantly.

      Aside from a midmorning snack I do try to keep it to meals. If I’m writing afternoons, I go to my veggie snacks. And that’s about it.

      Somebody here said they start eating chocolate during the day…that way lies madness and needing a new larger wardrobe for me! A chocolate is only for after dinner.

  29. Braden Talbot

    Intermittent fast in the morning with some yerba mate and grass-fed butter, then Paleo the rest of the day—grass-fed beef, kale shakes, and fish.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m expecting you to write the great American novel real soon on this regimen, Braden!

  30. Millie Lapidario

    Thanks for writing about this Carol! Deciding what to eat everyday takes up a lot of mental energy for me, especially because I must avoid dairy and gluten (otherwise, I get skin irritations). In the past, preparing healthy meals during the day would throw me off schedule and I often found myself working late in the day, when my energy levels were low. So I developed a routine where I would do the prep work (washing and cutting veggies, making salad dressing for the week, veggie dips, etc.) a couple of evenings a week. This frees up my time during the day. If the prep work is done, all I have to do is throw them together in a salad or quick stir fry. A couple extra tips: adding raw nuts or hemp seeds makes salad more filling and adds protein. And if you’re a Costco shopper and seafood lover, salmon burger patties are sooo easy and delicious.

    Some of my favorite recipes are from Kim Snyder:

    Here’s an easy recipe for dairy-free caesar salad from Mimi Kirk:

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for adding these!

      We love nuts on our salads and also golden raisins. Even my kids will eat that salad!

  31. Anni

    I get the same thing too… when I’m under stress, I like to munch on hard thing. Sweet peas, green peppers, baby carrots… life savers for me.

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