Eating in a Pickle: What to do when you need something quick and easy.

Well, I can honestly say I enjoyed my pumpkin pie last Thursday.  There was no leche flan or kare-kare, so that was a little disappointing.  But I did have plenty of cassava cake.

In Filipino culture, it’s customary for all your guests to help themselves to the leftovers after the party is over.  So as the host, you better make plenty of extra food so they can have food to take home.  Our guests definitely got their share; we’ve already run out of leftover turkey and green beans, and it’s only Saturday!

So now I’m searching for something to eat for lunch.  We’ll probably end up going out to eat, so I was reminded of a comment that Rachel left on my post about HFCS.  She asked:

“I appreciate the alternatives you mentioned for HFCS. I find, however, that it’s VERY difficult to find foods without fake sugar of corn syrup in them. Yes, clean eating is ideal, but what do you do when those are not an option? We all want to be able to plan ahead and pack our food so we’re not caught in a pickle – but what do you do when you inevitably are in that pickle? What are the best options?”

Rachel is exactly right.  Sometimes life gets in the way of planning ahead and packing all our food.  And sometimes you don’t want to bring a sack lunch to certain occasions – business lunches, weddings, dinner with a friend, etc.  Or sometimes you just don’t have time to make your own food.  Like me right now.

So I’m going to talk about a couple different scenarios where you might feel like you’re “in a pickle” and what I do when I find myself there.


You’re at home, and you need to grab something quick to eat before you pick the kids up from school or before Grey’s Anatomy starts.  But you don’t have time to cook anything.  What are your options?  Well, you can always pick up the phone and order a pizza or Chinese takeout, or you can make a quick run to the McDonald’s drive-through for a quarter pounder with cheese and small fries from the dollar menu.  Or you can do one of the following:

Option #1: You can throw together something small and quick.  I like to keep my freezer stocked with emergency food in cases just like this.  In my freezer you’ll always find turkey meatballs, heat-and-eat edamame, and frozen berries.  In my fridge you’ll always find a jar of almond butter and flax seeds.  So with this emergency stash, you have two options:

    1. You can have a tasty and healthy meal of turkey meatballs and edamame.  Just heat and serve!  You can find both in Trader Joe’s freezer section.  There are also plenty of other emergency freezer goodies in that section, like grilled chicken and buffalo burgers (lean and high in protein).
    2. You can throw together a quick shake.  Just throw some rice or soy milk into a blender with a scoop of chocolate protein powder, a handful of frozen berries, a teaspoon or two of almond butter, and a tablespoon or two of flax seeds for added fiber.

Option #2: You can go out to eat.  There are plenty of quick and easy food options near where I live: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, sushi, pasta and pizza, Subway, Trader Joe’s, QFC, Thai food, Chinese, etc.  So how do I decide?  When I’m looking for something quick and easy, I’ll keep the following guidelines in mind:

    • The meal must include some kind of lean protein and fibrous carb (fruits and vegetables).  If it includes a starchy carb, it must be either made from whole grains or there shouldn’t be too much of it. 
    • Nothing fried
    • No creamy or cheesy sauces, minimal butter and cheese
    • Stay away from the places that are likely to use MSG, overload with sodium, or use plenty of artificial ingredients.

That usually rules out the fast food places and many Chinese restaurants.

My husband and I will usually go to Subway for a turkey sandwich on wheat, loads of veggies, and dijon mustard. (Skip the mayo and heavy sauces!) Or we’ll run to Trader Joe’s for a chicken wrap, to QFC for a custom turkey or roast beef sandwich on whole wheat with a cup of non-cream-based soup (like a chicken noodle soup, vegetable soup, or tomato soup).  And on those occasions we feel like something fancier, we’ll get some sushi for some omega-3s from the fish.  However, we’ll eat the fried variations in moderation and we always use the low-sodium soy sauce.

So, to address Rachel’s point that it’s hard to find food without corn syrup or fake sugar in them, all I can say is do the best you can.  When you stock up your fridge with your emergency food, do your shopping at places like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods – grocery stores that are known to use whole, natural ingredients. 

When you decide to go out to eat, choose the places that are more likely to have “real” ingredients.  Alwyn Cosgrove, author of The New Rules of Lifting and The New Rules of Lifting for Women, calls this Three Degrees of Clean Eating.  “If you can’t visualize it roaming, growing, or being extracted from something that is roaming or growing, you probably shouldn’t eat it.”  You may not always know exactly what’s in everything (Subway’s bread might have HFCS in it), but you can do your best to minimize the amount you’re ingesting.  When you find yourself in a pickle, it’s the best you can do.

In my next post, I’ll talk about Scenario #2: You’re out to eat with a client, colleague, or friend, and you want more than just a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.  What do you do?  I’ll list some of my favorite restaurants and what I choose to eat there when I’m in a pickle.

Now, off to Subway…

4 thoughts on “Eating in a Pickle: What to do when you need something quick and easy.

  1. I’ve been enjoying the apple dippers at McDonalds. I’m not missing the fries much at all! Though, I think it’s Lou Schuller’s clean eating plan in the NROL books. Could be wrong, a girl at work stole my bible so I can’t check! She was supposed to give it back last week before Thanksgiving and I honestly feel lost without it :(.

    I’m also starting to like Balsamic vinagrette! Those salads at McDonalds… It’s within walking distance from my job :). 220 cals and 30 grams of proteinin the ceasar salad with grilled chicken, yum :).

    I thought this post when I saw the title would be about eating pickles as a quick and easy snack. No pickles for me, though I really do need to bring healthy options to work and eat more raw foods.

  2. Julie – thank you! This is helpful! One other question…can you recommend any portable snacks to have for emergencies? I used to put cravers in my purse, but just seeing if you had any other ideas. I appreciate this post very much – thank you again!

  3. Hi Rachel – Cravers are great. In case of emergies, I also sometimes keep almonds, beef jerky, and an apple in my bag. Couple the apple with either the beef jerky or a handful of almonds, and you’ll be good-to-go! Just don’t forget to take the apple out of your purse if you haven’t eaten it after a few days. 🙂

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