Running on Office Snacks

Photo credit: Cindy Shebley, CC BY 2.0.

An office job offers plenty of financial perks. There’s the steady salary, the relatively high job security, the health insurance, the pre-tax subway card — but don’t underestimate the benefits of one oft-forgotten category. Working at an office means a lot of free food will come your way. When it does, you have to know what to do with it in order to optimize its positive effects on your bank account. (For one, you should definitely eat it.)

As someone who’s jumped back and forth over the years from office to freelance, from worlds where cupcakes appear as if by magic on coworkers’ desks to a world where I alone am responsible for procuring my own sustenance, I’ve thought a lot about how easily one can live primarily off of office snacks. Always ready to return to hunting and gathering (at my local grocery store), I’ve learned to navigate office refrigerators as if I were preparing for a seven-year famine.

In my time as an office snack connoisseur, I’ve encountered a variety of food scenarios. There was the hedge fund that could have easily fed several small families in addition to its employees. Another office remained well stocked by virtue of its proximity to Trader Joe’s. A third used a weekly grocery delivery service to provide snacks. For a while, I worked out of a members-only space where snacks were sparse but drinks flowed freely. One sad office didn’t offer any food at all.

But where my employers did provide food, I was on it — turning every free cookie or granola bar into part of my next meal.

The Hedge Fund

At the hedge fund, I lived large. Our employers (or rather, the woman who worked at the front desk) ordered two delicious, abundant lunches every week. The food always came from places good enough to visit on a first date or, more applicable in this case, a highbrow business meeting. I was a three-day-a week temp, but I was lucky enough to work both days lunch was provided. The first day this happened, I got greedy and shoveled two meals’ worth of hummus, grape leaves, tabouli, and lamb onto my plate… so I brought the rest home to eat for dinner in borrowed Tupperware. Thus began a strategic and perfectly ethical pattern — if I didn’t take the food now, the leftovers would eventually find their way into the trash. Why not stock up?

While the hedge fund excelled at mealtime food, they outdid themselves with the snacks. Cabinets full of chocolate-covered almonds, chocolate-drizzled graham crackers, and dried kiwi lined the kitchen, which also housed salty choices like multi-seeded crackers, vegetables, and kale chips in numerous flavors (Spicy lime! Wasabi garlic! Barbeque!). I brought some of these snacks home with me, too. I imagine this might have been frowned upon, but it went unnoticed. At the time, I was living with three under-employed women who could all use a chocolate-covered pick-me-up, perhaps more so than my well-salaried office mates. The service I performed would have impressed Robin Hood.

In my hedge fund days, I only needed to buy food for breakfast and lunch during the two days of the workweek I didn’t spend at the office. For the rest of my Monday-through-Friday meals, I ate office food — or brought home leftovers.

Workweek food cost (out-of-pocket): ~$13

The office near Trader Joe’s

The office near the Trader Joe’s didn’t have quite as many food offerings as the hedge fund, but it still served me well. Trader Joe’s is known for two things: its Hawaiian shirt-wearing employees and its A+ snacks. Our office’s A+ snacks included large, plastic containers full of cookies and other sweets, supplemented by a full candy drawer and a few bananas and oranges that everyone would subtly fight to snatch up.

I tried to grab the fruits when I could — and certainly ate too much candy — in my time at this office. I’d also occasionally perform some savvy Trader Joe’s grocery shopping, because their frozen meals aren’t terrible for you and can satisfy several days of work lunches.

Since this office primarily provided sweets, I wasn’t able to healthfully scavenge for meals, though I did often eat cookies for breakfast. For lunch, I would eat out or bring leftovers from home most days.

Workweek food cost (out of pocket): ~$46

The food delivery office

The once-a-week food delivery office actually proved more cost-effective than the dessert-abundant office near Trader Joe’s. If the snacks weren’t as good, at least they were more varied in terms of food group. We had little plastic cups of peanut butter and hummus (extremely wasteful but relatively good for you), granola bars, pretzels, veggie chips (which we can pretend are good for you), apples, and instant oatmeal — in addition to a weekly snack chosen by a different employee ahead of each order. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

To spice up my life during this time period, I’d mix and match various snacks for breakfast. Some mornings I’d enjoy a chocolate granola bar. Other mornings, I’d have oatmeal or an apple — sometimes, as a treat, I would mix the two together. If I’d decided to really live it up, I’d throw in some peanut butter. Hummus and pretzels or veggie chips often had to suffice for lunch, which was fine, or I’d have a granola bar lunch on an oatmeal breakfast day. Throughout the week, I’d bring in additional fruits to add to the oatmeal or bring in dinner leftovers if I had them.

The food was delivered on Tuesday, so when Friday came around and pickings were slim, I’d give in and go out for cheap sushi or the hot food selection at the nearby deli. Unfortunately, in my time at this office, our employee numbers went up by about 20 percent, while our weekly food order did not. Employees would hide veggie chips or squirrel away granola bars, and it grew increasingly difficult to survive on office snacks alone.

Workweek food cost (out of pocket): ~$27

If your workplace offers free meals or snacks, I’d recommend eating them! If you find that the snacks are a little too sweet or carb-heavy to sustain an entire day’s worth of nutrition, you can always bring your own vegetables/boiled eggs/string cheese to complement the free offerings — it’ll still be cheaper than a packed lunch.

Jessica Klein is a freelance writer and amateur portrait artist based in New York. You can find her on Twitter here and read her stories about kinky Renaissance fairs, rare blockchain art, and Yiddish insults here.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Food Series.

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