Workday Meals – Part 2 of 2 – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB


Just as IC changes our lives, so must we change to adapt. If we have very food-sensitive bladders, our comfort level and quality of life will probably depend on how well we stick to our diet. Yet every day we are on the receiving end of multimillion-dollar ad campaigns aimed at enticing us to buy food that’s bad for us. No wonder we sometimes feel that we’re engaged in a battle with our own emotions! But we aren’t alone. Millions of people who are diabetics, or are very overweight, who have eating disorders or severe food allergies, deal with the same daily emotional conflict over diet. Perhaps we can apply some things they’ve learned to our situation.

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us

A good first step to taking control of our diet-triggered bladder pain is to know ourselves. Each of us should take an honest inventory of our emotional resources. When do we tend to cheat on our diet? When we’re bored? When we’re frustrated or trying to meet a deadline? When others are eating? What foods do we cheat with often?

If we can identify the foods and situations that tempt us, we can develop a plan to help us avoid the temptation. For instance, if I grab something chocolate out of the vending machine when I’m nervous, is there some other behavior I can train myself to do? A walk around the office perhaps, or a couple minutes of stretching exercises? Is there a bladder-safe gum to chew?

Be Prepared

Weekday lunches are great temptations to cheat on our diets. Someone heats up scrumptious smelling ravioli in the lunch room microwave and invites us to share… friends ask us to join them at that great little Thai food place… the boss schedules a lunch time meeting and buys pizza and soft drinks for everyone. However you choose to deal with each situation, it will be better if you have taken a few minutes to think through some possible scenarios and planned a few possible responses ahead of time.

One idea that works well is to always have bladder-safe alternatives handy. Keep a little stash of emergency lunch money in a drawer, perhaps clipped to the phone number of a local deli or restaurant where you can have a bladder safe meal made and delivered. Or keep your car’s gas tank at least 1/4 full so you always have the option of quickly running out to pick up something you can eat.Keep a stash of bladder safe snacks in a desk drawer too ( I always liked “CornNuts”).

Comb the grocery store for items that you can keep at work strictly for dietary emergencies– individual cans of tuna and pears (some brands even have pull-tab tops so you don’t need a can opener), packages of saltines, vanilla or butterscotch pudding (don’t forget a few plastic spoons or forks!). Be sure to also keep your drawer well stocked with Prelief, Tums, or baking soda in capsules (ask if your pharmacist has them).

Quick Lunches to Bring

Homemade food is of course the most bladder-safe workday lunch. One downside is that it requires some effort. Forget trying to assemble anything complex for lunch in the morning… who has time? But doing a lot of the work ahead of time, on a Saturday morning or Sunday evening say, can give you the basic ingredients of several days’ lunches and speed up morning assembly times.

Here are some bladder-friendly lunch ideas. Some take less than 5 minutes to put together in the morning because much of the work is done for you or is done ahead of time on the weekend:

The Un-sandwich: What is a sandwich really but meat, cheese, veggies (usually lettuce) and bread? Instead of putting the ingredients together with mayonnaise, catsup or mustard, how about eating them separately, sans bladder burning condiments?

A meat slicer is a good investment if packaged lunch meats bother you (approach meats with nitrates carefully). You can turn Sunday’s leftover roast into deli-sliced meat for two or three lunches the following week.

Try margarine on the bread instead of mayonnaise (Nucoa brand margarine in stick form has less artificial ingredients than many other brands). Flavor it with a tiny pinch of garlic powder or even herbs.

Oregano or basil are good with tuna. Dill is good with crumbled hard-boiled egg. And take a little container of basil-flavored olive oil to sprinkle on a bowl of lettuce and chopped black olives. (Buy small containers or re-use tiny liquor bottles they give out on airplanes). Or try alfalfa sprouts with a bit of IMO (imitation sour cream) flavored with your favorite dried herbs. (IMO is high in saturated fat though, so a little goes a long way).

Dried herbs such as basil, oregano or marjoram sprinkled on moist lettuce give it a flavor boost. Although cheddar is frequently a problem, some people can eat slices of American cheese or even the canned “squirt cheese” if it’s the American cheese variety. Mozzarella is a relatively bladder-safe cheese for sandwiches.

Low-cal Lunch: On Sunday night cut up a large amount of bell pepper strips, celery sticks and zucchini strips and seal each type of vegetable in a plastic bag. Buy 3 or 4 small cartons of cottage cheese. This will give you 3 or 4 lunches for the following week.

In the morning, gather some veggie strips and take along a carton of cottage cheese and perhaps add a handful of original-style Triscuit crackers to round out the meal. Pre-cut veggies can be purchased at many grocery stores. Canned black olives or crisp radishes make good lunch fare too.

Hard-boiled eggs, canned chunk tuna in spring water, or canned cooked chicken are good protein sources. (Be sure the canned meat doesn’t contain any “soy protein isolate” or “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”). The individual serving cans are great to keep on hand at work. (Note: carrot sticks are good, but because of their high sugar content you may want to go easy on them if you are trying to lose weight.) I’ve found that soft pretzels also make good lunch fare when paired with celery sticks and Campbell’s Healthy Request Chicken Noodle Soup.

Tummy warmers: In cold weather nothing beats homemade soups or stews. First, make a very large pot of soup or stew for a weekend dinner (my cookbook features a variety of soups and stews). Using plastic containers, freeze a few portions for your lunches the following week. In the morning you can heat the portion up in the microwave then carry it to work in a thermos. If you’re rushed, you can put the frozen containers inside plastic bags and take them to work with you. They will partially defrost while you work in the morning. Then at lunch, empty them into a soup bowl and heat in the lunch room microwave.

Alternatively, you can get up early and make a big batch of soup in a large electric crock pot. Set it on “low” to cook for eight hours while you are at work. You’ll have dinner for that night and lunch for the following day or two.

Other Lunch Goodies: Natural-style crisp pretzels are good for snacks or lunch, just check labels for any additives that bother you. Some pretzel brands to try are Hain’s or Newman’s Own. Dry-roasted cashews or almonds are tasty snacks or additions to a lunch if these nuts are bladder-safe for you.

Try cut-up chunks of honeydew melon, Fuji apples (lower acid than most apples), or blueberries (if these are safe for you. They may not be tolerated by those with vulvodynia). A container of homemade granola with some carob chips mixed in makes a great lunchtime “dessert”.

And speaking of desserts: Homemade cookies are a wonderful treat and kids will love them in their lunches too. They might enjoy making some for you! Crisp red pears make a great apple substitute and some people can eat bananas.

Have you tried crunchy raw potatoes with a bit of salt? To keep cut fruits or potatoes from turning brown before lunch, pack them in a watertight container so they are submerged in water (they only turn brown when exposed to air).

My friend Sue likes carob covered malt balls to snack on. Dried blueberries or dates may work for you. Sometimes you can find dried pear slices without sulfites. Also, some people can tolerate brown raisins, whereas grapes bother their bladder. (Watch out for golden raisins though. They are usually treated with sulfites). Japanese rice crackers wrapped with a bit of seaweed may be worth trying.

You can find various flavors of crisp rice cakes at natural foods markets and many we can eat because they are preservative-free. Lena writes that she likes string cheese (its not aged) and rice cakes for lunch.

Fast Food

What to do if you have a job in sales, say, and are on the road most of the day? Sometimes you just have to risk the fare in fast food places. So what’s safe? Well, everyone’s different so you have to experiment. But chances are you’ll eventually find some items you can safely eat. Just watch out for unannounced recipe changes. In the ultra-competitive world of fast food, recipes and menus are constantly changing.

One of the worst and sneakiest offenders is hydrolyzed soy protein, or soy protein isolate. It’s not announced in glowing letters on the menu so unless you specifically ask to see an ingredient list, you may not realize its there. It’s often used as an extender to add to meat or fish. Hamburger patties very often have it. It may play havoc with your IBS or migraines as well as your bladder. Personally, I’ve had bad luck with McDonalds but better luck with Burger King patties.

For many years I wasn’t able to drink any soft drinks and even sparkling water bothered my bladder. But thanks to a medication combination I’m now taking, I can at least drink one carbonated beverage occasionally: the Barq’s root beer served at some restaurants. My bladder is especially happy if I follow it with some baking soda or a Tums. My bladder still won’t tolerate canned Barq’s though. Perhaps the restaurants use more water or perhaps their version lacks some preservative that the canned drinks have. Who knows?…it’s a mystery. I’m just grateful that after years of abstention from anything carbonated I can now have an occasional treat.

Here are some comments and suggestions gathered from several IC patients on the subject of restaurant food:

“French fries are about the only thing I can tolerate.”

“My problem is sauces…. I’ve never had a problem getting them to leave the sauce off.”

“I take Prelief with me. I can eat just about anything then.”

“When I eat lunch at a restaurant with my friends from work I usually take a Tums or two with my food and then its okay. They think I take it for the calcium….”

“the food court at the mall is my favorite. there’s so many foods and no one cares if you take a lunch bag either. i can take a sandwich and my bottled water with me. maybe get something to go with it.”

“I can’t eat pineapple, but pineapple smoothies seem to be okay.”

“Forget it. It’s not worth it. Prelief or Tums or baking soda does me no good. I don’t eat anything unless I made it at home. If the people I work with want my company, they’ll have to stay here and eat with me”

“Plain grilled chicken on a bun with just a little butter and lettuce works. I tell people I have food allergies. They understand that.”