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The ‘Art of War’ for Office Meeting Snacking

Sun Tzu’s Menu Options

Gif of army men on desk using a tank to remove a bagel with cream cheese.
Meiko Takechi Arquillos

The office isn’t really a battlefield, and every corporate meeting is hardly a matter of life and death. It just feels that way sometimes. Which is why many tactical careerists still turn to The Art of War, the sage advice of legendary warrior and scholar Sun Tzu. Not necessarily the part about how all warfare is based on deception, or that one should feign disorder before crushing one’s enemy. More along the lines of how the better-prepared commander will be victorious. 

But what does that mean for us, PowerPoint centurions of the 21st century? 

Though food is scarcely mentioned in Sun Tzu’s text, being well-fed before a meeting is, as he might say, “a road either to safety or to ruin.” Here are some strategies for staying high-energy and focused while those around you succumb to fatigue.

Employ an alternative energy source

For a fast pre-meeting energy burst, forgo the second cup of coffee and try a bar of high-quality dark chocolate, suggests Vanessa Clermont, an integrative nutrition health coach in New York City. The caffeine is there, approximately 12 mg, to give you some pep. And unlike coffee, chocolate is neither a laxative nor a diuretic, so you won’t be the guy sheepishly asking for a bathroom break.

Do you think Sun Tzu ever missed a battle ’cause he had to take a dump? No, no, he did not.

Get squirrelly on the way to the office

Clermont suggests foods that are rich in antioxidants (strawberries, raspberries, pecans), omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts), and vitamin E (almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts). If you’re not getting the message, let us spell it out for you. Nuts. You need to eat nuts. Lots of freaking nuts.

Nuts and seeds are rich in fat, protein and fiber, which means they might be the single best food for keeping you from getting hungry as the meeting stretches on. And you just know it’s gonna stretch on. Clermont suggests snacking at least 30 minutes before the meeting. 

“You want to be in a calm mental and emotional state before it starts,” she says. “What you put into your mouth is as important as what you feed yourself emotionally.”

If you’re stuck with bagels, improvise

What happens when your best-laid plans fall apart? When traffic was the worst and your kids had to get to school so you couldn’t adequately prepare and you’re in a rush? What if your only option is the spread in the back of the conference room?

As Sun Tzu might admonish, improvise. A bagel isn’t necessarily your enemy. One can still, from the jaws of defeat, snatch victory. 

“The important thing,” says Clermont, “is not to eat the bagel alone. Add some cream cheese. Lox if they have it.” Worst-case scenario: Fill up a coffee cup with milk, drink it down, then add the coffee. You’re looking for any way to add fat and protein to the carbs.

And thus can one sally forth, seize the pointer, share one’s screen, and emerge the victor.