Tips For Low Stress Conventioning-Part 1 of 5: Food Options

Convention season is starting to pick up for the year, so we’re putting together some thoughts on how to manage your conventioning without going crazy.  Over the years, we’ve observed a lot of common problems and come up with solutions for many of them.  At this point, we can walk into our studio closet right now and walk out again prepared for a local show. If we need to travel, we only need a day to pack up and prep our personal items and do our food shopping.  How do you achieve this level of skill? Read on.


1. Bring your own healthy food & snacks. Also, make sure you have backup meal options.

It’s difficult to acquire healthy food at many venues, and given the high stress environment and crowds, it is even more important than normal to make sure that you are eating properly and staying hydrated in order to stay healthy.


We’ve been doing conventions since 2001, and the main difference we’ve tracked in whether or not any of us end up with con plague is what we ate.  Whenever we don’t bring food, we get sick, without fail.  Not bringing food also makes it more likely that you’ll skip meals, which will not only affect your health, but is likely to make you cranky with your customers and hurt your sales.

Plan for at least two meals a day, and include some snacks.  We often go out for dinner at cons, but we always make sure to have enough food that we can get by if we can’t go out.


Good choices that don’t need refrigeration include carrot/celery sticks and other vegetables, peanut butter, healthy granola bars (make sure they aren’t candy bars with delusions of grandeur, read those labels) beef jerky (again, read the labels) fruit and breads/baked goods. Depending on whether cooking/hot water options are available, you can also bring canned or dry soups, or shelf-stable pasta meals. Even if you have refrigeration in your hotel room, be careful with bringing perishables to the table.  If you get held up dealing with customers, your lunch can spoil before you have a chance to eat it, and food poisoning really ruins your day.


I like to make savory muffins for conventions. They are compact and easy to eat, even at the table, and keep for a few days.  They make a good alternative to sandwiches, and don’t require extra packing.  A base recipe is at the end of the post.


You can bring your own coolers to most cons, but some venues may not let you bring them onto the convention floor.  Soft-sided coolers are easier to bring in-we own one that functions as a spare stool and just looks like another bag.  Instead of ice, we use a product called Techni-Ice that comes in flexible sheets.  It can stay cold for days, even in a soft-sided cooler, and doesn’t leak or get things soggy. It is reusable and lasts for years.


It’s a good idea to have a reusable water bottle (preferably one you can drink out of without taking off the cap entirely) with you so you can refill with tap water rather than paying exorbitant prices for bottled water. Make sure your drinking water is easily distinguishable from paint water, if you paint at the table. 😉


If you are staying at a hotel with a fridge and/or cooking area, your options are wide open.  If you can, become a member at hotel chains that offer suite rooms so you can get discounts and other rewards. If you regularly attend cons where these amenities are available, a vacuum food jar (Mr. Bento and similar) can be a great investment.  Those allow you to have a hot meal hours after packing, wherever you are. However, never assume you will have fridges or microwave available unless they are a listed room amenity.  You may not even have a coffeepot.


You should always make sure your basic human needs are covered first at conventions.  It is always easier to deal with the normal and sometimes abnormal situations and people you experience if you aren’t hungry or thirsty.  Nobody likes to be sick at a con, or come home and lose time to illness, so take good care of yourself.


Savory Muffins

Based on Quiche Lorraine Muffins from The Ultimate Muffin Book by Bruce Weinstein & Mark Scarbrough. (Very much recommended, there are several other tasty recipes in this book.)

This makes about 12 standard size muffins.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow or white cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups shredded cheese-harder cheeses work better for this.
Meat and/or vegetable additions, roughly 2 cups cooked: You can use bacon, prosciutto, etc.  Any meat that will keep for a few days cooked in baked goods works. Scallions and other members of the onion family are tasty, but get creative if you like. Anything with a high water content needs to be cooked a bit first and excess liquid drained so it doesn’t ruin the texture of the muffins.
Herbs/spices to taste
  1. Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray or use muffin cups; set aside. Set your oven to 400°F.
  2. Prep your meat and/or veggies.  Usually this means sautéing them in a little of the oil until the meat browns and the veggies wilt a bit. Transfer these to a large bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, and salt until well blended; set aside.
  4. Whisk the egg, egg yolks, and the remaining oil into the bowl with the bacon; stir in the milk and cheese until well blended, and then stir in the flour mixture until moistened.
  5. Fill prepared muffin tins 3/4 full.
  6. Bake in a 400° oven for 18 minutes or until muffins are lightly browned and pick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
  7. Cool 10 minutes (on a rack if you have it).
  8. Gently remove muffins from tin and cool them 5 minutes on the rack before serving (if stuck, gently rock back and forth to release it from the tin).
To store: cool completely, then seal in an airtight container or in freezer bags.
Muffins will stay fresh at room temperature for 2 days or up to 3 months in freezer. (Letting them thaw naturally will give you the best texture, and they can serve as icepacks for other food if you plan well.)


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