A Con-Goer’s Survival Guide

Come With Me If You Want To Live

Plan ahead!

A weekend-long convention isn’t a sprint, it is a marathon, and your health and nutritional needs should be carefully considered before taking it on.  I had a full dinner at a Con a few months ago that was prepared in a hotel room.  It was delicious, and the lady that did all the work had packed in her own coolers, two slow cookers, a rice cooker, and a box of cooking utensils (and had an in-room mini fridge, coffee maker and microwave).  I salute her and the meal she served me, but I don’t expect everyone to go to that level of Field Kitchen-ready.  With the amenities usually provided in a normal hotel room there is no reason you should have to survive on junk food throughout the whole weekend.

Hotel Room Kitchenette
A nicely stocked hotel room kitchenette. Call the hotel in advance to see what amenities are included in your room.

So What Do You Need?  Besides A Miracle
The coffee maker can be used to heat water for instant cereal packs, or you can cook right in the carafe.  Check the web for loads of recipes for everything from snacks to entire meals cooked with a standard coffee maker!  One recipe I found recommends a packet of oatmeal in the carafe, and a flavored tea bag in the basket to add a special zing.  Get creative, but do not run anything but water through the coffee maker!!
The iron is sometimes recommended for making grilled cheese or heating up a Panini.  I am not advocating things that make a mess in the room and might cause you a damage fee, but take a roll of foil if you plan to heat things up that way.
I like to use the ironing board as a side table for snacks to leave the table and limited counter space in the room open.
The hair dryer can heat and melt soft cheese if you want to try an in-room nacho party.

Colder than Han Solo in Carbonite
Going to a lot of trouble to bring in fresh food isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t take care of your cooler.  Start by freezing several 12 oz water bottles.  Stash these around the inside of your cooler and use them as your first day’s ice supply, which should get you through average travel time, check-in and getting settled.  Drink the water on Days 2 – 4.
771px-Chilling_Dauvissat_wine_an_ice_bath We’ll assume you have access to your hotel’s ice dispensers and can access ice for the duration of your stay. If not, see if you can find other con-goers to split a big bag of ice and divide it out amongst several coolers.
If you are keeping a lot of beverages cold, move them into their own cooler (or the bathtub, depending on the size of your party) and fill it with ice.  The drinks will be fine inside their bottles and cans.
For the food cooler, find 2 or 3 tall, thin containers that can hold ice.  I like Lock & Lock Containers for coolers because they are watertight.  Fill the containers with ice and keep them in the cooler, so when they melt the water is contained and doesn’t contaminate all of the food within.  Put all of the food inside watertight containers too (zip-locking plastic bags are not watertight).  You can also freeze some food that you plan to eat later in the weekend such as meat snacks (meatballs, grilled strips, cold roasted meat), and pack them on the bottom to extend the 1st day’s worth of cold.
If the room has a small fridge, use it for the most perishable items like yogurt, cheese, and meats.  Use the cooler for cans and bottles, fresh veggies and fruits.

The Food Groups Beyond Salt, Fat, Alcohol and Chocolate
We tend to “treat” ourselves when we’re at a weekend-long event, and far too often that ends up not feeling much like a treat at all.  By all means, get the good quality chocolate and the fun beverages, but make sure you give your body all it will need to win the day!

Hard Boiled Eggs, Canned Tuna and Your Homemade Pasta Salad provide a great high-protein snack or meal to keep you going!

Boiled Eggs
Bean Dips -a bean dip is a good protein source, and holds well in a cooler. White bean dip, hummus, black bean, pinto, whatever.  You can make a healthy cheese dip using cottage cheese, herbs and fresh veggies as well.  Make sure it is in a container with a tight lid!
Baked Chick Peas – rinse canned chick peas, flavor them with the seasoning of your choice like curry, taco, spicy, teriyaki, etc.  Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30 – 45 minutes, checking after 20 minutes and shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking and burning, and to get even browning.  Let cool and eat!
Seitan – For the vegans in the crowd, there are some pretty tasty vital wheat gluten “Jerky” snacks available.
Meat Snacks – meatballs, jerky, cold roasted meats
Peanut Butter and other nut butters, Sunflower Butter
Edamame (fresh green soybeans in the pod, steamed and served with coarse salt sprinkled on)
Falafel and Hummus

Ants on Snow
Ants on Snow

Ants on Logs or Ladybugs on Logs, or on Snow (cream cheese).  Everybody loves these, and they are easy to make.  Have raisins, dried cranberries, celery, cream cheese, peanut butter or alternative packed for a fast and fun snack.


By Grabthar’s Hammer, Eat Some Celery
Don’t fill up on empty calories, but do plan on getting plenty of complex carbs to give you long-lasting energy to smite your enemies.  Take a minute at the store to read some labels and buy the snack foods with whole grains, less sugar, no artificial colors and flavorings if you can avoid them.  Start out by buying healthier snacks so when you are hungry or just have the munchies, the snack you reach for is a healthy choice.
Plus, when guys eat celery, they emit pheromones that attract women, so that could be a real plus.

Carbs & Fiber
Crudites_PlatterFresh Veggies – celery sticks, carrot sticks, blanched green beans, etc.  Cut them in advance so they are ready to snack on straight from their watertight container in the cooler.
Granola, Cheerios,other whole grain cereal in a bag, instant oatmeal packs, instant grits
Whole Fruit – tangerines, grapes, oranges, bananas
Whole Grain Crackers, Bread, Pretzels, etc.
Rice cakes, corn cakes
Homemade carrot or zucchini muffins or cornbread
Whole grain pasta salad – cook your pasta just to ‘al dente’ so it will stay firm.  Add chunks of whatever garden produce looks good: zucchini, squash, asparagus, artichoke hearts, green onions, beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, etc.  Stick to the veggies that won’t make the pasta wet: use whole cherry tomatoes instead of diced. Whip up a quick vinaigrette, or use your favorite salad dressing to coat.  Kept in a watertight container and a batch of this could last you through ‘til Sunday.
Fresh Fruit Salad – spend the time the night before cleaning and cutting up fresh fruit to toss together into a salad.  You can get fancy and add some coconut, or fresh mint, or even basil to it.  Plan on eating it up for breakfast or a snack within the first 2 days.
Fruit leathers
Fresh fruits, dried fruits like raisins, cherries, and cranberries.  Banana chips provide a great source of potassium to help prevent those leg and foot cramps.
Applesauce or other fruit cups in individual servings

Adipose Industries – The Fat Just Walks Away
Try to avoid all of the greasy fried snacks you’ll see like bags of potato chips, fries, and fast food burgers.  Do get some healthy fats in to help give you stamina for those long party nights and keep your mental capacities operating at peak performance.

AA026294Avocados are a good source for healthy and delicious fat.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and eat straight, or add to a take-out salad.
Canned Fish – tuna, sardines, smoked oysters, trout, all sorts of fish can be eaten right from the can, or added to crackers and cheese for a power snack.  Be sure to brush your teeth before getting back into your cosplay though!
Nuts & Seeds– almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia, sunflower, pumpkin, etc – good sources of protein, fiber, and fat

Aimin’ to Misbehave
Drinking_glass_Pace yourself, youngster.  You’ve got to put a good protein base down before you do a lot of drinking.  And seriously, drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage, and another one before crashing for the night, ok?
vitamin_tablets - PDYou’ve overdone it? Start detoxifying by stimulating the liver and other organs of elimination with some fresh fruit juice, full of vitamins C and E.  It will help stimulate your kidneys and restore nutrients and blood sugar levels.

Balance your blood chemistry with a good multi vitamin and a soothing cup of herb tea (again, use the room’s coffee maker to good effect).  A multi-amino compound helps to balance your brain chemistry.
Vitamins A, B, C and E all help to repair the damage you’ve inflicted on yourself, and give you a boost of energy to keep going.  (Don’t take the vitamin B at night- save that for when you roll out of bed and put something light on your stomach to take advantage of the energy boost that comes with it.)

We’re Not Hosting An Intergalactic Kegger Down Here
It will be much more effective to get these vitamins through whole foods or good quality supplements than from shady “energy drinks” that give you a quick fix from caffeine and high fructose corn syrup.  It is also a very bad idea to mix those with alcohol.

What Hath Night To Do With Sleep?
person_sleeping - PDChromium, manganese, magnesium and calcium will help keep you balanced and soothe your nerves.  A good cal/mag supplement at night will help you sleep and ease the cramps in your legs and feet that you got from standing in that two-hour line after walking 6 blocks in heels.
If that isn’t enough, take some Epsom salts and soak in the tub, or at least soak a towel in the salted water and wrap it around your legs to help remove the lactic acid from the muscles and ease the strain.  Change out your shoes often, and pack extra band aids to care for blisters as soon as you spot them.
If your hotel has one, go sit in the sauna for a while to help flush the toxins out.
If you take meds on a regular basis, make sure you take them at something close to a “normal” schedule while you are at the Con.  Nobody has a good time if you fall out and have to go to the ER because you neglected to take your meds on time, and then ate nothing all day but a plate full of blue peeps.

Let’s avoid Con Crud!
Take some basic precautions to avoid getting sick during or after the con.  If you are flying in, wear a mask on the plane.  Honestly, the Flight Attendants won’t bat an eyelash at you if you pull out a surgical mask for the duration of the flight.  Get as much sleep as you can ahead of time, and during.  Afternoon naps can save you!
Emergen C provides a good boost for energy and needed daily water soluble vitamins, which you will be burning through while exposing yourself to thousands of other people’s germs.  Plan on mixing a packet with water or juice every morning of the con, and make everyone crashing in your room do it too.
Take bottles of hand soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s, but if you like antibacterial soaps, this is a good time to use them) and put them at every sink in your room.  Encourage everyone to wash their hands often.
Keep some Airborne on hand and take it daily as a preventative, or at the first sign of a sniffle or cough or that run-down Raggedy Man feeling.

Dammit Jim, I’m not a Doctor, I’m a Chef
DoctorThese are generally accepted uses for nutrients in our daily lives.  Check with an actual Doctor before changing your diet or exercise regimen (or drinking anything with “Surprise” in the name).


Any Last Advice?  Stay Alive!
Any good expedition requires superior logistics and supplies.  Take one hour away from costuming prep and put that time and effort into taking care of your health and food requirements to ensure success.   Healthy food CAN be had for the same price as expensive junk food and give you the energy you need to slide through any inter-dimensional wormhole and succeed in your glorious quest!

Have a Great Con!

Brunhilde at the Hyatt, Dragon Con 2010
Brunhilde at the Hyatt, Dragon Con 2010

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