So before we get into the guts of raid snackage, let's put down a couple of ground rules. First, I'm calling a consumable anything a healer would eat, drink, or lather on in a raid setting to improve their performance. Thus, if you're looking for an in-depth analysis of [Noggenfogger Elixir], you're in the wrong place. Secondly, I'm only covering those items that a healer would use. Tanks and dps are on their own, sorry.
Here's a quick list of all of the healing-related consumables currently in-game:
Mana Pots - Super, Crystal, Unstable, Auchenai, Bottled Nethergon Energy, Cenarion Mana Salve
Healing Food - Golden Fish Sticks
Mp5 Food - Blackened Sporefish
Stam Food - Blackened Sporefish, Spicy Crawdad, Clam Bars/Buzzard Bites/Feltail Delight/etc.
Flasks - Mighty Resto/Shatt Mighty Resto, Distilled Wis, Unstable Physician
Battle Elixirs - Healing Power, Mastery, Adept's
Guardian Elixirs - Major Mageblood, Draenic Wis, Greater Intellect
Mana Oils - Superior, Brilliant
Just like every other aspect in the entire game, you personal pallet of consumables should be designed to either make-up for a stat deficiency, combat a boss-specific issue, or enhance your already well honed play style. This means just because I listed an item above, it may not be the right thing for you. In fact, some of them aren't right for anyone unless you can't get your grubby hands on anything else. We'll get into that in a minute.
There are a ton of mana pots in-game right now, just crying for your love and attention. Before trekking out into the wilds, be sure you have at least 1 stack, if not 2 if your evening will contain some touch-and-go healing. This is also probably the easiest place to save some cash by using the "free" instance-specific pots or those fine ones provided by your Ogri'la buddies. The instance ones are fairly easy to come across and while I've seen them on the AH, I've always had plenty to keep me going. The daily quest ones can be purchased about 1 per round of quests.
For raiding, you'll most likely want to snag a mana monitor of some sort. In the chaos of a boss fight, you'll want some backup system to sound an alert when you should consider drinking a mana pot or using some other mana regen ability. I think Pitbull is doing this for me atm, but hopefully commenters will recommend others. When I hit about 30% of my mana pool I hear a rather annoying sound. Then I make a judgment call depending on my current rate of mana loss versus the amount of life the boss has left. And while 30% might be a decision good point for most fights, a few of them will require healers to be much more proactive, like Naj'entus and Gertie Bloodboil. Don't use a mana monitor as a crutch but as a tool.
Surprisingly, the amount of healer well fed buffs is pretty limited, especially if more spirit isn't really your thing. Stix o' Fish is probably by far the most used healer food since it's the only one with +healing. Beyond that, it really depends on your class as to which chompable will help the most. Priests and Druids can benefit from both stam and spi, while Shamans and Paladins are happy enough with mp5. On a boss fight where damage to the healers isn't that severe, Stix should be used across the board. But if you are a clothie and facing some pretty serious bodily harm, you may want to bulk up on some pond lobsters. I recommend you carry at least 2 kinds of food on you, and a couple of stacks of each never hurt anyone.
Flasks and Elixirs
Now, I'm gonna be honest with you here. I didn't start using consumables en force until we started 25-man raids. So for those of you in the same boat, be sure you understand the difference between a flask, battle elixir, and guardian elixir. You can either use a flask or one of each kind of elixir (for a total of 2). If you try to mix and match flasks and elixirs, you'll end up writing over the previous one you used. The flasks last through death and the elixirs don't. There, now you know.
I'm just going to come out and say it. The flask vs elixir options for healers is irksome. Strong language, I know. What gets me is from an economical standpoint, flasks are better for progression raid nights than elixirs since they last through death. But if you're learning a boss for the first time, do you really need mp5? Um... Not in my raids you don't. I mean, unless I'm going with my most inefficient heals, the rest of the raid will croak long before I'm OOM. Likewise, how many fights are a wipe if spike damage kills off the tank? Yeah, too many. A +healing buff makes so much more sense but you have to choke down a new elixir after every wipe. And when we were learning Kael, that was every 15 min for 4 hours a night.
The other issue with elixirs is out of the 6 available, you should really only be using 2. The rest don't make sense in a raid environment. For example, you shouldn't be using a +int at all when mp5 returns more mana over the duration of a long boss fight. The 30 int equals 450 mana, which means 16mp5 will pass that mark after 2.34 min. So +int is golden for Akama, assuming you figure out a way to blow all of your mana before the fight ends. Otherwise, go for the mp5. And don't forget you're raiding end-game content. Please don't skimp for the cheaper versions.
Oil Me Up, Baby
The mp5 difference between the Brilliant and Superior really isn't that significant unless you're trying to achieve some sort of personal goal and 2mp5 pushes you over the edge. The main difference is Brilliant has an additional +25 healing component Superior doesn't. Sadly for me, what it really comes down to is reagent availability. Where I live, LBS are like the rarest item in the game. I'll see 10 Memento's walk by before I see these for a reasonable price on the AH. So I go with the Superior version since sometimes something is better than nothing. The nice thing about all weapon oils is they have 5 charges and last through death. Just be sure to check your spelling before offering the healing group "man oil". Some things you can't live down.
So now that you know all of the parts and pieces, let's talk about the big picture. As healers, the consumable stat that works in every situation and is never wasted is +healing. If you go with the +healing chompable set-up, you're looking at an additional +119 healing, 20 spi, and 28 mp5. Now, back before a priest set me straight, my copout for not using +healing all the time (aka. being cheap) was that it would increase my overhealing unnecessarily. Besides what I've written about overhealing before, the bulk of that value is from whole casts healing for 0, not tiny little bits of casts topping off a person. Testing doesn't support consumables increasing your overhealing to epic proportions, sorry.
There are cases where mp5 can be beneficial, but the issue with dipping into these waters is the temptation to use flasks. And once you do that, chances are you'll be sporting it for the next 2 hours no matter which boss you're on. That's not to say you don't need it for some fights, but it's hard not to fall for the economics of a flask over its actual usefulness. The mp5 only helps if you're using it.
Now I'm going to hit you up with some raiding philosophy around consumable usage. Most raids are able to plod along fairly well with minimal consumable use as a whole. Sure, a couple of extremists who love them some meter rankings will always be under the influence, but average Joes probably do just fine as-is. Until you hit the first boss that is a serious healing issue. For me, Morogrim raid healing made me a chompables believer. It really meant the difference between people living and dying. If I am OOM, you're just not going to make it.
There will be a second point in a raid's career that will affect you, and that's the first fight you reach where your dps have to buff to the teeth to even have a shot at downing the mobs fast enough for a win. Why do dps buffs matter to healers? Well, they actually matter for 2 reasons. The first is unless your dps are very self-motivated, you could see a "Full Consumables Required" edict passed down from your guild leaders. If it includes healers, then there's your motivation. But if they only mention the dps, you've come to my second reason: team comradery. In the realm of karma, if the dps are shelling out the extra gold every week while you're sitting on your haunches, you're probably not going to make much of a "I'm a team player" impression. What? Don't you remember writing that on your application? It was the line right above "I always farm and bring consumables." ;)
Last in my dissertation on consumables is this revelation: Healers hurt the raid. At the end of the day, we don't kill bosses and that's the ultimate goal of every encounter. We merely enable others to damage mobs. And with this in mind, every slot that a healer fills is one less dps in the raid. If you're in a 25-man raid that you don't need consumables for, that's an indicator that you are running with too many healers. And you'll see this situation crop up once you have bosses on farm. What used to take 8 healers will now take 6 with full buffs. Be one of those 6.
Marcie Knox has been healing lead for over a year, including old school AQ40/BWL/Naxx. She has suffered through holy priest and now basks in the glory that is healadin. Her pally is currently banging her head against a brick wall called "I only need 1 more piece of T6, for the love of all things good and holy!" Maybe the Sunwell will treat her better...