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I have sometimes a similliar problem. I use a paragraph style without and font color. This is found in Id (and can be showing during the work by changing the font color to some other visible color), but not printed.
Unlike a TOC which can pick up non-printing text, I don't believe a variable will do that, so using Willi's method to make it invisible makes sense. I would go a bit further, though, I think, and put the information into an anchored object in one of the cells. Set the positioning to custom so it has no effect on text flow.
I would also define an object style for these anchored frames that has both a positioning definition for the anchored object, so you don't need to do that continuously, and the the correct assigned paragraph or character style to be picked up by the variable. During the editing phase I would define this text as red, or some other contrasting color so you know you will see it if it's present, and will be able to spot when it's missing, and then change the style definition to give the text a fill of [None] just before output.
Both of you have given helpful suggestions, just what I was looking for. Thanks very much!