Working 12 hour shifts can really it difficult to stay on track with health and wellness, but healthy eating for nurses is a critical component of overall wellness.
A reader asked what I do to focus on healthy eating while working long shifts:
I’m about to start my grad year and was just wondering- what do you usually take for meals? I know what I took for nursing school placements, but I often came home starving or too tired to feel hungry! Do you have any advice about eating properly while working shift? Thanks! PS (I love the blog!) xx – A question by ssonicbooom from Tumblr Good question – it’s so easy to eat like crap when you’re a nurse. If you don’t plan, you eat whatever is quickest and easiest (crap).
Healthy Eating Tips for Nurses
We all took the nutrition for nurses course, but let’s be honest, there wasn’t a lot of practical advice on how to actually manage to eat healthy yourself.
Here are my top 3 tips to promote a healthy diet and ensure optimal nutritional intake while working as a nurse:
- Brown Bag It: I always make my lunch and bring it. Otherwise, I end up getting something not great for me. Plus, when I spend money to eat out, I want it to be when I can actually enjoy the food and not eat it cold during a 4-minute lunch break at 1600. I’ve learned not to waste eating out by ordering food at work.
- Plan Ahead: Make it the night before or all your meals the day before you start your work stretch. Meal planning is a game changer in healthy eating.. You’ll always be too tired before work. Meal planning and meal prep may feel like a dirty word, but when you can get out the door 15 minutes faster every morning, that 20 minutes of preparation really doesn’t seem so bad.
- Healthy Snacks: I bring a small morning snack, lunch, and a small afternoon snack – and I make sure to eat them!
These tips work for the night shift and day shift!
Meal Prep Nurse Hack
I also try to plan meals with my husband so I don’t eat badly when I get home. If he gets home after, we usually have a meal prepped that just needs to be baked. Then I just enjoy my post-work glass of red wine while it’s baking!
Healthy Food = Healthy Nurse
You are what you eat isn’t just a trendy catchphrase. Garbage in truly is garbage out. The good news is that healthy eating habits never go out of style and are the ultimate form of self care.
If you want to perform at your best and ensure your nursing judgment is firing on all cylinders, you have to nourish your body with nutritious and filling whole foods. Proper nutritional intake is the basis of a healthy lifestyle, and you can’t ignore that just because you are at work. This goes for night shift nurses too. It doesn’t matter if it’s light or dark outside, healthy food for night shift is just as important as day shift.
Also – it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, you can literally eat whatever you want when you want. Eggs and bacon do not have to be just for breakfast. Eat them at 3am, girl. You do you,
Snacking in the Workplace Environment
One key component I’ve found to help me stay on track with my well being and to ensure I maintain a healthy weight, is to eat nutrient-packed snacks and not just depend on one large meal. If I only eat once, I find I go home starving and will destroy the pantry and disrupt any healthy behaviors I’m working on.
Morning Snack for Healthcare Professionals
For my morning snack I usually like to have one of my homemade granola bars (or any granola bar, really!), a piece of fruit, or some cheese + Triscuits. I will usually take several food options so I can have a choice for what to eat and I also have extra in case I feel extra hungry during a particular hard twelve hour shift or if a nurse friend is having a hangry moment.
Avoiding the vending machine is key here. It’s improbably that they will have a lot of healthy choices and you’ll pay a larger mark up for the convenience.
Afternoon Snack (or 2 am Snack for Overnight Shifts)
I like to have a bit of natural peanut butter and natural milk chocolate chips. All I need is just a few spoonfuls and I’m full and my sweet tooth is satisfied. In case you’re wondering, 2 tablespoons of sugar-free peanut butter is only 200 calories, and tossing in a few chocolate chips is only a few more. Stick with the natural stuff. You want your food sources to be as whole as possible, as your body does actually struggles with satiety when you eat processed foods versus whole and nutrient-rich foods.
This one is a great hack to keep you feeling full when you don’t have a lot of time. It’s hard enough to get one full meal break, so this one is great if you don’t have time to devote to a complicated snack.
What I Eat During Meal Breaks (Lunch or Midnight Meal)
I love a good sandwich. And a good sandwich doesn’t have to be fancy.
I typically do a Boar’s Head turkey and white cheddar sandwich (I bring all the parts of the sandwich separately and assemble it during lunch so it’s fresh + yummy), full-fat greek yogurt + fresh fruit + raw honey, and some kind of veggie (usually a cut-up bell pepper), and some tortilla chips.
Up Your Water Intake
Drinking water is critical for health promotion. If you do not have adequate hydration, every other health habit you try to pursue will be negatively impacted.
I usually bring a water bottle and drink 1-2 of them. Chances are you are not drinking nearly as much as you should, but you should find the time to drink the water and the time to take actual bathroom breaks. You deserve it and your body needs it.
Adequate hydration is one of the best ways to prevent weight gain and emotional eating. I could go into a lot of details of all of the benefits of drinking water, but it’s probably the easiest of the healthy behaviors to adopt and your skin, hair, nails, and gut will thank you for it.
I try not to use styrofoam and I especially try not to drink hot coffee out of it (there are lots of articles on how bad it is for you; here’s one ).
What to Pack Your Meals In
Sometimes I’ll bring dinner leftovers, but I always make sure I bring it in glass so that I’m not heating my food on plastic in the microwave. Studies have actually shown that heating your food in plastic can leach out chemicals.
Nutrition Tips for Nurses: Summarized
- Plan ahead
- Eat whole foods
- Drink water
Try your best to break up your food/eating. Have a small snack a few hours in. Then eat your lunch a little less than halfway through. Finally, have another snack 2 hours before your shift is done.
Want to get ahead of the game and ease your anxiety about your first nursing job?
The FreshRN® New Nurse Master Class is the first-ever self-guided holistic nurse residency program. This comprehensive program was specifically created for the ambitious newly licensed acute care nurses who want to get ahead of them and build both their confidence and their clinical skills - all while learning how to adjust to the unique lifestyle of a nurse.
Healthy eating for nurses isn’t impossible. It just takes planning.