How to Meal Plan for Nurses – Tips and Tricks

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Mental Wellness and Self Care for Nurses, Nurse Life | 0 comments

How to Meal Plan for Nurses 101 wasn’t an option at nursing school. I had to learn that on my own. I know how important healthy eating for nurses is, so I’ve compiled some of my best tips and tricks to help nurses meal plan to get nutritious and delicious meals, save time, and keep their sanity intact.

Learning how to get my meals together was a challenge when I was adjusting to working three 12-hour shifts per week. I always waited until I was hungry, never had the food in the house to make something yummy and quick, and then would either go to the grocery store last minute and spend way too much, or eat out, and make poor decisions out of hunger.

If you plan your meals, you will ultimately spend less money and waste less food. You also may potentially eat healthier, depending on your meal choices.

This post will contain my keys to success in creating a meal plan for nurses, including my typical weekly routine and the meals (with recipes!) that we make.

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Please note: at the time of the publication of this post, my household consists of my husband and I. We do not have children. I know that can add a big challenge into your planning and time management. We also try to eat low-carb and natural, but aren’t super strict about it. When deciding on meals that are right for you, adjust suggestions for your diet (dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) as appropriate.  

Additionally, this is what works for our household. Please don’t read this and assume this is how I believe all households should function. This is what works for us.

 Please keep all of this in mind when reading my routine.

Keys to Nurse Meal Planning Success

Communicate with your spouse/partner/roommate about expectations

My husband and I have an understanding – we try to split up who makes dinner evenly throughout the week. We both work full time, so we both spend the same amount of time with work and other commitments, therefore we try to make time and spread the responsibility of dinner equally. I know this isn’t how everyone’s household functions, but this works well for us, and ensures that neither feels overwhelmed or like the other does not help.

Sit down and plan the week together

Take some time at the beginning of your week to plan a dinner for each night. It is annoying to do this, but it’s much less annoying doing it once rather than every night of the week. Base your grocery store shopping list based off of your meals.

For the days you’re working 12-hour shifts, stick to meals that are easy to prepare and require minimal prep. I save the easiest meals for my three days I’m working (or the ones John is most comfortable making, as he typically makes dinner on the days that I work 12’s). I like to try new recipes, so I save those for days I don’t have a lot going on. We look at our calendars together while we’re planning our meals and if we have a lot going on one day, we make it an easy meal or one we can prep for earlier in the day (like a crock pot meal).

I write down each day of the week, what we’re eating, and who is preparing it and stick it on the fridge to reference later in the week. It is very easy to forget.

It makes a big difference when you’re getting off of work and you already know whose responsibility it is to make dinner and what it will be.

Also, John and I have an understanding that if I make dinner, he does the dishes and vice versa. Outlining those expectations and communicating about them clearly is essential to avoid undue conflict and stress. It is pretty burdensome to work a 12-hour shift, make a full dinner, and clean it up.

Get some really good food storage containers that you can bring to work for your lunch

I like to bring leftovers for lunch at work the next day. It makes cleaning up the meal and packing my lunch easier. I prefer glass containers over plastic. Here’s why.

It’s also important to have an organized container drawer. We separate our lids and containers to make finding a match easier. I also recycle any that don’t have a matching lid to de-clutter where I store them. Spending more than 10 seconds trying to find a container and a lid is way too long in my book!

Oh, and don’t forget to have an awesome lunch box!

Buy meat in bulk and freeze it / Prep ahead of time

We buy meat from Costco (enough for about 2 weeks at a time), separate it into single-meal Ziplocks and freeze it. When I see that tomorrow ground beef is the protein for the meal, I move the frozen meat package from the freezer to the fridge the day/night before to allow it time to defrost. I hate thawing meat out last minute and it takes that annoying step out of the equation. 

If you have a meal that requires chopping veggies that can be a little labor intensive and have time the night before or earlier in the day, do it, then and throw it in the fridge so you can just throw ingredients together come dinner time.

Have a quick back-up plan in the freezer

We all know it happens – someone codes at shift change, you get off work an hour late, and your spouse had a terrible day as well and walks in the door 3 seconds after you. I like to have a frozen pizza or some sort of frozen meal on deck for those rough days.

Get on Pinterest

Pinterest is where I find almost all of my recipes. I have a board called “Noms” that I reference frequently and utilize my iPad or computer to look at the recipe while making dinner if I don’t know it off the top of my head. It’s incredibly convenient and easy to organize. You have all of your faves in one place that is easy to get to. I highly recommend Pinterest to aid in your meal planning!

Say thank you

If your husband, wife, partner, roommate, etc. made dinner tonight, tell them thank you. If you made dinner and they washed the dishes, say thank you. If you live alone and you are super pumped that you remembered to defrost the meat every day and stuck to your list and you’re pretty proud of yourself – give yourself a pat on the back! Everyone loves to be appreciated and have their actions acknowledged, even if it’s routine.

Those are my meal planning keys to success! Is it realistic to do things the best way every single time? No. John and I have planned out our week and had to change things up mid-week because circumstances that we couldn’t predict forced us to do so. But we make an effort to stick to the plan, and we’ve quickly learned that having a dinner plan for the week is much easier and cheaper than not having a plan at all. And now we don’t stress as much about an impromptu take-out meal after a tough day because we’ve become more efficient overall with our planning and spending.

Being a nurse, working shift work, it can be tough making sure you eat appropriately. A few years ago, my husband and I got into a pretty regular routine to offset the nutritional challenges that shift work presents.

This is my second post regarding this topic. Please click here to read the first post explaining some of my keys to meal planning success.

I’m going to outline our weekly routine in addition to a sample menu.

Here we go!

Our Weekly Routine

Most Saturdays (or Sundays) John and I sit down and plan a week of meals. We then make our grocery store list and head over to stock up. I like to do this together because it’s more time spent with one another, and we both know what we have and what we need.

To give you some background to our choices, we are meat eaters. John likes to eat low carb, so whenever we have rice, I typically only eat the rice myself or make him quinoa. Our go-to proteins are chicken and ground beef. John doesn’t like pork and I don’t really know how to prepare it, so we never buy pork. We rotate in an additional meat option (chicken sausage, tilapia, etc.) to break things up. I buy chicken and ground beef in bulk and freeze it.

We look at our work schedules to see who will be home when, and then whoever gets home first that day typically makes dinner. I make dinner approximately three days per week, John three days, and we either go out or make a meal together. We write down our dinner list for the week along with who will be preparing it and put it on the fridge.

All of the recipes below are linked to the actual recipes on various sites! I try to use natural or organic ingredients when possible (i.e. for the ketchup in the meatloaf, we use organic).

Meal Plan for Nurses Sample Weekly Menu

Sunday: Meatloaf, roasted rosemary potatoes, roasted green beans  

This is the meal that requires the most prep and longest cooking time, therefore I usually schedule this for a day when I know I’ll have adequate time.

Monday: Honey-baked chicken, sautéed peppers

I use 2 teaspoons of curry powder, 5 tablespoons melted butter, and 2/3 cup honey), brown rice (just follow directions on bag, I make 1 cup for the two of us and have leftovers)

Tuesday: Chicken tortilla soup (crock-pot meal!) 

I chop up fresh tomatoes instead of canned because the BPA (from the canned diced tomatoes that the recipe calls for) leaches out into the food from the can, and because tomatoes are highly acidic it is worse than other canned items. Depending on the size, I’ll get 5-6 smaller tomatoes and add a cup or two of water. I add more liquid to make it into more of a soup, but you could use less and put it over rice.

Wednesday: Mexican Pile-Ups.  

This one is super easy. Just make some ground beef with taco seasoning, cook some rice, and get some Fritos (or some other crunchy yummy chip), and grab your favorite taco toppings. I put rice on my plate, top with ground beef, lettuce, tomato (or salsa!), avocado, sour cream, cheese, and put chips on top.  DELICIOUS. Easy to prepare (basically just making meat and rice) and everyone can customize their own.

Thursday: Tilapia fish tacos.  

Really, it’s just sautéing some tilapia and using a fork to break it up and putting your fav taco stuff on top… or you can make the awesome slaw in this recipe! Super easy. I watch sales and try to get some wild-caught tilapia for a good price.

Friday: Chicken, cheese, broccoli and rice casserole 

I tried doing the one-pan thing but the rice didn’t turn out so great. So now I just make the rice separately and add it in, and it tastes much better.

Saturday: Bun-less burgers on the stovetop (because I’m too lazy to set up the grill every week) with caramelized onions, roasted asparagus, roasted potatoes

I like to take leftovers to work for lunch, so when cleaning up I just throw the leftovers into my glass Pyrex lunch containers.

If I know both of us will be busy the next day and am able to do some meal prep the night or morning before, I make sure to do so.

I really enjoy trying new recipes, so if on Saturday I see that I have some more time during one of the days I’ll check Pinterest for a new recipe to try and make sure I put any additional ingredients I’ll need to purchase on my grocery list.

I’m not a super experienced cook by any means, so whenever I’m looking at Pinterest to find something new, I typically am looking for simple meals that require few ingredients. Here is a link to my Pinterest NOMS board for other things I enjoy making and some that are on my to-try list!

What are some of your go-to dinner recipes? What tips and tricks do you have for people who hate to cook or just don’t have the time?

Are you a meal-planner? What’s your routine? What tips and tricks do you have?

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Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.

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