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Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Nurses

Ironically, many healthcare workers don’t make the healthiest choices. However, to be fair, these choices are often largely out of their control. Shift work is intrinsically related to unhealthy eating and obesity. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that most nurses follow diets low in fruits, vegetables and whole foods and high in processed foods even though they technically should know better. The reality is that nurses often feel that they don’t have the time to eat, and when they do get around to eating, more often than not, it’s a free doughnut from the break room or a bag of chips from the vending machine. Furthermore, when nurses make it to the cafeteria, they often opt for the cheaper options or indulge in comfort foods to help them get through rough days. 

Although your initial reaction might be, “No way!”, there are many reasons why taking your own meals to work is the best way to eat on the job. 

Pack Your Own Lunch

Let’s take a look at the multiple reasons why packing your own lunch is totally worth the trouble.

Eat Healthy Food

Evidently, if you take the time to pack your own lunch, you should make sure you choose healthy options. There is no point in replacing chips from the vending machine with chips from home. Try to balance out your diet by packing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; nuts, seeds, and other healthy protein sources; as well as whole grains.

Here are some ideas to choose from:

  • Fresh veggies with a hummus or yogurt dip
  • Easy to eat fruit, such as bananas, apples, and tangerines
  • Your own trail mix with your favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
  • Sandwiches and wraps made with whole wheat bread or tortillas and filled with plenty of green leafy vegetables
  • Hearty salads or bowls made with legumes, such as black beans or chickpeas, and whole grains, such as quinoa or brown rice

Consume What You Really Need 

Hours into your shift, especially if you’re working the night shift, you probably feel like you need a coffee and something sweet to survive, but at that point of your shift, what your body actually needs is water and some real nutrition. 

Many nurses report signs of dehydration during shifts. However, what they might not know is that lack of water can also make them feel sleepy. Instead of reaching for their umpteenth cup of coffee, nurses should reach for their water bottles to feel more alert during their shifts.

The same is true with sugar and simple carbs (more sugar). You might think you need the boost of energy that comes with a chocolate bar, but what you absolutely don’t need is the sugar crash that comes afterward. Instead of reaching for empty calories, choose a nutritious, high-protein option that will keep you going much longer.

Here are some healthy and nutritious options that will keep you fueled for hours — and satisfy a sugar craving:

  • Oatmeal is a whole-grain, hearty option that will keep you satiated for much longer than a doughnut will. Add some natural sweeteners like raisins or dates to satisfy your sweet tooth.
  • Upgrade a peanut butter sandwich by adding some banana slices, a drizzle of honey, and a dash of cinnamon. 
  • Add some dark chocolate chips to your trail mix for a quick yet sustained energy boost.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

A healthy weight means different things for different people. We are certainly not advocating for a certain body shape or size, but we are advocating for health and wellbeing. When you nourish your body with fresh, whole foods instead of processed foods, you can be sure that what you eat will be good for you, so you can eat as much as you want guilt-free. Want to eat a whole avocado? A handful of nuts? Go for it! Although these foods are high in calories and fats, they will nourish your body and keep you energized much longer than low-fat, sugar-free processed food.

Save Money

When you are hungry, you will pay exorbitant prices for anything that can mitigate your hunger. Vending machine items are priced double the actual cost, but we end up buying from them anyway. Cafeteria food can also be pricey, especially the fresh options we should be choosing. However, no one in his or her right mind will pay $5 for a cup of strawberries, which is why most nurses will choose cheaper options that tend to be less healthy. 

Therefore, taking your own meals to work is a way to not only eat more healthily but also save money. Eat the foods you should be eating without putting a strain on your budget. 

How to Make Meal Prep Work for Nurses

Trust us: We know that packing your own lunch sounds like a practical nightmare, but there are ways to make it work, and the benefits are totally worth the effort. 

  • Buy whole grains, dried or canned legumes, nuts, nut butter, seeds, and dried fruit in bulk. These products won’t go bad quickly, and buying in bulk will guarantee that you always have ingredients to prep your meals.
  • Make getting fresh produce a fun family outing by going to farmer’s markets or even picking your own fruit or growing your own vegetables during the warmer months. 
  • Always plan on having leftovers when you cook at home. An extra portion of chili would be an excellent meal to take to work. Some extra salad can easily become a meal by adding some canned chickpeas. 
  • Make your own trail mix with your favorite ingredients and refill a ziplock bag with it before every shift. This easy and nutritious snack beats anything you can find in a vending machine.

Enjoy the Multiple Benefits of Prepping Your Own Meals

Taking your own meals to work will protect your health, help you maintain a healthy weight, keep you powered up and alert throughout even the longest shifts, and save some hard-earned pennies. But this is not all. Healthier nurses are happier and more effective nurses. Your healthy habits, sustained energy, and good mood will not be lost on your colleagues, patients, or supervisors. Furthermore, your family and friends will love to see you caring for yourself as much as you care for everyone else. 
For more nursing resources and self-care tips, browse our per diem nursing blog today! And, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to download our healthcare staffing app, which allows you to pick up shifts whenever you need some extra cash or even work per diem full time.


Blog published on:
July 14, 2022

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