3 min read

Nurses and Healthy Eating

strawberry in heart shape bowl

Too often nurses have no time for a break, never mind the headspace for meal planning.  Skipping meals during long shifts, grabbing take-aways on the way home and craving sugary treats are likely to be familiar experiences for many. Here are some practical, realistic tips about how to keep your best intentions for healthy eating on track.

1. Plan your meals

Planning meals and having a shopping list before stepping into the grocery store are keys to making real meals happen. Think of two healthy breakfast options and rotate those for several days. Rely on pre-cooked or easy to prepare cuts of chicken, pork or a beef to add to a salad or sandwich for quick, protein-rich lunches and dinners.

2. Fuel up for the day

Having a meal within 1 to 2 hours of getting up from sleep is a healthy habit with many benefits, including less snacking before bed, better weight control and an increased focus on mental tasks.  If you’re a breakfast skipper, consider this, “What happens to you after you skip breakfast?” That leftover cake from the break room that somehow became lunch? It is never going to stick with you until dinner time. And it may also influence whether you make a healthy choice at the next meal or opt for a quick drive-thru meal. 

Including sufficient protein with a meal helps provide needed energy about 1.5 hours after you’ve eaten. This offers a longer lasting energy source than carbohydrates alone ie doughnut versus egg on toast.

3. Options to consider 

For that first meal of the day include:

1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 cup of real fruit and 2 tablespoons chopped nuts

Two to three eggs paired with veggies in a omelet

200 grams of any meat or fish with roasted veggies or a salad

1 tablespoon of natural nut butter on whole grain toast 

Not used to eating within several hours of getting up? Try a low-sugar protein shake or a Greek yogurt as a way to train your stomach to handle food. 

Funny playful young woman in checkered shirt holding halves of citrus fruits against her eyes and making duck face over yellow background

4. Keep nourished

The best way to maintain energy and mental alertness is to fuel your body consistently. Eating at regular intervals might mean grazing at every opportunity on healthy snacks or aiming to eat meals that include at least three food groups three times a day.

Waiting too long to eat can lead to a drop in energy. Eating to prevent low blood sugar is better than trying to correct it after you feel awful.  Everyone is different, but most people need to eat something at least every four to five hours to maintain good energy levels.  

5. Pack healthy options

Don’t leave home without packing some items that can fuel you up with only a few bites.  Keep a small energy bar in your pocket. A small pack of flavored almonds can keep you going for another hour until you can get a more substantial meal. While lollies or a chocolate bar can provide quick energy, it also can leave you feeling lethargic once the initial sugar high wears off.  

Prepared lunch consisting of various ingredients

6. Skip the energy drinks and caffeine

While caffeine can make you feel more alert, it gives a false sense of energy.  Sleep, even hours later, can be interrupted by too much caffeine and some of the ingredients added to energy supplements so leave these out during the second half of your shift.

7. Include plants. Lots of them!

Adults need at least 3 to 4 cups of vegetables per day to meet basic vitamin and mineral needs for immune system support, metabolism, and to prevent deficiencies. Start with one meal in which you make it a priority to include vegetables. Do this again and again until it becomes a normal part of your routine.  

What we eat plays such an important role in our overall health. Each mouthful can be beneficial with a little thought, planning and care for yourself.