Health & Wellness

Healthy Eating Hacks for Getting Through a 12-Hour Shift

Ryann Dean BSN, RN and Katie Gormas, MSN, RN
February 21, 2023
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Do you frequently find yourself reaching for quick, not-so-healthy meals and snacks while on shift? We know how tempting the chicken tenders and fries in the cafeteria or the cookies in the breakroom are – and we know how sluggish they can leave you feeling! So let’s talk about ways to combat cravings for junk food by fueling your body with high quality nutrition! Trust us – your body will thank you! Here’s some info we’ve gathered for meal prep, staying hydrated, and healthy snacking to keep you sustained and energized throughout those long shifts!

Meal Planning:

Incorporating meal prep before a stretch of shifts will help to save time, stress, money, and ensure you’re making healthier choices! When thinking through meal prep, be sure to incorporate a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to keep you full and satisfied. Make sure to pack a meal you genuinely enjoy and look forward to eating! If you’re not excited about the salad you packed, you’re going to be more tempted to order out with your work friends, or run down to the cafeteria during your lunch break.

If you get tired of eating the same meals every day (trust us, we’ve been there!), a helpful tip is to prep and portion out the same protein with different ingredients for a variety of flavors. You could also mix it up between tacos, salads, bowls, and wraps! Some of our favorite protein options include shredded chicken, ground beef, tofu, beans, tuna, salmon, and deli turkey.

If chopping fruits and veggies sounds daunting, try buying already chopped or shredded options (or variations that require minimal prep) - we love shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes, and blueberries! It might cost a bit more to opt for some of the pre-cut options, but if it means you’ll eat a more nutritious meal - it’s totally worth it (not to mention the money you’ll save by not ordering carry out)! You can also keep a variety of nuts, seeds, and other toppings on hand to easily mix and match flavors. We love sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, chopped walnuts, golden raisins, and hummus!

Make sure you have at least 3 containers to prepare and store your meals before your stretch of shifts - that way packing for each shift is as simple as throwing your already-prepared meal into your lunch bag as you head out the door!

Here are some examples of easy, healthy meals to prepare for your stretch of shifts: 

  • Egg Roll in a Bowl
  • Adult lunchable*
  • Greek or Mexican-style bowl with your protein of choice + all the yummy toppings and veggies
  • Healthier pasta salad (keep it simple - 1 serving pasta, all your favorite cold veggies, protein of choice, and salad dressing)*
  • Bagged salad + protein of choice (rotisserie chicken or deli turkey works great!)*
  • Soup or chili - look for one with a good balance of protein, veggies, and carbs!

    *meal doesn’t require the annoying line for the microwave!

Staying Hydrated:

Ever feel jittery or have a headache after your caffeine fix? Another important component to your nutrition is hydration! Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout your shift to balance out your caffeine intake. For some bonus hydration, add some electrolytes to your water! Try our favorite DIY electrolyte drink (1 liter of water with a dash of pure maple syrup and a few grinds of salt) or for a quick on-the-go option, we love Nuun and LMNT! You can also look for natural sources of electrolytes to keep your cells happy and hydrated including coconut water, bananas, avocados, mineral water, watermelon, and even dairy. Be sure to pair those higher sugar options with good fats and proteins for maximum sustainability throughout your shift. Check out the snack ideas below!

Snacks to Sustain You:

When you go for high carb snacks, your blood sugar can spike and then dip, leaving you feeling hungry, unsatisfied, and maybe even anxious! You may find yourself reaching for more carbs. So how to combat this?! Aim for moderate to low carb snacks paired with a fat or protein. Think of this as “dressing up naked carbs” – never let your carbs go naked! Here are some examples:

  • Half a banana with peanut butter
  • An apple with a handful of almonds 
  • Celery with peanut butter and raisins
  • A slice of sprouted or whole wheat toast with a hard boiled egg
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple
  • ½ an avocado with salt and pepper
  • Guacamole with sliced peppers
  • A slice of cheese on sprouted or whole wheat bread
  • Whole grain crackers with cheese or peanut butter
  • Popcorn with almonds or trail mix

For more easy meal ideas for nurses on the go, check out this blog post!

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