How to Eat Healthy While Working 12-Hour Shifts

How to Eat Healthy While Working 12-Hour Shifts

While nurses know that fast food isn’t the healthiest choice, sometimes we are pressed for time and feel like that is our only option. This is especially true when we are working 12-hour shifts and don’t have enough time to make healthy meals for the entire day. However, there are several ways we can overcome this obstacle, simply by planning ahead and using the following strategies.

Start Your Day Off Right

Working a 12-hour shift takes some serious endurance, so it’s important to start your day with breakfast. Studies have shown that eating breakfast can increase concentration and improve memory, both of which are very important as nurses. Beyond just consuming an early morning meal, it is important to eat foods that are nutrient-dense to provide long-lasting energy throughout your entire shift. The donuts in the breakroom might be tempting, but sugary options will inevitably cause you to crash by the afternoon. Instead, choose options that contain whole grains, protein, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Some good options for quick (but still healthy!) on-the-go breakfasts are:

  • Peanut butter toast

  • Whole grain cereals or oatmeal

  • Hard-boiled eggs

  • Cottage cheese

  • Yogurt and granola

  • Smoothies

  • Fruit

Build in Snack Breaks

Nurses are notorious for not taking breaks because we want to make sure our patients are taken care of before ourselves. However, it’s been proven that not taking breaks leads to increased fatigue and risk of injury and error. Clearly, it is important that nurses take a few minutes for themselves, both in the morning and afternoon, to regroup and have a quick snack. Consuming small snacks between meals can stabilize your blood sugar at a steady level that maintains your energy throughout the day. Some good options for fast and healthy snacks are:

  • Protein bars

  • String cheese

  • Beef jerky

  • Mixed nuts, dried fruit, or trail mix

  • Vegetables and hummus

  • Chips and salsa or guacamole

  • Apples and peanut butter

  • Protein balls (This is my favorite recipe!)


Enjoy Your Lunch Break

Again, because nurses are so concerned about the well-being of their patients, they often skip their lunch break entirely. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits in the evening because after you clock out, you realize that you are starving. This leads to choosing fast food options for convenience on the way home. To avoid this, try to choose lunch options that are nutrient-dense, but that are still quick and easy to assemble or heat up in the breakroom. Here are some good options:

  • Wraps. Wraps are super easy to make and highly versatile. Simply start with a tortilla, think of a theme, and get creative! You could try Thai peanut, Southwest, or buffalo chicken wraps. The possibilities are endless in this category.

  • Salads. Similar to wraps, salads are easy to make and there are several different kinds you can try. There are taco salads, Cobb salads, Caesar salads, etc. Additionally, there are pre-made salad bags that contain all of the ingredients and dressing in the produce section of the grocery store. All you have to do is open the bag and pour the dressing on it, which is perfect for shifts where you need to eat quickly.

For more lunch ideas for busy nurses, be sure to check out this post!

Remember that taking good care of our patients starts with taking care of ourselves. If our nutritional needs are not being met, it is nearly impossible to provide quality patient care, which is what we are striving for as nurses. So be sure to eat breakfast, make time for snack breaks, and consume a nutrient-dense lunch. Your patients (and your health) will thank you for it! 


Author Bio:

Alissa Hershberger is a nursing professor and forensic nurse with a background in critical care. She has a passion for education and is currently pursuing her PhD in nursing. When she’s not teaching or studying, she enjoys spending time with her husband, 2-year-old son, and black labs.

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