Taking some time for meal prep so that you can bring a nutritious and satisfying meal to work will make a huge difference in maintaining your energy levels and keeping a stable mood throughout your 12-hour shift. Below, I’m sharing some of my favorite meal prep recipes and nurse lunch ideas. I’ll also share some tips from my experience of working as a nurse on how to make packing lunches an easy process.
Why It’s Important for Nurses to Feed Themselves
Although you have the important job of caring for others, you aren’t capable of doing this job if you don’t first take care of yourself. You simply have to stay fed if you want to succeed at your job. Eating throughout the day helps to keep your blood sugar stable so that you can function properly. Not to mention, the brain needs fuel to function, and we all know that nursing is a job that requires plenty of mental strength.
Easy Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Nurses
My recommendation for nurses is to pack yourself lots of food. Make lunch and plenty of snacks. Even if you plan to buy your lunch that day, bring lots of snacks in case you can’t make it down to the cafeteria as soon as you’d like to.
Here are a few of my favorite nurse lunch ideas for your 12-hour shift.
1. Salad with protein
If you want to go the healthier route with your lunch, make yourself a salad with some protein in it (such as chicken or tofu). Start with your greens — my favorite is spinach or spring mix. Then just add whatever toppings you like. I recommend carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, chopped nuts, and dried fruit, but you can really add anything you’d like! Make sure to pack your salad dressing on the side so the greens don’t get soggy.
2. Healthy sandwich
It’s hard to go wrong with a sandwich for lunch. They’re filling and easy to eat. They can even be healthy if you add the right ingredients. Use whole-wheat bread and preservative-free lunch meat to ensure that you’re giving yourself a nutrient-packed sandwich. Sandwiches are easy to make in advance, and if you keep the sauces on the side, it’s easy to make a couple in advance and have them prepared for all three of your shifts.
3. Bean and rice bowl
Beans and rice are a great vegetarian nurse lunch idea because they’re healthy and versatile. There are many different types of beans and rice to choose from and you can add other foods, such as vegetables or meat. Some of my favorites are organic jasmine rice with lentils or brown rice with black beans.
4, Homemade soup
I always love the feeling of eating something warm for lunch since hospitals tend to be cold, and warm food makes me feel more grounded. Bring some homemade soup for a warm and satisfying lunch. You can make a big batch at the start of the week so you have some to pack for your lunch and to eat at home. Pack hot soup in a sealed thermos if you want it to stay warm throughout your shift, or you can bring a microwave-safe container and heat it up in the break room. Try one of these healthy soup recipes.
5. Leftover dinner from the night before
Do you struggle to find the time to get your lunch packed the night before?
Here’s a tip: just make extra food for dinner the night before your shift and pack leftovers from that. Some of my favorite leftover dinner ideas include: chili, pasta, and chicken with potatoes.
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Tips for Packing the Perfect Lunch
When you’re working 12 hours at a time, it is extra important to pack yourself a good lunch. I remember sometimes finding it challenging to find the time and energy to pack my lunch the night before a shift, but I was always so glad that I made myself do it.
Obviously, you can always buy your lunch at work if you need to, but in my opinion, it’s best to always pack something so that you have snacks, just in case you get really busy and can’t make it down to the cafeteria.
Here are some lunch packing tips to make meal prep a little easier.
1. Always pack your lunch at least one day in advance
Try to always pack your lunch at least one day in advance. If you’re going to be working three shifts in a row, then you should try to prepare at least two of the lunches, ideally all three, so that you don’t have to come home and pack your lunch when you’re tired after your shift.
2. Make it healthy but be realistic
It’s always good to pack a healthy lunch, but be realistic about what you’ll actually want to eat. If you only pack nothing but healthy food, you may find yourself feeling unsatisfied or even low on energy. I recommend bringing a healthy meal but making sure that it is balanced, including protein, carbs, and fats. You also don’t have to worry about all of your food being super healthy, it’s okay to bring a cookie or some chips on the side.
3. Don’t forget the protein
Protein is important to help sustain energy levels and keep your blood sugar balanced. Incorporate protein into your lunch by packing snacks like hard boiled eggs or a protein shake. They’re an easy, healthy snack that can be enjoyed even when you’re super busy.
4. Remember to stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is equally as important as keeping yourself fed as a nurse. Bring a large water bottle and refill it frequently. Water can help sustain your energy levels and support overall health.
5. Snacks are essential
Although lunches are important, snacks should not be ignored either. Bringing snacks to work is nothing short of essential. Snacks allow you to eat small amounts throughout the day so that you don’t let your blood sugar drop and end up tired and moody. Even if you plan to buy your lunch at work, you should still bring snacks with you to eat throughout the day. If you work day shifts, I recommend bringing at least two snacks (one for around 10 AM and one for around 3 PM).
Do Nurses Get Lunch Breaks?
Some people may be reading this and thinking, “Breaks? As a nurse?” Yes, as a nurse, you will get a lunch break. However, the actual laws surrounding break requirements for nurses vary depending on where you live and the hospital you work at. In my experience as a nurse, I’ve definitely had days when I had a hard time finding the time to sit down and eat because I was swamped with patients to assess and charting to do.
It was easy to fall behind when there were a lot of smaller tasks to get done that would get in the way of other work.
At my first nursing job, it was quite common to go all day without eating, and I would sometimes sit down for the first time at 2 PM. This obviously was not the ideal situation. My second nursing job was a bit different. The charge nurses were really good about going around the unit and making sure that everyone got a lunch break. If they knew that someone was particularly swamped that day, they’d make sure to relieve them so that a lunch break could happen.
Some states have laws that require nurses to take lunch breaks, while others do not. My state does not have mandated lunch breaks, but like I said, certain hospitals and units will be better about looking out for you than others.
Taking the time to meal prep before your work week begins can make all the difference. Nurses spend 12 (sometimes more) hours working on the hospital floor, and their work is not easy. You’re going to be using plenty of energy and mental strength throughout your shift, and you need a healthy lunch to fuel all of that activity.
Packing lunches for work can feel challenging and even overwhelming at first, but once you get into the habit, you’ll realize it isn’t that bad. Once you notice the difference it makes to eat frequently throughout the day and see how good you feel when you’re eating healthier food that you’ve brought (rather than only eating packaged or unhealthy food) you will likely want to take the time to meal prep for work. Sometimes it can be as easy as throwing some of your leftover dinner in a tupperware and bringing that.
– just don’t forget the snacks!