Nurses don’t always have the time to eat the healthiest meals. Whether you’re working night shift and are too tired to eat, or you’re working a busy twelve hour shift, taking care of your nutritional needs can be a real challenge. At work, you can’t always take time away from patients in need, no matter how hungry you may be. That’s when quick snacks from the vending machine start to look rather appetizing.
Skipping meals or eating snacks from a vending machine won’t provide the fuel you need to meet the demands of nursing. Eating well can help you live better by preventing diseases and other medical conditions while helping to relieve stress. If you’re ready to begin a healthier way of eating, check out these practical, healthy eating tips designed for busy nurses.
Luckily, it’s not difficult to give your body the nutrition it needs to run efficiently. You’ll have more energy and feel better. Good nutrition doesn’t mean depriving yourself of all your favorite foods. It’s about adding more whole foods into your everyday diet and enjoying less-healthy options, such as doughnuts, french fries and coffee drinks, as occasional treats. The less you consume these less-healthy foods, the less you’ll crave them.
As a nurse, you know that missing meals can cause a drop in your blood glucose level, which can make you extra hungry, irritable and fatigued. When that happens, you’re more likely to eat anything that is readily available for quick energy boost. In extreme conditions, if you don’t eat, you could become light headed and disoriented, which is obviously not the best condition for a nurse.
Try to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout your workday by planning ahead for your nutritional needs. Stock up on apples, low-fat cheese, dried fruit and raw nuts, such as almonds and walnuts. Pack moderate portions to snack on before you get too hungry. Remember that fruits, especially dried fruits, have a sugar content of their own, so don’t overdo it or your glucose level could rise again. Balance fruits with protein from cheese or nuts. Focus on high-fiber snacks, too, such as rice cakes, oranges or berries.
Saving the bulk of your calories for one large meal is not the best eating strategy. Your body can’t handle too much food at a time, so it’s better to divide your food intake into regular intervals throughout the day. For many nurses, eating six small meals a day makes them feel better than one or two large meals and snacks.
Colorful foods are generally higher in nutrition. For variety and optimum health, aim for three colors in every meal. Shoot for two servings of fruit and three vegetable servings each day. Pack a big salad for your lunch or dinner at work, for an easy way to add colorful veggies to your diet. Prepare a large bowlful of salad on your day off and you’ll be ready for quick meals throughout the week. Try some of these colorful, delicious and nutrition-packed foods:
Processed foods are easy to prepare, but usually high in sodium and fat. They often contain preservatives and hidden sugars, as well. Skip the aisles of packaged and canned foods and make your own basics from scratch. Brown rice, prepared dry beans and whole-grain pasta can fill you up and prevent you from overeating. The fiber is good for your digestion and blood sugar, too.
Encourage nutritious eating with co-workers by establishing a “healthy food zone,” where only healthy food is allowed. It’s too easy to overdo it on cookies, birthday cakes and other treats brought from home, so make a pact that only healthy foods will be brought into the workplace.
Changing eating habits takes some planning and effort, but it’s not difficult. Every small step you take adds up to new, healthy, lifelong behaviors.
When you focus on healthier eating, you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll see physical changes, as well. The most important changes will be in your overall health, with lower cholesterol, blood pressure and stress levels, higher energy and fewer mood swings.