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Clean Eating for Night Shift

How to Eat while Working the Night Shift

Clean Eating for Night Shift
Looking to amp up your night shift diet? Here are 5 strategies to start using tonight to keep sugar cravings at bay and pack in some serious nocturnal nutrition.

Is it just my workplace, or is it standard practice to have delicious, deep-fried, sugar-laden options ushered in during the middle of the night shift? When my stomach is growling? And my resistance is lowest?

There are also generous coworkers who do middle-of-the-night coffee runs and deliver my sugary, syrupy macchiato. Not to mention the home-baked goodies that grateful patients have dropped off. And the siren call of the vending machines. Every. Single. Shift.

If your meal breaks are either hard-to-find or often interrupted, then healthy grazing is the best way to stay fuelled.

If you don’t have healthy snacks prepared, it’s too easy to start snacking on muffins, doughnuts or the pizza your coworker is sharing. Those kinds of night shift diet choices start to take a toll after a few weeks, months, or years of shift work. Here are some ideas that just might keep you out of the 3 a.m. doughnuts.


1. Plan ahead

Prep work will pay off big time. So before you disappear into the relentless grind of back-to-back night shifts, take a few minutes to get prepared with some go-to healthy foods.

  • Wash fruit
  • Chop veggies
  • Whip up some smoothies (store them in the freezer)
  • Make hard-boiled eggs
  • Cook grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.)


2. Pack snacks

Prepare for your shift the same way you would prepare a little kid’s lunch. Because by 2 a.m., we all start to feel like overtired, very hungry toddlers. Beat the temper tantrum by filling several small resealable containers with appealing, healthy snacks.

  • Carrot, celery, and red pepper sticks with hummus
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Plain yogurt with crunchy granola and raspberries
  • Oatmeal muffins with fruit & nuts
  • Quinoa salad with chopped fresh veggies and vinaigrette
  • Healthy granola bars
  • Peanut butter energy balls


3. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is a simple way to keep you feeling awake and ward off hunger pains.

  • Get a couple of good refillable water bottles and fill them up—add some lemon wedges and mint leaves for a zesty refresh.
  • Invest in some tasty high-quality teas to stash at work or in your bag—make a hot tea when you’re tempted to sip a sugary hot drink to stay awake. (And if you’re like me, I get really cold in the middle of the night and need something hot to warm me up.)
  • Make a quick berry smoothie or green smoothie and stash it in the fridge until you’re ready for it. It’s portable nutrition that will fill you up without causing a sugar crash.


4. Treat yo-self

You don’t want to feel deprived or like you’re missing out on the fun. By packing one or two small treats to enjoy during your shift, you’ll have already set limits before you dive head-first into the fresh box of donuts.

  • A small bar of dark chocolate
  • Healthy cookies (yes, they exist!)
  • Chocolate-covered raisins or almonds
  • Vanilla or rice pudding


5. Use freezer bag slow cooker meals

Prepare some freezer bag slow cooker meals on your days off. Put them into the slow cooker when you get home in the morning after your shift. Go to bed, and supper will be ready for you when you wake up. Pack up some leftovers to bring to work for a midnight dinner.

Night Shift Diet Healthy Eating

Last updated: 2024-01-18

Picture of Lauren McGill

Lauren McGill

I work at the intersection of healthcare and storytelling. As a medical writer, I help healthcare experts publish content so they stand out as thought leaders.

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13 Responses

  1. I just interviewed for a 7 on 7 off position and these suggestions are awesome! I will definitely use them if I get the job. I love overnights but it is so tempting to eat terrible and drink Pepsi for the caffeine and sugar rush! Thanks for the great advice.

  2. Have a treat in mind for when you come off your run of shifts – when you will actually enjoy it. For me – no food off the ‘treat trolley’ while at work means some delicious ice cream the day I finish!

  3. I will definitely use some of these! Ive been on night shift for about 3 years, but I dont have a routine. Sometimes i work every other day, or 2 in a row, or all three….depends. It has been hard getting a routine, and I have very much been a vending machine junky. I need to make these healthy changes and these tips are wonderful. Thank you 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Erin. So glad you found some useful ideas! re: being a”vending machine junky”… I’m sure many can totally relate!

  4. Hi Lauren,
    Thanks for these great tips. I work in a small team so end up doing nights every other week! Most of the time I’m a real health nut, but my nights end up being a 12 hour binge fest haha 🙁 my self control is so poor at 4am! This habit messes up all my hard work. So tomorrow night, armed with your helpful hints, I’ll be making sure I stay on track.
    Thanks for sharing x

    1. I’m thrilled to hear you found some inspiration here. Be sure to come back and share any new tricks you learn along the way. Happy night shift-ing!

      1. Over the past 7 days I’ve done 4 nights, and kept your post in mind. I tried to save my dinner until I got to work and at it around 8-10 pm. Then I used your idea of taking a variety of snacks with me, such as carrot sticks, mange tout, strawberries, Greek yogurt, boiled eggs, apples, banana egg pancakes, celery etc. I also stocked up on low calorie hot chocolate and bought 1 cereal bar with me for a late night/early morning carb fix. Having weighed myself this morning I can report I’ve maintained my usual weight instead of putting on 3lb (which is my usual pattern on nights!) . So thank you for your tips. They worked! I definitely agree with taking different snack foods with you and also I made sure I didn’t buy ‘treats’ like cookies, because I know if they’re there I end up devouring them :p
        I’ll keep using your post as a reminder to stay clean and healthy on nights from now on x

        1. Hey Amy! Wow- so glad these ideas worked so well for you. Totally love all your snacks ideas and really understand the carb fix thing- around 4 am is the worst!

          Thanks for coming back and giving your update. Keep up the awesomeness!

  5. I hope that I can take these tips with me on my first night at the hospital! I start next week and I am hoping that I can turn over a new leaf!!! The hardest part about losing wait is dieting! Exercising is hard of course but it helps if you didn’t eat like crap that day!

  6. When I do nights I like to make a fruit smoothie and drink it on my way home to help keep me awake to drive and so my stomach is full before going to bed. Then when I wake up I woekout and eat my heaviest meal. I eat my “lunch” when I get to work. My lunch meals are usually a spinach salad or something lighter. I also pack baggies of veggies, greek yogurt and fruit to snack on throughout the night.

  7. What a great post! I worked the night shift forever and even though I am an unapologetic junk food junkie, the tips transfer to people trying to lose a couple of pounds or some with special dietary needs.

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