The difference between a good shift and a great shift is food. Food, glorious food! I don’t know how your night shifts roll out, but I find that for me some nights I am barely hungry and other nights I’m a ravenous wolf. Some nights I could snack all night; other nights I can barely find time to pee, never mind sit down for a meal. The one thing that is consistent across all my night shifts is that I regularly crave junk food. The later the night gets, the more I risk turning into a vending machine junkie. (The chips! The chocolate! The sodas! Give me one of everything!)
When I was preparing to go back on night shifts after a long spell of working days, I asked a paramedic friend for advice on he handles long shifts at all hours of the day. His instant advice? Pack great food– and lots of it. Here’s some ideas on how to do that.
Pack it up
Make it easy and convenient to bring healthy snacks to work with you by having all the right equipment. Invest in a thermal lunch bag and some glass leftover containers with snap-on lids. Get some reusable snack bags and a thermos too. Mason jars with wide mouths are great for packing a salad, veggie sticks, yogurt with granola, etc.
Know your goals
more protein = increased alertness
Incorporate high-protein foods like hard-boiled eggs, cooked quinoa, and nut butter into your meals and snacks. Other great sources of protein include tuna, nuts, & trail mix. Consuming adequate protein will increase alertness and focus.
fewer carbs = more energy
Foods high in carbohydrates- like bread, potatoes, and cereal- can have a sedating effect, especially if eaten all by themselves. Avoid loading up on carbs during your shift to ward off extra sleepiness.
no sugary drinks = no crash
A strong sugar rush may give you a temporary boost, but it is usually followed by a crash. Some research even shows that the body’s ability to process sugar declines at night.
limited portions = less sluggishness
Try to eat small, frequent meals as opposed to large heavy ones. Heavy meals often have more calories than most people need in one sitting. Eating a large portion can also make you feel sluggish or tired while on the job. Don’t use your night shift as a reason to eat massive meals in the middle of the night.
Plan to snack
Instead of worrying about cooking and packing full meals, focus on packing lots of healthy, nutrition-dense snacks. Then mix and match your meals according to how you’re feeling and whether you’re in an eating-on-the-run situation.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Carrot, celery and red pepper sticks with hummus
- Flax and sesame seed crackers with olive tapenade
- Bowl of plain yogurt with chopped nuts and berries
- Almond and fruit muffins
- Quinoa salad with vinaigrette
- Tabouleh salad
- Boiled eggs, already peeled
- Energy bites or good granola bars
- Fruit salad
- Almond butter fudge
- Beet or kale chips
- Apple slices and peanut butter
Your body can signal hunger and thirst in the same way. So if you’re feeling hungry, there’s a chance that you’re actually just quite thirsty. Staying hydrated is a simple way to keep you feeling both awake and full. Bring a water bottle to work and fill it often. You’ll save money on bottled drinks and keep more plastic out of the landfill. If you need some variety, infuse your water with fruit, cinnamon sticks or citrus slices for an added flavour boost without the calories.
You don’t want to feel deprived so pack one or two small treats to enjoy during your shift. That way, you’ll have already set limits before you dive head-first into the fresh box of doughnuts. (Hey, we’ve all done it– especially when it gets stressful) Having healthy snacks at your fingertips is key to clean eating while working nights.
How do you keep up with healthy eating on night shift? What do you pack up for your night shift lunch bag?