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The best nutritional meals and snacks for nurses on long shifts

Nursing shifts can be long and are often physically demanding, often with little time for breaks. However, no matter how busy the shift, it is vital for nurses to look after themselves. Nutrition is a key part of maintaining good health. Eating nutritional meals and snacks before, after and during your shifts can help keep you in the best shape for this challenging but rewarding career.


At work, you will be relying on the storage, refrigeration and cooking facilities available, which will affect what meals and snacks are most suitable to eat on shift. For students on clinical placements, it is worth asking other students or staff at your university what facilities are available at your clinical placement, so you can be prepared with the appropriate snacks and meals from day one.

If you are studying nursing online, you may not know anyone who has done a clinical placement where you are due to start, as these will usually be organized for the student’s locality. However, your course provider should be able to help you prepare. At the University of Indianapolis, students enrolled in the hybrid accelerated BSN program will have a placement coordinator to help identify a suitable site for clinical placements and a preceptor to support you through the placement. Once the placement has been confirmed, the preceptor will be happy to provide whatever information you need so that the placement can get off to the best possible start.


Try to have a filling meal before you start your shift. Porridge is a nutritional meal that is quick to prepare and will keep you energized. To keep it interesting, add different toppings to it – berries, bananas or honey are all good options. You can also treat yourself to some chocolate chips for that extra energy burst. If you don’t like eating so soon after waking up, a smoothie is a great option. Prepared in advance, they can be grabbed as you head out the door. Having some protein with your breakfast will help stave off the hunger pangs for longer, so try to include that in any breakfast.

Snacks and small meals

During the day, you may not have much time to eat, so pack some nutritional snacks and prepare to eat small amounts and often rather than planning for a longer meal. Some options can be:

  • Greek yoghurt with fruit, nuts or granola
  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Hummus with vegetable sticks, crackers or pita
  • Granola or protein bars
  • Mixed nuts
  • Cottage cheese with crackers

It’s also important to keep hydrated, so drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you get time for a more substantial meal, protein-rich salads are a good option and not too heavy. These can be prepared in advance so that they are ready to eat whenever you get a minute!

After a shift

Try to eat your last meal of the day earlier so that your food is well-digested before bed to get the best possible rest after your busy day. Meals are very much a matter of personal taste, but it’s important to add plenty of vegetables to optimize nutrition. And while you want to prioritize nutritious meals, there is nothing wrong with an indulgent treat from time to time. After a busy shift, you’ve earned it!

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