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April 20, 2021  | Updated: April 21, 2021

Category: Healthcare Industry, Physicians


  • Erratic nature of hospital shifts increases the importance of eating healthy meals
  • Incorporating meal prep improves energy levels and work performance
  • Meal prep also saves money

As a healthcare professional, specifically a hospital nurse or physician, a non-traditional schedule can make it hard to consistently eat healthy.

Working 12-hour shifts leaves healthcare professionals exhausted and in need of recovery for a day to get back on their feet, so the last thing a doctor or nurse wants to do after a long shift at the hospital is put together a home-cooked meal. Additionally, if you are a travel nurse or physician, the uncertainty of the area you’re in or your cooking supplies in your temporary residence makes things even more volatile. However, constantly succumbing to the desire to get fast food or takeout does not lead to the healthiest lifestyle.

So, what can you do?

By being a little proactive at the beginning of your workweek, you can avoid the hassle of worrying about cooking for or after your shift, without relying on nightly takeout service. With meal preparation, you can save money, save energy, and reap the personal benefits of being on a healthy diet. We’ve compiled some best practices for healthcare professionals to meal prep and live a healthier lifestyle.

The Need for Meal Prep:

Within the erratic nature of scheduling for healthcare workers, it is beneficial for physicians and nurses to have some stability in their routine so that they are not running on just coffee—that is where the importance of meal prep becomes more evident.

If you can plan ahead a week or two in advance, you can incorporate an added aspect of health into your routine that otherwise may not be present. Additionally, the opportunity cost of not meal prepping means you are subjecting yourself to cafeteria food or take out.  By avoiding high saturated fat contents, and opting for cleaner protein options, you’ll have more energy for your shift and it will require less to recover afterwards.

Lunch Ideas (For Day Shift)

  • Bowls

Whether it’s an acai bowl or a no cook burrito bowl, this option is great because there’s minimal cook prep that goes into it, and the final result stores easily in a container that you can take directly. Additionally, you can substitute and modulate most recipes to fit your specific taste. All you need is a base (usually rice or quinoa), and then you add veggies, proteins, and a healthy fat such as avocado or hummus and voila! Since so little goes into the preparation process, you could reasonably make multiple servings at once, or quickly put together a single bowl on an off-day when you know you have a shift upcoming.

  • Salads

A colorful salad full of assorted fruits and veggies tastes great and is also easy to throw together. Pair lettuce with some spinach or kale, pair it with chicken, salmon, or tuna and some avocado and cheese and you’ve got a filling lunch. You can also prep that chicken with some Greek yogurt (instead of mayonnaise) and put it in a whole grain with some lettuce and tomato for a healthy twist on chicken salad wrap.

  • Stir Frys

I found a beef and broccoli stir fry recipe that cooks several portions in only 15 minutes! All it requires is beef (or a tofu substitute), garlic, broccoli, bell peppers, and mushrooms for the ingredients. Marinate your protein in cornstarch and water (with a few spices to improve the seasoning) and throw it in the skillet with any combination of veggies. Once your ingredients are cooked, add your spruce and just like that you’re done. You can also serve it with rice or noodles to make your portions go further. This is a great option if you’ve got a multiple day stretch coming and you want to minimize your prep time.

Late Night Ideas

If you are one of the many tasked with working night shift or even mid shift, then the importance of a well-balanced diet is even greater. Inverting your body’s internal clock to be a night owl leads to an increased risk in obesity, mood swings, and heart and gastro problems as well. By focusing on foods that are low in sodium, high in healthy fats and proteins, and hydrating you can mitigate those risks.

  • Power Bowl

Power bowls have all the same convenience of the recipes we listed above, but they have the added benefit of being foods that are specifically full of the macronutrients nurses and physicians need to have the energy to make it through a long night shift. Most bowls have a rice, quinoa, or a yogurt base, and are mixed with any combination of sweet potatoes, spinach or avocados, or chop full of fruits like strawberries and apples. I found a resource that has fifty different power bowl recipes that should satisfy any night shift warrior’s hunger.

  • Fruit Smoothies

I know you’re probably wondering how it is that anyone could possibly keep a smoothie cold through the first half of night shift, but if you blend your ingredients before work and store it in a hydro flask or yeti insulator, it stays cold and can be re-shaken when you get on your night break. Once you unlock this hack, you can assemble any number of different fruits along with some yogurt and a protein powder or meal replacement blend as a great overnight meal option. I found a recipe that mimics my favorite order from one of the popular smoothie chains and it tastes great.


Working 12-hour shifts in a hospital allows doctors and nurses so much freedom during the off-days, but it’s important to set yourself up for success on the days you work. By prioritizing sleep, hydration, and eating healthy foods, you are putting yourself in position to be the best version on the days that duty calls. Whether you prep some of the options above for your lunch break or as a placeholder waiting for you in the fridge when you clock out, these recipes will make you feel great and save money at the same time.

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