What we eat impacts upon how we feel physically as well as psychologically – it’s the fuel which keeps us functioning in both body and mind. Getting the right fuel into you will help you maintain your energy levels through your shift, but it will also help you to feel more alert and focused. Hunger can affect our judgement and decision making, thereby having a big impact on how we perform at work. Knowing this is only half the battle though. There are often a lot of challenges to overcome when it comes to eating what may be best for us. Long, exhausting shifts, priorities competing for time outside of work, and abundant, sometimes cheaper, convenience options for example, can all get in the way.
That being said, there are a few things you can do to help. Try to plan ahead. Working out what you’re going to eat for the week can help you save a bit of money by avoiding impulse buys at the supermarket, as well as avoiding the more expensive convenience options while you work. It is also a great way of making sure you can pack your week with healthy foods full of the right stuff to keep you feeling at your best physically and mentally.
It isn’t always as easy as we’d like it to be to plan ahead for anything, let alone what we’re going to eat. Everyone is different, with different schedules and competing commitments and activities in both our work and social lives. Try to find a meal pattern that works for you. You might want to try a meal planner to help you plan the week ahead. Take your meals with you so you’re not tempted by the take-away or vending machine offerings. Bulk cooking a few portions at a time and either freezing or refrigerating some, is a great way to have something ready which just needs heated up at a later date. Have a look at this site from Food Standard’s Scotland for some healthy recipe ideas to feed you and the family, or try this NHS site for a few more. You can adjust the quantities of ingredients to help you stock up.
Take some healthy snacks with you too, unsalted nuts, or some fruit or chopped vegetables will keep your cravings at bay while giving you a steady release of energy. Try to avoid the temptation to go for sugary snacks, these will give you a short-term boost of energy followed by a dip. Follow this link for some healthy snack inspiration from the Association of UK Dietitians.
As well as eating the right things, it’s really important to stay hydrated. Dehydration affects both your concentration and your energy levels, which will impact upon your ability to care for your patients or clients. Keep a bottle of water nearby through your shift and take regular drinks from it – you should be aiming for around 6-8 glasses of water per day. If your shift is going to involve a lot of driving, fill up a big bottle from the tap and keep it in the car. Meals and snacks with a high water content can also help keep you hydrated – soups for lunch, or fruits like melon, strawberries, pineapples, or oranges for snacks.
It can sometimes feel like we’re bombarded with messaging telling us to eat more healthily and cut out the ‘junk food’. Knowing what exactly constitutes healthy and what constitutes ‘junk food’ isn’t always immediately obvious though. For foods that are going to help you feel fuller for longer, try to get some healthy fats and foods high in protein and fibre into your diet. Things like lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, pulses like beans and lentils, wholemeal bread, brown rice or pasta, avocado, and yoghurts. Fruits and vegetables make great snacks, not only are they good for you, they should keep your hunger at bay between meals. Soups are a quick and easy option for lunches, they help keep you hydrated, and are a simple way of packing extra veg into your diet. Adding pulses like beans or lentils will make them go further and keep you full for longer. Finally, if you work nights, it’s a good idea to have a light, breakfast-style meal before you go to sleep. This should prevent you waking up hungry mid-sleep.
For more information and guidance around healthy eating, have a look at Food Standards Scotland’s Eat well, your way website.
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