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Quick nutrition tips nurses can live with
Fuel up for your shifts with a little planning and prep work
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By Julie Stefanski, MEd, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CDE
EDITOR'S NOTE: Julie Stefanski, MEd, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CDE, is reviewing editor for Nutrition Dimension, a division of OnCourse Learning.
What would a nutrition care plan for a nurse look like? While RNs excel at ensuring others receive healthy food and adequate hydration, they don't always follow through on their own health interventions.
Being busy is the norm for nurses. Good nutrition and restful sleep are vital to staying healthy enough to help others. Consider implementing these basic steps consistently to nourish yourself.
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Plan a few simple meals once a week.
Planning your meals and having a shopping list before ever stepping into the grocery store are keys to making real meals happen. Think of two healthy breakfast options and rotate those for several days. Rely on a slow cooker to do the work of preparing several chicken breasts, pork loin or a beef roast to build upon for quick, protein-rich lunches and suppers.

1.
Make consistent trips to the grocery store.
Purchasing healthy food is the first step toward eating it. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods. This helps to avoid foods that have a long list of ingredients, artificial colors, preservatives, trans fat, etc. Try to replace processed items with fresh, lean meats, whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables. This is the number one positive change you can make in your diet that will have far reaching effects on your overall health.

2.
Fuel up for the day.
Research continues to support that having a meal within 1 to 2 hours of getting up from sleep is a healthy habit with many benefits, including less snacking before bed, better weight control and an increased focus on mental tasks compared to breakfast skippers.
A question to consider is, “What happens to you after you skip breakfast?” If you always end up at the vending machine or scrounging for leftovers in the staff room, think about what you could do next time to avoid that consequence.

That leftover cake from the break room that somehow became lunch? It is never going to stick with you until supper. And that raging physical hunger from skipping a meal altogether? It may be the decisive factor in whether you make a healthy choice at the next meal or go opt for a quick drive-thru meal.

Vowing to do better tomorrow but repeating the same pattern again can take a toll on both your immune system and your future health.

Including sufficient protein with a meal helps provide needed energy about 1.5 hours after you’ve eaten. This offers a longer lasting energy source than carbohydrates alone (picture doughnut versus egg and toast).

3.
Options to consider for that first meal of the day include:
      • 8 ounces Greek yogurt with 1 cup of real fruit and 2 tablespoons chopped nuts
      • Two to three eggs paired with veggies in a western omelet
      • 4 ounces of any unbreaded meat or fish with roasted veggies or a salad
      • 1 ounce of natural nut butter on a whole grain waffle
Not used to eating within several hours of getting up? Try a low-sugar shake containing protein or a Greek yogurt as a way to train your stomach to handle food.

Don’t wait to nourish yourself throughout the day.
The best way to maintain energy and mental alertness is to fuel your body consistently. Eating at regular intervals doesn’t mean grazing at every opportunity. Aim to eat meals that include at least three food groups three times a day.
Waiting too long to eat or choosing the wrong fuel combo can lead to a drop in energy. Eating to prevent low blood sugar is better than trying to correct it after you feel awful. Everyone is different, but most people need to eat something at least every four to five hours to maintain good energy levels. If you skip meals you will miss the window of time in which you should have eaten.

4.
Don’t leave home without options.
Even when you have good intentions, emergencies happen. Pack some items from home that can fuel you up with only a few bites. Keep a small energy bar in your pocket such as one made from dried fruit and ground nuts that won’t melt. A small pack of flavored almonds can keep you going for another hour until you can get a more substantial meal. While candy can provide quick energy, it also can leave you feeling spent once the initial sugar high wears off.

5.
Skip the energy drinks and caffeine during the second half of your shift.
While caffeine can make you feel more alert, it gives a false sense of energy. Sleep, even hours later, can be interrupted by too much caffeine and some of the ingredients added to energy supplements.
6.
Steer clear of fad diets.
The miracle diet, the one that will fix your weight, your immune system and even your love life, does not exist. Really, it doesn't. Eating healthy takes a change in your mindset, not necessarily a change in your schedule.

We often put off major changes in our eating habits, imagining that someday we’ll have more time, more motivation or more money. In reality, there will not be a time when choosing healthy foods becomes easier. Instead of putting changes off, why not focus on how you can eat healthier today?

And if you’ve tried focusing only on what to cut out of your diet, maybe it’s time to think about what to include.
7.
Include plants. Please!
One change that outshines most recommendations again and again is moving toward a more plant-based diet. Adults need at least 3 to 4 cups of vegetables per day to meet basic vitamin and mineral needs for immune system support, metabolism, and to prevent deficiencies. Start with one meal in which you make it a priority to include vegetables. Do this again and again and what started out as foreign to your routine will become the norm.
What we eat plays such a tremendous role in our overall health. Each bite can be beneficial with a little thought, planning and care for yourself.
8.
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