Hectic workdays are the norm for many doctors, nurses, first responders, and others who spend time on call. When your work keeps you constantly on the go, it can be tempting to skip meals or get by on caffeine and vending machine snacks.
As a healthcare professional, you already know you require more fuel than coffee and a bag of chips or some stale pastry to stay sharp and alert. But how can you maintain healthy eating habits when you’re on call and constantly on the run? We’ll show you!
7 Tips for Healthy Eating When You’re On Call
The secret to eating healthier when you’re busy or on call is planning. When you spend a little time making your food decisions in advance, you won’t have to burn mental energy trying to figure out what to eat when you’re on the go. You also won’t have to rely on willpower – something that’s usually depleted when you need it most – to skip those unhealthy snacks.
Here are seven of our favorite tips for eating healthy when you’re on call.
1. Eat a Healthy Meal Beforehand
When you’re on call, you don’t know in advance when you’ll be able to eat, or if you’ll even have much time at all. Start by eating a full, healthy meal at home whenever you can. It will keep you satisfied and stop you from snacking for several hours. Making your first meal of the day rich in protein helps prevent snacking on sugary or fatty snacks later, so get some protein in!
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2. Bring Food from Home
Bringing your own food from home is the best way to stay in control of what you’re eating. You know the ingredients, you can pre-portion your meals and snacks, and you don’t have to decide what to eat later on, since it’s already prepared. Make and bring things that are simple to eat, like salads, boiled eggs, wraps, sandwiches, and so on. (Bonus: bringing food from home can help you save money, too.)
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3. Get Your Fruits and Veggies In However You Can
Fresh fruits and vegetables are ideal, but they can languish in the break room fridge if you’re not careful. If you usually don’t get around to eating the fresh foods you buy with the best intentions, try dehydrated, freeze-dried, or canned fruits and veggies. They provide similar nutrition but have a longer shelf life.
PRO TIP: Some dried or canned foods are high in added sugars or sodium, so spend a little time reading labels when you shop.
4. Stock Up on Healthier Bars
Protein and other types of bars shouldn’t be your only source of nutrition, but they’re an excellent snack to keep your energy up. (Plus you can eat them one-handed while doing other things, like paperwork.) Seek out some healthy bars so you always have something nutritious on hand when you don’t have time for a complete meal. No more grabbing a candy bar from the vending machine just to tide you over.
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5. Kick the Sugary Soda Habit
A single can of Coke has 9 teaspoons (39 grams) of sugar, which is more than the maximum daily added sugar intake the American Heart Association recommends for women (6 teaspoons) and right at the limit for men. Find an alternative you like and will actually drink. Plain water is always best, but if you like flavor try low/no-sugar flavored water (store-bought or homemade), or sugar-free iced tea. If you yearn for soda, try something with low sugar rather than artificial sweeteners, which can actually make it harder to regulate your weight.
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6. Change Your Coffee Order
You can easily cut down on calories and sugar intake while still enjoying the energy boost (and health benefits) of moderate coffee intake just by making a few changes to your standard coffee order. Make your coffee better for you by reducing or skipping syrups, sugar, sweet creamers, and so on. Can’t get used to drinking your coffee black? Opt for a little plain cream or milk (which adds a little protein, too). If you find yourself constantly abandoning your coffee only to come back to a lukewarm or cold cuppa joe, an insulated beverage container can be a lifesaver!
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7. Change Your Takeout Order
Healthy meals made at home are best, but sometimes you need the convenience of takeout. If you frequently order in or grab takeout, pay attention to what you order. Are healthier options available? Your usual order might not be the healthiest option. Cut down on fried or greasy foods and focus on what’s fresh and, if you can get it, seasonal. A nourishing lentil soup provides fiber and protein to fill you up and keep you fueled without being heavy like a burger or burrito.