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5 smart, packable meal ideas for nurses

If you place a high priority on having a leisurely lunch or dinner hour at work, nursing may not be the profession for you! For most nurses, meals are something that's grabbed quickly – if at all – and eaten in a rush. But if you're working long hours and rushing from patient to patient, you'll need energy-boosting nutrition to keep you going.

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"A complete meal should have protein, fiber, healthy fat and colorful fruits and vegetables," said Elyse Krawtz, outpatient dietitian at Northside Hospital Atlanta. "These components help keep you nourished and satisfied for hours."

Krawtz recommended preparing packable meals using time-saving strategies such as cooking extra and repurposing leftovers. For example, you can cook extra roast vegetables and pack them for the next day at work, or you could use roasted chicken from last night's dinner on a salad or whole grain bowl.

"Think simple and easy. A meal doesn't have to be Instagram-worthy to be delicious and nutritious," Krawtz pointed out.

She recommended the following five smart, packable meal ideas for nurses that are easy to prepare and will help keep your energy from flagging:

  • Fajita bowl – Combine ingredients such as baked chicken, quinoa, peppers, cilantro, arugula, lime vinaigrette dressing and one ounce of cheese, with one cup of berries on the side.
  • Lettuce wrap "tacos" – Use butter lettuce or collard greens on the outside of a sandwich instead of bread. Fill with chicken or fish, roasted peppers, onions, cabbage "slaw," black beans or sweet potatoes. Spice it up with green chilies, jalapeno, cumin, garlic and/or cayenne pepper. Add some sliced avocado or two tablespoons of guacamole for some healthy fats.
  • Fish salad – This could include tuna salad with chickpeas, sun-dried or cherry tomatoes, shredded kale, artichoke hearts, oregano, parsley, onion, red wine vinaigrette and one ounce of feta or goat cheese.
  • Baked chicken-pesto salad – Prepare the chicken salad using plain Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise and put it in a whole grain wrap with lettuce, tomato and roasted chickpeas.
  • Vegetarian chili – Make it with vegetables and beans and have some plain yogurt with berries on the side.

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Krawtz also said that if nurses don't have time to eat a full meal, they should consider prepping and eating several mini-meals. She recommended mixing and matching combinations of protein and produce such as the following for satisfying mini-meals:

Protein

  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 ounce of cheese, such as goat cheese, feta, mozzarella or cheddar
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened peanut or almond butter
  • Canned, baked or roasted fish, such as wild salmon, sardines or tuna
  • ½ cup of beans, such as black beans, chickpeas or lima beans
  • ½ cup of dip, such as black or white bean dip or hummus

Produce

  • 1 bell pepper or 4-5 mini sweet peppers
  • 1 cup of baby carrots or carrot sticks
  • 1 cup of melon
  • 1 cup of fresh or thawed frozen berries
  • 1 cup of cucumber slices
  • 1 cup of roasted baby beets
  • 1 cup of sliced tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

Adding a flavoring ingredient such as vanilla or orange extract can help enhance the taste or you can also add your favorite spices. And remember that spices aren't all hot, so if you don't like heat, try adding garlic or onion powder for a savory flavor or cinnamon for a touch of sweetness.

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