How to Maintain a Healthy Diet as a Traveling Nurse

10/08/2018

healthy travel nurse

By Alana Luna, Contributor

For most nurses, diet is far from a primary concern. Long shifts, complex patient care and other professional and personal responsibilities take so much mental bandwidth, there’s little time left over to fit in plans for a healthy lifestyle. If you’re a traveling nurse wondering how to live a healthy lifestyle and still fulfill your work obligations, there’s plenty of hope and advice to be had courtesy of some very helpful experts.

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Increase your physical activity

Stanford University School of Medicine researchers found that participants who changed both their diet and exercise regimens at the same time had better results in both categories. The study specifically focused on participants with busy schedules and stressful lives, conditions often experienced by traveling nurses. 

Alysa Boan, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer at FitnessTrainer.com, sees the value in taking on new workouts and dietary changes simultaneously. Boan encourages nurses to schedule virtual workouts and then plan ahead. Instead of continuously grazing, she recommends that nurses “pack two big meals and snacks for their 12-hour shifts, and chose a 6-8 hour period to eat them in.”

Avoid skipping meals

When the nurse’s station and break room are miles away from the cafeteria, meal time requires a lot of forethought. Even if you have access to an on-site restaurant or nearby eatery, the quickest options are often high in sugar, fat and processed carbohydrates. That’s why Susan Stalte, a registered dietician and nutritional consultant, recommends nurses plan their meals ahead of time to avoid overeating later.

“Going long periods without eating will only lead to over-eating at the end of the shift,” advises Stalte. “This is the body's natural response when it's without food for too long. It's craving carbohydrates (energy)!” Stalte recommends starting your shift with a protein-filled meal, eating at regular intervals to avoid post-shift bingeing and always staying hydrated so your body doesn’t mistake thirst for hunger. 

Boan agrees, “Regardless of whether they are traveling nurses or working at one consistent location, the main challenges are the same: time and food availability.” For busy nurses, diet changes can be as simple as switching from mindless eating to more strategic meal times.

Snack smart

Those long, hectic shifts that leave little time for sitting down to a full meal make snacking even more important. To complement your protein-rich starter meal, Stalte suggests packing practical yet healthy snack options that help you create a nurse’s diet that makes sense and tastes great. Stalte’s snack ideas include hard-boiled eggs, pre-portioned baggies of mixed nuts paired with string cheese, Greek yogurt, air-popped popcorn and all-natural protein bars.

Former travel nurse and current Intuitive and Success Coach for Nurse Entrepreneurs Theresa Nguyen believes in getting creative with your work snacks. “I love to roast my own whole almonds and pumpkin seeds (pepitas), and add in dried cherries, blueberries and low sugar cranberries. It gives you the burst of energy you need and fills your tummy too!”

Even more striking is how Nguyen chooses to tote around her trail mix: “Wear a fanny pack ... I never knew when or if I would get a meal break, so I wanted to make sure I had the energy and nutrition to nourish both my body and mind.”

Invest in a meal delivery service

One way traveling nurses can embrace a healthy lifestyle even when they don’t have a second to set foot in a grocery store is to sign up for a meal delivery service. “In the last few years,” says Janet Gianetti, co-founder of Mr. Meal Delivery, “the pre-made meal industry has absolutely exploded with national brands offering everything from keto and Paleo specific diet types to vegetarian and gluten-free options.” Many of those subscription companies use smartphone apps to facilitate on-the-go ordering, and meal plans can be customized to suit your schedule and dietary needs. Request delivery at home or switch the drop-off point to the hospital or clinic for the ultimate in convenience.

Prioritize your nurse’s diet and emphasize self-care

Above all, learning how to live a healthy lifestyle requires recognizing that your well-being is essential for your own success and for successfully tending to your patients. As Nguyen says, “Having fresh food that is fast, easy and packed with nutrition will help you stay awake, alert and think critically so that you can provide safe care.”

  • Make time to set up a nutritious breakfast the night before if you won’t have time in the morning. Nguyen relies on overnight oats, an easily adjusted recipe that incorporates whole rolled oats, non-dairy milk alternatives and your choice of fruit, nuts, seeds and other mix-ins for a delicious, portable alternative to sit-down breakfasts.
  • To streamline meal prep, buy insulated reusable containers to safely and quickly pack up salads, wraps and other healthy treats from home. Nguyen is a big fan of small smoothie machines you can tuck into your purse or leave in your work locker. Tuck fresh kale and fruit into a baggie, blend those along with ice, milk or yogurt and a packet of protein powder and you have a balanced meal or mid-shift snack you can chug immediately or sip for hours, depending on the situation.

When you’re working tirelessly to advance your nursing career, it’s easy to fall into the habit of relying on a so-called “nurse’s diet” of vending machine finds and cold coffee, but a healthy lifestyle is an integral part of professional success. Change how you eat and you may see that your work and life experiences an equally positive transformation.

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