How to Eat Clean while Working the Night Shift

How to Eat Clean while working the Night Shift

I can sympathize with the struggle of trying to eat healthy while working night shifts- I worked 12 hour rotating shifts at a hospital for a stretch and it most certainly did not agree with me. Without fail, there were fresh, deep-fried, sugar-laden options ushered in during the middle of the night when my stomach was growling and my resistance was lowest. There were generous coworkers who would do middle-of-the-night coffee runs and deliver my sugary, syrupy macchiato at 3 a.m. Not to mention the home-baking that grateful patients would have dropped off earlier. Every. Single. Shift.

The erratic schedule of shift work can wreak havoc on healthy eating. Not only does it destroy the natural rhythm of meal times, but it can also result in sugar and carb cravings simply to stay awake through the night. The lack of routine can frustrate good intentions.

If you work in a shift work job where breaks are either hard-to-find or often interrupted (I’m looking at you, nurses!), then grazing is the best way to stay fuelled. If you don’t have healthy snacks prepared, it’s too easy to start grazing on muffins, donuts or the pizza your coworker is sharing. Those kind of indulgences start to take at toll after a few weeks, months, or years of shift work.

Here are some shift work clean eating survival strategies:

1. Plan ahead: Before you disappear into the relentless grind of back-to-back night shifts, take an hour or two to get prepared. Wash fruit, chop veggies, whip up some smoothies (store them in the freezer), cook some hard-boiled eggs, etc. Your prep work will pay off big time.

2. Lots of snacks! Prepare for your shift the same way you would prepare a little kid’s lunch. Fill several small resealable containers with appealing, healthy snacks. Here are some ideas:

-Carro, celery and red pepper sticks with hummus.
Spice and Almond Crackers
-Bowl of plain yogurt with paleo granola and raspberries.
-Protein-packed muffins made with almond meal.
-Quinoa salad with chopped fresh veggies and vinaigrette.
-Boiled eggs, already peeled.
-Lara Bars (or homemade energy bites!)
Spinach salad with quinoa, feta and beets.

3. Stay hydrated! Staying hydrated is a simple way to keep you feeling both awake and full.

-Get a couple good refillable water bottles and fill them up- add some lemon wedges and mint leaves for a refreshing drink.
-Invest in a few high-quality teas to stash at work or in your bag. This will give you a “treat” when you’re tempted to order a sugary hot drink to stay awake. And if you’re like me, I get really cold in the middle of the night and need something hot to warm me up.
-Make a quick berry smoothie or green smoothie and stash it in the fridge until you’re ready for it. This is easy to keep at your work station and will fill you up without causing a sugar crash.
-Bring a bottle of sparkling water with you for variety.
-Switch from caffeine to green tea.

4. Add in some treats: You don’t want to feel deprived or like you’re missing out on the fun. By packing one or two small treats to enjoy during your shift, you’ll have already set limits before you dive head-first into the fresh box of donuts. Some ideas:

-a small bar of dark chocolate
pumpkin cookies with coconut, cranberry, and chocolate
-cranberries or raisins covered in chocolate
Chocolate, pecan, and cranberry bites

5. Use freezer bag slow cooker meals when you go home. Prepare some freezer bag slow cooker meals on your days off. Put them into the slow cooker when you get home in the morning after your shift. Go to bed, and supper will be ready for you when you wake up. Pack up some leftovers to bring to work for a midnight dinner.

Have you ever worked night shifts? What worked well for you? Please add to the comments below!

P.S. This is one of the most popular posts on my blog so I’ve written an entire e-book on this subject!   Get your copy here.


How to Eat Clean while Working the Night Shift


12 thoughts on “How to Eat Clean while Working the Night Shift

  1. Sukina Johnson says:

    I just interviewed for a 7 on 7 off position and these suggestions are awesome! I will definitely use them if I get the job. I love overnights but it is so tempting to eat terrible and drink Pepsi for the caffeine and sugar rush! Thanks for the great advice.


  2. G says:

    Have a treat in mind for when you come off your run of shifts – when you will actually enjoy it. For me – no food off the ‘treat trolley’ while at work means some delicious ice cream the day I finish!


  3. Erin says:

    I will definitely use some of these! Ive been on night shift for about 3 years, but I dont have a routine. Sometimes i work every other day, or 2 in a row, or all three….depends. It has been hard getting a routine, and I have very much been a vending machine junky. I need to make these healthy changes and these tips are wonderful. Thank you :)


  4. Amy says:

    Hi Lauren,
    Thanks for these great tips. I work in a small team so end up doing nights every other week! Most of the time I’m a real health nut, but my nights end up being a 12 hour binge fest haha :( my self control is so poor at 4am! This habit messes up all my hard work. So tomorrow night, armed with your helpful hints, I’ll be making sure I stay on track.
    Thanks for sharing x


    • Lauren says:

      I’m thrilled to hear you found some inspiration here. Be sure to come back and share any new tricks you learn along the way. Happy night shift-ing!


      • Amy says:

        Over the past 7 days I’ve done 4 nights, and kept your post in mind. I tried to save my dinner until I got to work and at it around 8-10 pm. Then I used your idea of taking a variety of snacks with me, such as carrot sticks, mange tout, strawberries, Greek yogurt, boiled eggs, apples, banana egg pancakes, celery etc. I also stocked up on low calorie hot chocolate and bought 1 cereal bar with me for a late night/early morning carb fix. Having weighed myself this morning I can report I’ve maintained my usual weight instead of putting on 3lb (which is my usual pattern on nights!) . So thank you for your tips. They worked! I definitely agree with taking different snack foods with you and also I made sure I didn’t buy ‘treats’ like cookies, because I know if they’re there I end up devouring them :p
        I’ll keep using your post as a reminder to stay clean and healthy on nights from now on x


      • Lauren says:

        Hey Amy! Wow- so glad these ideas worked so well for you. Totally love all your snacks ideas and really understand the carb fix thing- around 4 am is the worst!

        Thanks for coming back and giving your update. Keep up the awesomeness!


  5. kyndee says:

    I hope that I can take these tips with me on my first night at the hospital! I start next week and I am hoping that I can turn over a new leaf!!! The hardest part about losing wait is dieting! Exercising is hard of course but it helps if you didn’t eat like crap that day!


  6. Anonymous says:

    When I do nights I like to make a fruit smoothie and drink it on my way home to help keep me awake to drive and so my stomach is full before going to bed. Then when I wake up I woekout and eat my heaviest meal. I eat my “lunch” when I get to work. My lunch meals are usually a spinach salad or something lighter. I also pack baggies of veggies, greek yogurt and fruit to snack on throughout the night.


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