Healthy, Make-Ahead Lunches For Busy Nurses

febce48eff1d0edc94cb8ab483ed6195-huge-maHospital and office cafeterias don’t always offer healthy options and buying salads every day can get expensive. That’s why it’s important to have some no-fuss, easy-to-prep lunches you can make in advance and bring to work. When you have lunch in the bag, you’ll be less tempted by the cafeteria’s latest fast food fix.
Here are a few simple, easy, and creative lunch options for busy nurses.
Muffin Pan Meals
Portability is key to a packable lunch and muffin tin recipes fit the bill perfectly! Mist muffin pans with nonstick spray and then make mini versions of your favorite meals. Meatloaf, enchiladas, and shepherd’s pie can all be made in a muffin tin. Bring a few “muffins” to work to heat up in the communal microwave and store the rest in the fridge or freezer.
Try it: Muffin Pan Lasagna

Mason Jar Salads
Pre-packing a salad may seem like a good idea, until you stick your fork into a soggy mess or suffer from a spilled-dressing disaster during your morning commute. A better bet: Swap out your plastic ware and use a mason jar. Not only will the mason jar prevent spills, it also ensures you bite into a crisp, delicious salad every time. You can customize your salads and, since the mason jars keep the ingredients fresh, you make several salad meals and knock out lunch preparation for an entire week all at once.
Here’s what to do:
  1.  Place the dressing of your choice (about 3 tablespoons) at the bottom of the jar.
  2. Next comes a ½ cup of hard, crunchy veggies, such as corn, peppers, carrots, onions, tomatoes, celery, or broccoli
  3. Layer in a ½ cup of beans (think chick peas, lentils, kidney or black beans).
  4. Add ½ cup of grains of your choice: quinoa, farro, barley, or brown rice are all solid choices.
  5. Put in a ½ cup of protein, such as chicken, shrimp, tofu, pork, or steak.
  6. Add a cup of greens, like spinach, kale, romaine, or arugula
  7. Include any toppings you’d like. Nuts, dried fruit, or cheese crumbles can add in extra flavor.
  8. Seal the lid. When you’re ready to enjoy, shake the jar, or pour it into a bowl and mix. Voilà , a fresh, perfectly-dressed salad every time.
Try it: Pomegranate and Pear Mason Jar Salad

Instant Noodle Soups
Like mason jar salads, these homemade instant soups involve putting ingredients in a re-sealable glass jar or a stoneware mug with a lid. This is a great way to use leftovers to make an instant soup. Look in your fridge and see what you have! Add your baked, grilled, or roasted protein and any herbs and vegetables into the container, but hold the water. Rice noodles are a great addition as well, but if you prefer pasta use any al-dente pasta in your fridge or buy it par-cooked and throw that in. Then when your lunch break arrives – or your belly starts grumbling (whichever comes first) – just boil the water and add it to the container. Let the ingredients soak in the hot water for a few minutes before you dig in.
Try it: DIY Chicken and Dill Instant Noodles
Quinoa Bowls
You’ll find grain-based bowls on the menu of many trendy restaurants. They make great packable lunches though because if you make the grain (such as quinoa) in advance, you can have a different bowl variation all week.
Fill plastic ware with a base (grains and a green), layer cooked veggies and protein on top, then add toppings, like nuts, seeds, dressing, or cheese.
Try it: Thai Veggie Quinoa Bowl
Bento Boxes
This may be the easiest way to pack your lunch! Bento boxes are sealable containers that have different sections for different types of food. When it comes to bento box lunches, anything goes. Fill each section of the container with whatever you have on hand. Some people like to make cohesive meals, with each section of the bento box complimenting each other or fitting a specific theme, such as Mexican or Italian, while other people add whatever leftovers they have in their fridge.
Try it: Stir Fry Tofu in Sweet Asian Sauce Bento
Spring Rolls
Vietnamese spring rolls are a healthy and light lunch option. Unlike the others on this list, spring rolls should be made the morning you plan to eat them. Because of their delicate texture, it’s best not to prep too far in advance.
To make them, use moistened rice paper to roll fresh ingredients like veggies, protein, herbs, or noodles. To pack them for lunch, wrap them in cling wrap individually so they don’t stick together. For added enjoyment, pack a dipping sauce, too.
Try it: Turkey Avocado Spring Rolls with Hoisin Peanut Dip
Freezer-Friendly Wraps
You can make warps in advance and freeze them – as long as you choose the right ingredients. Veggies that freeze well (cooked potatoes, sautéed peppers and onions), spreads (hummus or peanut butter), grains, and cheese are all safe bets. Make your wraps in advance, roll them in parchment paper, and place them in a zip-close freezer bag until you’re ready to use them. Take your wrap out the morning you plan to eat it or the night before to defrost.
Try it: Hummus Pepper and Artichoke Wrap

Which one of these will you try? Let us know how it goes in our discussion or post in our Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Facebook group. Don't forget to show us your photos. Tag us and a nurse you know with #HealthyNurse. 

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Posted by Jaime M Dawson on Feb 10, 2017 1:35 PM CST

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This is a great blog article. I really think that instead of having candy dishes at work, we should have fruit and vegetable dishes! Something easy to snack on and more nutritious than that milky way bar or those twizzlers. It is a huge culture change that would have to take place to help nurses eat better when they feel like they are being run down and burned out. I'm thankful that our organization is moving towards a more healthy lifestyle for staff and employees
  • Posted Fri 24 Feb 2017 08:07 AM CST
Great blog, Jaime. Nurses, please visit on March 1 to unveil ANA's Year of the Healthy Nurse March "Nutrition" page for great resources.
  • Posted Tue 21 Feb 2017 03:04 PM CST

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