Meal planning tips and tricks for nurses
Nurses are some of the most organized, efficient and forward-thinking folks around. And yet, many nurses struggle with falling into a healthy, budget-friendly and ultimately consistent meal planning routine.
While the most common culprit is a crippling schedule, it’s not an invincible enemy. Below, Kati Kleber (aka Nurse Eye Roll) outlines some of the planning-ahead habits that have been key to her success:
Learning how to get my meals together was a challenge when I was adjusting to working three 12-hour shifts per week. I always waited until I was hungry, never had the food in the house to make something yummy and quick, and then would either go to the grocery store last-minute and spend way too much or eat out and make poor decisions out of hunger.
You also may potentially eat healthier, depending on your meal choices.
This will be a two-part post. This post will contain my keys to success in meal planning, and the next post will have our typical weekly routine and the meals (with recipes!) that we make.
Please note: My household consists of my husband, John, and me. We do not have children. I know that can add a big challenge into your planning and time management. We also try to eat low-carb and natural meals, but aren’t super strict about it. When deciding on meals that are right for you, adjust suggestions for your diet (dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) as appropriate.
Additionally, this is what works for our household. Please don’t read this and assume this is how I believe all households should function. This is what works for us.
Please keep all of this in mind when reading my routine.
KEYS TO MEAL PLANNING SUCCESS
Communicate with your spouse/partner/roommate about expectations
My husband and I have an understanding—we try to split up who makes dinner evenly throughout the week. We both work full time, so we both spend the same amount of time with work and other commitments, therefore we try to make time and spread the responsibility of dinner equally. I know this isn’t how everyone’s household functions, but this works well for us, and ensures that neither of us feels overwhelmed or like the other doesn’t help.
Sit down and plan the week together
Take some time at the beginning of your week to plan a dinner for each night. It is annoying to do this, but it’s much less annoying doing it once rather than every night of the week. Base your grocery-store shopping list on your meals.
For the days you’re working 12-hour shifts, stick to meals that are easy to prepare and require minimal prep. I save the easiest meals for my three days I’m working (or the ones John is most comfortable making, as he typically makes dinner on the days that I work 12’s). I like to try new recipes, so I save those for days I don’t have a lot going on. We look at our calendars together while we’re planning our meals, and if we have a lot going on one day, we make it an easy meal or one we can prep for earlier in the day (like a Crock-Pot meal).
I write down each day of the week, what we’re eating and who is preparing it, and put it on the fridge to reference later in the week. It is very easy to forget.
It makes a big difference when you’re getting off of work and you already know whose responsibility it is to make dinner and what it will be.
Also, John and I have an understanding that if I make dinner, he does the dishes and vice versa. Outlining those expectations and communicating about them clearly is essential to avoid undue conflict and stress. It is pretty burdensome to work a 12-hour shift, make a full dinner and clean it up.
Get some really good food storage containers that you can bring to work for your lunch
I like to bring leftovers for lunch at work the next day. It makes cleaning up the meal and packing my lunch easier. I prefer glass containers over plastic. Here’s why.
It’s also important to have an organized container drawer. We separate our lids and containers to make finding a match easier. I also recycle any that don’t have a matching lid to de-clutter where I store them. Spending more than 10 seconds trying to find a container and a lid is way too long in my book!
Oh, and don’t forget to have an awesome lunch box!
Buy meat in bulk and freeze it/prep ahead of time
We buy meat from Costco (enough for about two weeks at a time), separate it into single-meal zip-lock bags and freeze them. When I see that ground beef is the protein for the meal tomorrow, I move the frozen meat package from the freezer to the fridge the day/night before to allow it time to defrost. I hate thawing out meat last-minute and it takes that annoying step out of the equation.
If you have a meal that requires chopping veggies that can be a little labor intensive, and you have time the night before or earlier in the day, do it then and put it in the fridge so you can just throw ingredients together come dinnertime.
Have a quick backup plan in the freezer
We all know it happens—someone codes at shift change, you get off work an hour late, and your spouse had a terrible day as well and walks in the door three seconds after you. I like to have a frozen pizza or some sort of frozen meal on deck for those rough days.
Get on Pinterest
Pinterest is where I find almost all of my recipes. I have a board called “Noms” that I reference frequently and use my iPad or computer to look at the recipe while making dinner if I don’t know it off the top of my head. It’s incredibility convenient and easy to organize. You have all of your faves in one place that is easy to get to. I highly recommend Pinterest to aid in your meal planning!
Say thank you
If your husband, wife, partner, roommate, etc. made dinner tonight, tell them thank you. If you made dinner and they washed the dishes, say thank you. If you live alone and you are super pumped that you remembered to defrost the meat every day and stuck to your list and you’re pretty proud of yourself, give yourself a pat on the back! Everyone loves to be appreciated and have their actions acknowledged, even if it’s routine.
Those are my meal planning keys to success! Is it realistic to do things the best way every single time? No. John and I have planned out our week and had to change things up mid-week because circumstances that we couldn’t predict forced us to do so. But we make an effort to stick to the plan, and we’ve quickly learned that having a dinner plan for the week is much easier and cheaper than not having a plan at all. And now we don’t stress as much about an impromptu take-out meal after a tough day because we’ve become more efficient overall with our planning and spending.
I hope this helps! Stay tuned for part 2, which will contain a sample week of meals, and I will walk through our routine and provide the recipes for our go-to meals!
To read more, visit NurseEyeRoll.com.
Becoming Nursey: From Code Blues to Code Browns, How to Take Care of Your Patients and Yourself talks about how to realistically live as a nurse, both at home and at the bedside…with a little humor and some shenanigans along the way. Get ready: It’s about to get real, real nursey. You can get your own copy at NurseEyeRoll.com, Amazon or Goodreads (ebook).
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Kati Kleber BSN, RN CCRN is a a nationally certified critical care nurse located in Charlotte, NC. She is the Nurse Advisor and Editorial Director of the #ProtectNurses initiative, and will be guiding the content we curate, create, and share back with you. Kleber, aka Nurse Eyeroll, is a popular blogger, the voice behind the wildly successful #ProTips series, and a frequent speaker on nursing leadership. You can buy her book "Becoming Nursey" at nurseeyeroll.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites. She also has two more books in the works, which will be published by the American Nurses Association and on shelves Feb. 2016!
By Kati Kleber BSN, RN