Ask Auntie Aggie: “What do nurses bring for lunch?”


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K writes:

Auntie Aggie, I am a new grad halfway through a med-surg internship. I’ve had two weeks of taking patients on the floor, and I don’t have time for a big lunch. When I do get to eat, I get really sleepy if I eat too many carbs. What do nurses bring for lunch?

Dear K,

What nurses bring for lunch varies as much as nurses do. I tend to go fairly low-carb when I’m working, just because I have the same problem as you do: Starch makes me sleepy. We can divide the problem into two parts, then: food choices and food preparation.

For food choices, consult both your tastes and others’. We have an unofficial rule that nobody’s allowed to microwave fish in the break room. Tuna salad is fine; something hot with haddock is not. At some hospitals, there’s going to be a line for the microwave, which means you’re better off bringing something that can be eaten cold. And some people do better with frequent small snacks throughout the day than one or two big meals. Figure out what meets your needs in these departments.

Food preparation is key. I try to keep a selection of proteins, like tuna and chicken, lunch meat and cheeses, in ready-to-go portions. Prepackaged stuff is fine, like cheese sticks, but don’t underestimate the power of the zipper bag.

If you’re a snacker rather than a meal-eater, you can pre-portion out things like raw veggies, nuts, fruits, even yogurt if you don’t like the single-serving cartons. Grabbing something out of your lunch bag is easy, especially if you need something you can eat on the go.

A word about snack, protein and breakfast bars: Some of them are great; most of them have a lot of sugar in them, and so will only make you hungrier and grouchier an hour or two down the road. I tend to save things like protein bars for absolute “it’s 1630 and I haven’t eaten since 0500” emergencies.

Fix everything for your next days of work on your days off. Some people cut up and package separately (so the ingredients don’t get soggy) everything they need for a chef’s salad. Then, the morning they want the salad, they can either mix it all together or stick the individual baggies into their lunchbox. I have been known to package up all the bits that go into a nice soup-and-salad lunch and stick the soup part in the freezer; it saves using an ice pack and everything’s thawed by noon.

Regardless of how you pack, take this one bit of advice: Get a bigger lunchbox than you think you’ll need. Nobody will think less of you for hauling a big bag or box; they’ll admire your foresight.

Happy munching!

Agatha Lellis
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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