Nutritional therapist Nicola shares her advice for preparing quick and easy energy boosting food
My biggest tip for all nursing staff is to prepare meals in advance. Although that might sound difficult when you’re time poor, it’s a lot easier than you might think and can be really beneficial for mind and body. Planning also helps us avoid reaching for the nearest thing to eat, without thinking, which can mean we don’t always go for the most favourable foods.
Shift work and stress can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm - the body’s internal clock that helps us to sleep, be alert and function efficiently. Making wise food choices can help our natural rhythms leading to better brain function, which is positive for you and your patients.
Grab a load of vegetables - broccoli, sweet potato, courgette - anything you like, and roast in the oven for around 20 minutes. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge. This will stay fresh for over a week and can be used in a variety of ways. Add to salads, pair with a tin of tomatoes for a quick pasta sauce or ratatouille or roast a chicken and add as a side dish. This is a great way to ensure there’s always something to hand to avoid reaching for sugary snacks that lack nutrients.
Proteins are essential for our immune system, help us with energy and stop us snacking as they fill us up for longer. All meat, eggs, lentils, chickpeas, beans and green leafy vegetables are rich in protein.
3. Omega 3 fats
We shouldn’t fear natural fats, which help with brain function. Good sources of natural fats include fish such as tinned mackerel, walnuts, avocado and other nuts and seeds. Add mackerel to the cooked veg you prepare with a handful of nuts and you’ve got a very quick, tasty and healthy lunch.
Drinking a glass of water will do more for your concentration than a caffeinated drink
No food is “bad”, but some foods really do aid wellbeing and health. My number one superfood is broccoli. It’s full of vitamins, can be eaten in salads or as part of a main meal (for example, add to salmon and new potatoes), and is great at detoxifying the body.
Hydration is key. Nursing staff advocate being hydrated for patients, but this is because it’s proven to aid cognitive thinking and brain function. Drinking a glass of water will do more for your concentration and energy than a sugary snack or caffeinated drink.
Lost your taste and smell?
It’s a common symptom of COVID-19, with research suggesting as many as 60% of people with the virus are affected. Though temporary, it can last for months and have a serious impact on your appetite. With nourishment so crucial when fending off illness, how can you gain enjoyment from food when taste and smell is still absent?
Making use of hot foods like mustard, chilli, and wasabi will kickstart your senses. Strong combinations like sweet and sour also help.
Salty foods like anchovies, soy sauce, parmesan cheese and marmite can invigorate the tastebuds, but be careful not to increase your salt intake too much, as excess salt can cause raised blood pressure.
Combining smooth and crunchy foods can enliven senses. Try adding chopped nuts to noodle dishes, or croutons to a soup.
Some members told me they weren’t allowed water bottles on their ward, which isn’t the case
Could you help improve staff health and wellbeing?
We all know the importance of taking breaks, staying hydrated and eating well at work – not just for our own health, but for the benefit of patient care too. But the demands of nursing often mean self-care is sacrificed. Our Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel (3Rs) initiative supports RCN reps, members and employers to make simple workplace changes to improve staff health and wellbeing.
“As an intensive care nurse, I noticed some staff were reluctant to take breaks as they didn’t want to leave their patients,” says Hilary, an RCN steward in Scotland. “Working with my senior charge nurse, we created a place for staff water bottles and introduced break buddies, which means staff are covered and have peace of mind that their patient will be cared for when they’re taking a break.
“Elsewhere, some members told me they weren’t allowed water bottles on their ward, which isn’t the case. I attended meetings with other nursing staff across the organisation to introduce the 3Rs initiative more widely and share RCN resources like hydration posters and coasters.
“Our organisation has pledged their commitment to this initiative, expedited by COVID-19, and I’m hoping that all areas will have a hydration station for staff very soon. This will help spread the message that staff can have their water bottles and are encouraged to use them.”
RCN healthy workplace, healthy you
Find a range of RCN resources online to support you in making healthier life choices.