Ah, what to eat at night.
The perplexity of choosing snacks which aren’t going to add to the methane problem.
And it has to be tasty because snack time is the best bit of the shift, or at least a close second to pool births.
We know that people who do shifts, especially nights, are more at risk of all kinds of metabolic problems. Everything from extra gas because your tummy’s working odd hours, to obesity and type 2 diabetes to ulcers*. Thanks, vocational career!
But the evidence suggests some of this risk is because of quality of diet and we actually have control over this bit.
There will be times where everything on shift is conspiring to get you to make unhealthy food choices.
But if you’re like me, junk makes you feel worse, especially if it’s part of a pattern of eating badly. As a long distance runner, I can feel what a few weeks of sugar does to my body and it’s not pretty.
Shifts can also make it harder to make healthy food at home. If you’ve have three 12 hour nights, seen six babies born, been there for a cat one section and now don’t have the energy to meet up with mates as planned, it’s easy to stay on the sofa, order a takeout and make sure they put in some of those soft bake cookies too.
We all know that midwifery is way more demanding and important than running, so, let’s fuel right.
Obviously everyone is different and these specific suggestions won’t work for everyone. But take what works and adapt, and if you find something helpful, awesome!
5 ideas for shift work meals you prepare the night before/have at home:
- Leftovers, cook with lots of veg and you’re eating healthy the next day with no effort (pasta tomato bake, curry, stew etc.)
- Baked potatoes: hear me out. Cold baked potatoes are FABULOUS. Cook them by rubbing them with a bit of olive oil and salt and bake them in the oven. Then have them cold the next day with some cream cheese from a tub and some cherry tomatoes. So easy to prepare. I used to do loads at once and freeze them
- Jar of nut butter**, ryvita, and a crunchy apple
- Chickpea salad. Tin of chick peas in a lunch box, add olive oil, lemon juice, seasoning, grated parmesan, garlic granules. Add rocket for something green. Tasty and healthy and done in < 2 minutes
- I’m into chickpea cous cous at the moment. Chickpea couscous: just add stock, I add tinned tomatoes, herbs (dry) and garlic granules (dry) and top with some grated cheese. Better for you than wheat couscous apparently and again, very quick
5 ideas on what to eat at night:
- Porridge, fill yourself up with good carbs – blueberries are supposed to be great at keeping blood sugars steady, use oat milk instead of dairy for less..y'know
- Take a homemade smoothie – you can experiment with adding nut butter and coconut oil, which have good fats which will keep you full and healthy. In my experience, the fats seem to help with the gas issue too because we all know smoothies can produce nuclear weapon level sound effects
- There’s nothing wrong with having a big cup of fancy coffee before a shift, it’s a treat and you are working against your body clock. Sprinkle with cinnamon, again this is supposed to keep your blood sugars level. Also...it can help you go to the loo, again good for the gas issue
- Make yourself a Really Amazing Sandwich – nice seedy bread, cucumbers and spinach, tuna or another protein. Maybe not hummus on the night unless it doesn’t impact you!
- Try some very dark chocolate. The magnesium will help you sleep later and the caffeine will keep you up on shift
Ideas for healthy ‘emergency rations’ to have in your bag:
(These are for those times when you have to grab something while doing your notes).
- Peanut butter sachets. Nut butter is great natural fuel which doesn't have sugar in, these can be expensive but as emergency food they're my go to thing
- Those fruit and nut power ball or flapjack things – or make your own (I just mash ripe bananas with a little water, coconut oil and a few whizzed up dates + the oats to form a sticky mass – in the oven in a tin @ 180 degrees for 20 minutes or so – cheap) – I would have a few of these in your uniform pocket if at all possible!
- Electrolytes for your water bottle, these help prevent headaches
My other busy midwife health hack is to keep fresh sauerkraut in my fridge at home. Please give it another chance if you’ve tried it and hated it, the raw food company sauerkraut is absolutely delicious, like a raw, mild crunchy cabbage salad.
The ingredients are just salt and cabbage but it's full of healthy bacteria. There’s limited research out there but it’s been a health food for about 2000 years that to me this is basically a longitudinal research study.
I add this to the side of pretty much every meal, though I wouldn’t take it to work, way too stinky. And my boyfriend loves Kimchi but we won’t go there just now...
Over time, your gut health should get better and it’ll help with bloating on night shifts.
I’m not saying I don’t fall off the wagon from time to time (god, I discovered sesame snaps about a month ago, sometimes you can’t help it) but a healthy diet is important.
I mean, everything in midwifery is important but the health of the workforce is the foundation on which care runs. If you don’t take your health seriously, all the midwifery skills you build up over a career can disappear because your main tool – your body – can’t do it.
Delicious and healthy food that you prepare for yourself = good care for the women.
THANK YOU for doing shift work or being there for women across the weird hours needed.
I’d love to hear from you:
- What are your go to recipes for eating around shifts, oncall and nights?
- Have you noticed you have more energy when you’re eating right?
- If you’re not currently paying too much attention to your diet and you’re feeling bad about it, forgive yourself immediately, you have a really challenging job. But what’s one thing you can do to change things?
Leave me a comment below and don’t forget to share this with anyone midwifery related who might find it helpful.
All my best, Ellie x
P.S. Something important I need to tell you: I have huge problems doing nights. This isn’t something I’m ready to talk about on my blog. As the writer Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote ‘this is a story I’m living right now rather than one I’m telling’ so I hope you understand if I don’t go into more detail. But I didn’t feel right not telling you any of this either, considering I'm recommending some ideas. These really are the foods I used for nights and it did help but it turned out I had bigger concerns.
If you’re suffering because of nights, go and see your GP x
** (Gan et al 2014, this is from the Occupational & Environmental Medicine Journal, a branch of the British Medical Journal) + (Lowden et al 2010, Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health)
**Obviously be careful around anyone with nut allergies