High-Protein & High-Energy Snacks For Nurses
By Kathleen Colduvell RN, BSN, BA, CBC
Snacks can be a nurse’s best friend during long 12-hour hospital shifts. Nurses often do not take meal breaks, and even if they do it is usually not long enough to consume an entire balanced meal. The lingering question is -- what is a nurse supposed to snack on to boost energy levels while providing enough calories to sustain those energy levels throughout a shift?
There are numerous temptations -- including vending machines, as well as cookies and chocolate from patients’ families and friends -- but it is vital for nurses to choose the right snacks, especially in the high-stress hospital environment.
Energy drinks and coffee may give a stamina boost for the time being, but there are other healthier ways that will give you the same kick with vital nutrients. It is important that these snacks are high in protein and complex carbohydrates; protein takes longer to digest than other types of nutrients, which prevents nurses from getting hungry as often at work. It is, in fact, possible to eat healthy while on the unit; here is a list of eight high-protein, on-the-go snacks that will keep a nurse’s engine running for hours.
1. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is high in protein and comes in a variety of flavors. According to Fitness Magazine online and Rachel Ray online, Fage 0% Greek Yogurt is one of the most popular and contains the highest protein concentrations per container. Depending on the brand, you’ll get 12 to 20 grams of protein per container, not to mention bone-building calcium and gut-friendly probiotics. Greek yogurt comes in low-fat and fat-free options for nurses who are counting calories. Greek yogurt can be paired with fresh fruit, granola, or chia seeds for additional health benefits.
2. String Cheese
String cheese is one of the easiest and most portable high-protein snacks available to busy nurses. There are numerous string cheese brands on the market, so choose the best kind available. String cheese consisting of part-skim mozzarella is low in calories and high in protein; a one ounce serving has 71 calories and seven grams of protein. String cheese comes in a single- size portion, which can deter nurses from overeating.
Nuts function as a double-edged snack; there are numerous types of nuts that are high in protein but many that contain large quantities of fat. Again, be sure to pick the right type of nut; the mix of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids will help achieve a sense of fullness and suppress the appetite. Avoid nuts that are packaged or roasted in oil; instead, eat raw or dry roasted nuts. Macadamia nuts and pecans are the most caloric while having the lowest amount of proteins and highest amounts of fat. The best nuts are almonds, cashews, and pistachios. They each contain 13-14 grams of protein per serving. The thing to consider when snacking on nuts is proper portion control.
4. Cottage Cheese
Non-fat cottage cheese delivers a strong punch in terms of protein. A five-ounce serving has 20 grams of protein, which is approximately four grams more than Greek yogurt. Just be wary of overindulging cottage cheese as most brands contain high levels of sodium. A favorite amongst nurses is Breakstone’s as it comes in pre-packaged portions; and remember that fresh fruit can always be added to cottage cheese.
5. Hard-boiled eggs
This high-protein snack requires more effort than the aforementioned ones but creates a tasty alternative to those wanting to steer clear of pre-packaged snacks. Each egg contains six grams of protein. Eggs can be hard-boiled in large quantities for easy snack prep. Not only do hard- boiled eggs provide a great source of protein, they also contain high levels of vitamin D and vitamin B-12. The best part is that a single egg is only 77 calories.
One serving of dry roasted edamame (soy beans) contains 14 grams of protein which will help fight hunger during a long shift. For a hot bite of edamame, a 90-calorie microwave pack contains eight grams of protein and three grams of fiber.
Hummus has become increasingly popular in recent years. Whether it’s homemade or pre-packaged, hummus is made of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), and olive oil, and other flavors and vegetables can be added to the hummus. A quarter cup serving contains five grams of protein and four grams of fiber. To increase deliciousness and health benefits, use carrot sticks, celery, red bell pepper slices, or grape tomatoes for dipping.
8. Turkey (Roll-Ups)
Turkey is an excellent source of lean protein, but remember that deli-style turkey contains high levels of sodium. As an alternative, cook turkey at home or buy low-sodium options at the deli counter. A serving of turkey contains approximately 18 grams of protein depending on the brand. To increase the nutritional power of this healthy snack, add a few baby carrots or slices of red bell pepper; this delicious combo is 75 calories and contains 18 grams of protein.
Staying energized and keeping your brain and body fed and hydrated during long nursing shifts is crucial to your performance and health as a nurse. Plan ahead, shop for groceries with work in mind, and use smart snacks as an engine that can get you through your shifts!
Next up: Tips for Staying Healthy as a Nurse
Kathleen Colduvell RN, BSN, BS, CBC graduated with a degree in english and journalism before going back to nursing school. After graduating from Villanova University, she became a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse. Currently, she works at one of the leading children’s hospitals in the country in the NICU, PICU, and CICU, as well as working as a Certified Breastfeeding Consultant.