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5 ways your team can eat healthier at work

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As a busy nursing team, you might think there aren’t enough hours in the day to worry about your diet as well as everything else. But a few simple changes could improve everyone’s health, making your group happier and more productive

During a busy day on the ward or at the clinic, eating well is probably the last thing on your mind. When you’re run off your feet at work, grabbing a calorie-laden sandwich from the canteen or a sugary snack from the staff room biscuit tin may seem like the easiest option.

But to stay healthy, we must eat healthily too. It’s easier than you think – even when you’re up against it at work. Just a few simple changes throughout the day will not only improve your wellbeing, but it’s also important for you to maintain a good diet so you’re able to deliver better patient care.

So how can your team improve their eating habits at work?

  • Start a breakfast club. Not only does eating breakfast set you up for the day by preventing blood sugar levels from dipping as the morning wears on, it boosts your energy levels and helps you control your weight. Start a breakfast club with colleagues and sit down to eat the first meal of the day together before work begins. Bring your own or pick healthy choices from the canteen if you have one. Cereals that are high in fibre but low in sugar, salt and fat or options like porridge, boiled eggs, wholegrain toast, fruit, semi-skimmed milk and fruit juice all make for a nutritious breakfast.
  • Ensure water is available throughout wards, staff rooms or canteens. Adults should aim to drink 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid per day, which can come from water, but also tea, coffee, milk, fruit juice and soft drinks. Without enough fluid you are likely to become dehydrated, leading to fatigue, headaches, irritability and poor performance and mood. Making sure that water is available at all times, or putting up signs reminding staff to drink fluid, could help nurses meet their hydration targets and also prevent adverse symptoms as a result of dehydration while at work.
  • Source healthy snacks for the staff room rather than biscuits. While foods that are high in fat and sugar should only be eaten in moderation, it is recommended that adults eat five 80g portions of various fruit and vegetables every day to stay healthy. Almost all count, whether fresh, frozen, tinned or dried. Instead of refilling the biscuit tin at work, try something lower in calories. Seven cherry tomatoes, a heaped tablespoon of raisins, an apple or a handful of dried banana chips are ideal snacks and all count as one of your five a day.
  • Encourage your work canteen to include traffic light labels and guideline daily amounts (GDAs) on prepared foods. The traffic light labelling scheme gives information about fat, saturates, salt and sugar by using colours to indicate whether levels are high (red), medium (amber) or low (green). GDAs also reveal the level of calories, fat, saturates, salt and sugar in a particular product, but give an indication of its contribution to an adult’s guideline daily amount. Both of these labels can help you make an informed choice about the meals and snacks you eat at work, so you could ask your canteen to start including them on their products.
  • Bring a packed lunch to work. If you and your colleagues usually eat out or use the canteen at work, suggest that you all bring a packed lunch to work for a few days a week instead. Prepared food often contains too much saturated fat, salt and sugar, so control your intake of these by making your own meal. Keep it balanced by picking items from each of the main food groups – starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes or pasta are good choices, as long as you include a non-dairy protein such as chicken or hummus, a small serving of dairy like yoghurt or milk and plenty of fruit and vegetables. If you opt for iron rich foods, like wholegrain bread or red meat, you’ll be less sluggish at work too.

NHS Employers are looking for acute or primary care workplaces that use innovative schemes to boost the health and wellbeing of their staff. Email today with examples of how you’re improving the health of your workforce.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • when do you get some time to work?

    as far as packed lunch is concerned, I always prefer to get away from the ward and meet colleagues from other departments in the restaurant where one can socialise and exchange information and learn from them and get some fresh air on the terrace.

    You cannot take a packed lunch to the staff resturant however they have plenty of choice of healthy diets and a salad bar with different choices every day. the only problem, unless you have finished your shift you only get half an hour at 11.30 am, less if you have to search for a colleague to hand over a patient or some tasks, up to five minutes to get to, wait for and go up in the lift (can take longer if the lifts are all full or needed for an emergency), five minutes queing for food,five minutes for making your choice, five minutes to pay and another five minutes or so getting back to the ward once you have eaten! Sometimes we were lucky and if things ran smoothly you have about twenty minutes to eat but more often than not, ten minutes or occasionally even less! Many colleagues choose to remain on the ward and if they are lucky there may be a patient's meal tray left over e.g. from a discharge, which colleagues would save for you to eat later (Strictly against the rules and make sure the boss isn't around - but at least that way you get a decent nutritious meal - but with indgestion from the worry of getting caught!) Supper is a safer bet as the boss has gone home by then. She is lovely but quite rightly rules are rules!

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