Eating Healthy for Shift Work

Nutrition and Eating Healthy for Shift Work – Utilizing Meal Prep

March 2, 2022

Working the night shift is becoming more common in our 24/7 society. Research shows that working the night shift does make managing weight more challenging. Studies have shown shift workers are 1.3 times more likely to be overweight than day workers, so the challenge is real with maintaining weight loss post-surgery on the night shift.

Eating Healthy for Shift Work

One of the many challenges is access to healthy foods. At night cafeterias are closed, leaving vending machines, pizza shops and fast foods are usually the options for having food delivered, yes they do include salad but that can become monotonous. 

Losing weight and keeping it off while working the night shift is possible but you do need to take control of your personal food environment. You cannot rely on the food available at work, you will need to bring food from home with you. However, there are ways to make it more convenient. 

Tips to Make it Easier for Eating Healthy for Shift Work

Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • If you don’t have the time to prepare a meal and pack it for work, buy frozen entrees that are protein and vegetable-based, such as meatloaf or turkey with vegetables, make sure the protein content is in the 20 plus gram range.
  • Premade salads from the supermarket with chicken or ham and cheese.
  • Batch cook a protein food choice at the beginning of the week to portion out. A crockpot is a great tool for this.
  • Protein-rich foods such as tuna fish, salmon, and chicken come in easy-open pouches.
  • Buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh and can easily be heated up in a microwave.
  • Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese, beef jerky, and snack packs with meat/cheese/nuts are all very portable to grab and go.
  • Protein shakes with 20-30 grams protein or protein bars with 15-20 grams protein.

Working at night and needing to sleep during the day can leave little time for grocery shopping. The good news is delivery or pick-up from grocery stores and places like Walmart is more common today and with some loyalty programs can be free.

Another benefit of this option is once you create an order it will automatically fill your cart the next time which saves time. Having the food you need readily available can even save you money when you don't need to order out food or stop on the way to work. 

Plan your food out throughout the shift to gain the most benefits. Eat more protein for your first meal at the beginning. This will give you long-lasting energy and make you more alert. Then have small snacks alternating with healthy carbohydrates and proteins to help keep you awake and satisfied. End your shift with healthy carbohydrates to help promote sleep. 

Sample Meal Plan:

  • First meal: 3-5 oz crockpot chicken with ½ -1cup bagged salad (portions to be determined by your tolerance).
  • Snack: sliced apple
  • Snack: Cheese stick or protein bar
  • Snack: Baby carrots with a dip (made with plain greek yogurt and seasoning powder)
  • Last meal: Greek yogurt with fruit OR eggs with sauteed potatoes (canned potatoes work well) 

Staying hydrated throughout your shift is crucial. Dehydration can leave you feeling tired, which can cause you to turn to food for an energy boost. Keep a water bottle close by and have a selection of other calorie-free beverages available for variety. Coffee is fine at the beginning of work, but avoid caffeine for 5 hours before you plan to go to sleep.

The night shift does pose a challenge to weight management. Taking charge of your food environment and planning your meals to match your schedule is a key to navigating it successfully. 


  • Eberly R, Feldman H. Obesity and shift work in the general population. Internet J Allied Health Sci Prac. 2018;8(3).
  • Staying healthy when you work the night shift. Value Options; Boston College, Center for Work and Family. 2000.
  • Zhao I, Bogossian F, Turner C. A cross-sectional analysis of the association between night-only or rotating shift work and overweight/obesity among female nurses and midwives. J Occup Environ Med. 2012;54(7):834-40.
Eating Healthy for Shift Work
Nancy Maddox


Nancy Maddox MBA, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian providing individual counseling for a bariatric surgical practice. She leads monthly educational support groups for pre-op and post-op patients at The Center for Weight Control at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center located in Brighton, Massachusetts.