At-Work Meal Planning for Rotating 12’s

With 12 hours (read as: 13 hours + 2 hours travel time) spent at work on work days, I’ve naturally had to figure out some healthy, easy, affordable meals to pack. For about $30 a week (which for me is roughly the cost of 1 cafeteria meal and drink per day for three shifts) I am able to have a variety of healthy, yummy options to snack throughout my shift.


  • Purchase a couple really nice tupperware containers for packing your lunches. A small investment now will improve your packing experience for years! I picked up a set of Rubbermaid Blox stackable lunch containers at Big Lots for $5 and a segregated salad container at Giant Eagle for $8.

    Stackable, packable lunch containers are the bomb!
  • Focusing on fruits, veggies, and light snacks has really helped me stay alert and oriented throughout my shift without that sluggish “full” feeling of too many carbs.
  • Shop sales and “in season” items. Buy non-perishables (pudding/fruit cups, crackers, etc) in bulk if you find a great price.
  • Buy only as much fruits/veggies as you can reasonably eat before they spoil. I usually try to get a variety of ripe, soon-to-ripen, and not-ripe fruits for the week. I also only buy bagged greens because buying lettuce or spinach in other forms is too much for me to eat in 3 days!
  • I like to shop Big Lots (or other discount stores) for non-perishables, and Walmart for fruit/veggies. These seem to offer me the best deals. Then I’ll sometimes splurge for a trip to Giant Eagle or Trader Joe’s for some variety. Adapt as needed for your local stores, but find out where is the best place to get items you purchase regularly.
  • I will also rotate re-heatable leftovers into my packed meals for the week. I’ll pack just a few healthy snacks to go with the leftovers.
  • Pack the night before (or morning before, for night shift) and put your lunch box in the fridge overnight. Having everything ready to grab and go in the morning ensures you will take your lunch with you and not be tempted to skip the prep and opt for cafeteria food instead.
  • I try to eat healthy, but I will usually pack a treat or two to keep me from spending all my money on cravings at the vending machine. I like buying cookies in snack packs so that I avoid eating too many!
  • I usually just drink water throughout my shift, and I keep a couple K-cups on hand in my locker for those tough night shifts (1am and 3am caffeine keeps you going!).
  • Before my shift I always try to put something in my tummy, even if it’s just some applesauce or yogurt. I also buy juice to have before I leave for work for a little boost of energy and yummyness.

Below are some pictures of meals I actually packed and ate over the last month. Each are from different weeks. You’ll notice I keep some variety by rotating out options from week to week, but there are some similarities between the meals as well.

Turkey, chicken, and cheese sandwich with green peppers, sugar snap peas, and ranch dressing, kiwi, pretzel thins and roasted red pepper hummus, nectarine, and a pudding cup
Mandarin orange fruit cup, pretzels and hummus, trail mix (homemade with sesame rods, dried cranberries, raisins, nut mix, and honey roasted sunflower seeds from Big Lots), peanut butter crackers, goat cheese and mini toasts, and an apple and peanut butter to-go cup (I bring my own apple slicer)
Mango, blueberries, black grapes, pretzels and hummus, baby spring greens mix with grape tomatoes and green peppers salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, kiwi, avocado, cookie snack pack, and bacon cheddar cheese crackers

It is always great to have some munchies I am looking forward to during my workday. I also try to make sure  I always have one or two that I can easily eat on-the-go: If my day gets extra crazy, at least I’ll have something to fight off the hanger!

Enjoy your foodies, fellow nurses!



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