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We get it – you’re in the middle of a busy social care shift, have a short lunch break, and haven’t eaten anything since you snagged a bite of toast on your way out of the door this morning. It’s always tempting to grab a quick bite to eat from the canteen, or even nip out for a cheeky McDonalds!

However, as a carer, we’re willing to bet you’re on your feet for most of the day, and always feel that energy lag creeping in towards the end of your shift.  To stay healthy, and put as much care into yourself as you do into your patients, it is essential to make sure you’ve got a decent lunch!

Not only will that keep your energy levels up right until end of shift, but it’ll make you feel so much better about your food choices.

Self-Care for Carers

Self-care may be a buzzword you often hear, but it’s also essentially important. We all know you can’t pour from an empty cup, and since we’re all human, it is never going to be possible to work at 100 mph running on fumes. An NHS survey back in 2017 found that 25% of English nurses struggle with maintaining a healthy weight – and that demonstrates just how challenging it can be to prioritise your own diet when your career is all about helping others.

There’s also the added challenge of all those thank you cookies! It is fantastic to know that you’ve helped somebody, and to receive a token of appreciation – but less so when you realise you’ve existed on doughnuts for the past week… (Don’t worry; we’ve all been there!)

So, let’s look at some manageable, sustainable ways to prioritise your own self-care, to try and make sure as a carer you protect your own health.

How To Make Time for Lunch on a Social Care Shift

The first thing to think about is whether you actually take a lunch break. Yes, we know, it’s on the rota, but that is very different from taking it! The problem is that a lot of carers whizz past their lunch break without a second thought.

It’s easily done – you’re busy, running behind, a patient needs some extra support today, and all those good intentions about looking after yourself go out the window. Here are our top tips for making sure you find time to eat  – and that it’s something more substantial than a packet of crisps from the vending machine;

  1. Pack your lunch the night before: mornings are chaotic for the most organised of us. If you get your lunch ready and it’s sitting in the fridge ready to grab, you’re far less likely to forget than if you put more pressure on yourself to fix up a meal at the crack of dawn.
  2. Batch cook or meal prep. We’re not advocating you start following a bodybuilder lifestyle, but if you have one evening a week where you’ve got time to cook, it can be a great way of stocking up. Even if it’s boiling a load of eggs, chopping up chicken, or preparing a giant tub of pasta, the more quick and easy options you have in the fridge, the easier it is to steer clear of the staff room snacks.
  3. Use a shopping list. If you want to lead a more healthy life, the best place to start is in your trolley. Avoid the confectionary aisle (no matter how loud it calls you!), and make a list of all the ingredients you need to make the lunches you have planned out. If you can be disciplined enough to buy just what you need, you’ll save a bundle as well as having everything to hand to knock up a decent lunch for the rest of the week.
  4. Stocktake your Tupperware. One of the problems with bringing in lunch is keeping it hot or cold, and making sure it stays fresh until break time. You can buy any size or shape Tupperware in any supermarket, or invest in a decent thermos for hot pasta and soups.
  5. Treat yourself to a lunch box. It doesn’t need to be Paw Patrol themed either; you can get stylish lunch bags that provide insulation to keep your food cold. This is ideal for social care shifts where you don’t have a fridge available.

If you try to make it easier on yourself to get your lunch ready in advance, it makes being healthy a whole lot less stressful.

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Carers

Stuck for ideas? Tired of that sad, slightly soggy egg mayo sandwich? Find drab salads bland and unappetising? Same here.

Food should be healthy, energising, and enjoyable; your lunch is a well-deserved break in your social care shift, not an obligatory task that you don’t look forward to.

Here are some fantastic ideas for budget-friendly, easy to prepare, healthy lunches that you can make in a flash!

There are tonnes of lunches you can make that will keep you full till home time, stock you up on vitamins and healthy fats, provide a burst of energy, and won’t break the bank or take hours to prepare.

Some of the most straightforward options are also the best:

Pasta is very easy to batch cook, and you can add extra toppings or veggies to add variety. Think adding tomatoes and pesto, cheese and Mediterranean veg, tuna mayo – the possibilities are endless!

Salads provide a great bang for your buck when it comes to nutrition, and again you can make a bigger batch and portion it out over a few days. Make sure to avoid making a tub of lettuce; salad can be vibrant and delicious – think about goats cheese and beetroot, pomegranate and feta, or prawn and Marie Rose sauce. Even some ‘exotic’ veg like asparagus or sun-dried tomatoes make a salad a more flavourful option.

Soups are fantastic when you’re short on time, but are a lot healthier than a quick biscuit to dunk in your tea. Again, you can batch cook a vat of soup to last all week long, and use up any leftovers in your fridge to try out new combos. We love potato and leek (with a bit of bacon if we’ve been good!), a traditional chicken and veg for the winter, or a lighter carrot and tarragon for a fast burst of goodness.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy and will look forward to. A great lunch is the best route to a winning day full of energy, vitality and health!

Interested in learning more about establishing that elusive work/life balance as a social care worker? Feel like you’re working every hour, but never have time to sit down to lunch? Check out OUTT, the new way to take back control of your live, shift patterns, pay, and social care career.