Nutrition News & Views

Meals for Shift Workers

chef shift working

Being a shift worker in a job you love has many benefits, apart from the penalty rates and flexibility around days off and rotation of rosters!

However, food is often missed as a part of planning for the daily food pattern and stress of the job.

Being at work hungry, or even taking on a double shift without the supplies on hand can rattle our moods, test our stress levels and leave us very run down and prone to illness.

Our shopping methods and need for planning and preparation can leave us time poor, tired and frustrated and grazing on foods isn't always to our health benefit.

Fresh and healthy food in the early hours of the morning is often not appetising and healthy choices are unlikely to be chosen on an empty stomach.

What do you need to do as a shift worker?

  1. Plan;
  2. Stock up the pantry;
  3. Buy a mini esky / cooler lunch bag;
  4. Pre-prepare meals with some favourites always on offer eg: rissoles for sandwiches or meatballs for children’s after school snack / salmon patties / tandoori chicken for wraps or main meals. These can be stored in the freezer for access when needed;
  5. Take advantage of modern technology – online supermarket shopping, slow cookers, omelette or pie makers, rice cookers, freezer storage;
  6. Snack lists need to be creative, inventive and not boring.
  • An article is coming about interesting snacks... watch out for this...

What might a shift workers meal pattern look like?

Sometimes arriving home after a long 10-12 hours working shift is best managed by developing a food routine.

This can include breakfast on arrival home, with porridge, or eggs and tomato with mushrooms on toast, or avocado on toast with ricotta and a favourite beverage such as a tea, coffee, low calorie smoothie or even vegetable juice.

Not only will breakfast settle the body for a sleepy slump, it will also assist in settling the mood and hunger pangs from the long nights work. Let’s face it, after a shift like that, children at 6.30 am can test one's mood for the school run.

On waking, I suggest you eat as though it was lunch or breakfast again. To prepare yourself for the next night, I recommend a variety of healthy snacks and a main meal for dinner during the shift.

So, a snack at say 5 pm after a 2 pm shift start, followed by dinner at 7.30 - 8 pm for a half hour.

Leave any need for supper to either a later hour during the shift, say 11.30 pm. A pick-me-up snack at 2 am and then return to home at 4 am.

If you are not feeling hungry but want something to settle, a hot drink or a low salt soup, preferably homemade, may be enough.


Milk drinks with limited added sugar – malt drinks or Sustagen™ or Milo™ depending on your energy needs and physical activity levels are a great protein and calcium booster.

Don’t be afraid of using milk with a flavouring to get you off to sleep.

Avoid sugary soft drinks. Be mindful of flavoured waters and carbonated (bubbly) waters, as these can sometimes hide sugar, check for this as an added ingredient.

For Snacks – depending on activity levels

  • Canned or fresh Fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Portion-controlled nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Sweet potato crisps – 25 gram packet
  • Corn chips – 25 gram packet
  • Home made soup is preferable to canned or packet soup, as you can control the amount of added salt.

And for some shift-friendly recipe ideas, try:

Natalia Knezevic is a dietitian and nutritionist in Orange, NSW, providing nutrition advice and support for a wide range of conditions.