"What do you want to eat?"
"What's for lunch?"
"Thinking about dinner yet?"
How often are we asked, or do we ask, these questions? A co-worker and I begin discussing lunch at 10 a.m. For those who work in an office or home environment, making nutritious meal choices is easy. However, when you're driving an ambulance and caring for patients, eating becomes a bit more challenging. You have no set lunch time, and even if you do find a spare moment to sit down for a meal, you could be dispatched to an emergency and there it goes!
I was interested to find out how our field staff nourished their bodies during their 12-hour shifts, so I asked. In an informal survey, I was shocked to learn how our employees ate. Menus ranged from two cups of coffee to an apple turnover to a bite here and there of cold spaghetti to nothing. One submission was nearly perfect in nutritional value, but the jury is still out as to whether this person was pulling my leg or not.
This country has a serious problem with nutrition, where 29% of American workers are considered obese, with only 14% categorized as eating right. It's no wonder when people eat on the run! They are more careful about the type of gas and oil they use in their cars, but will happily fuel their bodies with unhealthy, artery-clogging, processed "foods."
We all know the average worker isn't getting the daily recommendations of two to three servings of dairy and protein, three to five servings of fruit and vegetables and six to 11 servings of whole grains. Eating well on the road is really not that difficult, it just takes a moment of thought, some planning, a cooler and a couple of cold packs. I have put together a cheat sheet of portable, nutritious real foods and a lesson in easy label reading.
Start the Day Right
You don't have to plan, prepare and pack three meals plus snacks. The idea is to eat a "get you going" breakfast and then have some healthy snacks within easy reach so you're fueled and less likely to scarf down half the menu when you have five minutes to spare and are running through the drive-thru.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In fact, skipping breakfast can slow down your metabolism. After what was hopefully a restful night's sleep, your body is running on empty and needs some fuel to start the day. If you don't replenish your protein stores first thing in the morning, your body may start using muscle tissue for energy.
A recent internal study, conducted by an EMS agency which examined the time of day ambulance collisions occured, showed a significant spike between 10 a.m. and noon, then again around 5 p.m. Why is this? These are times of the day when more cars tend to be on the road. But if you look at shift work, these are also times when fatigue sets in.
For example, you're working the morning shift. For a 6 a.m. start, you wake up at 4:30 to 5 a.m. Some EMS workers start their day with a cup of coffee and a bagel, donut or muffin in hand. They're easy to grab, portable, and you can eat them while driving into work. Yet the energy from this food is short-lived. By 10 a.m. the energy is long gone and you crash. If you're driving, sometimes you crash into something. You feel tired, distracted and a little irritated--not a good thing when you're interacting with patients or your partner.
What's a better idea? Try adding some protein and fat to your carbs. Getting at least 30 grams of protein at breakfast is recommended. Two hard boiled eggs; a piece of fruit and a small piece of cheese; a toasted whole-wheat English muffin with peanut butter or cream cheese; or a container of low-fat yogurt with some high-fiber cereal, even the old standby peanut butter and jelly on whole-grain bread are all good choices to start your day.