5 Tips for Eating Healthy in Nursing School

When you’re a nursing student, school has a tendency to take over your life. If you’re not in class or clinicals, you’re doing homework or studying for an exam. All of that stress (plus regular trips to the drive-through or vending machine) is a recipe for weight gain. If your jeans are starting to feel tight, don’t panic — eating healthy in nursing school can be challenging, but it’s not impossible!

Healthy eating has big benefits for nursing students:

  • Reduces weight gain
  • Bolsters your immune system
  • Provides the energy you need for long days
  • Helps you feel refreshed instead of sluggish
  • Improves your overall health (fewer sick days)
  • Boosts sleep quality

While you’re at it, check out: 5 Tips for Exercising in Nursing School.

1. Stock your backpack with healthy snacks

Image courtesy of Jennifer Chait under CC BY-SA 2.0

When you’re starving after the fourth hour of studying for A&P, it’s so easy to grab whatever food is easiest. On campus, that’s usually fast food or chips from the vending machine. (a.k.a., lots of calories, no nutrition) Any time you have a long day of classes and clinicals, do yourself a favor and stuff your nursing school backpack with healthy snacks. It makes your life easier, you’ll save money, and the nutrients will help strengthen your immune system.

If you love the salty crunch of chips, pack a little container of dill dip (or whatever veggie dip you like) with baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, or cucumber slices. Cherry tomatoes also make flavorful snacks. Don’t have time to chop? Hit the grocery store and buy little bags of sugar snap peas, broccoli florets, or green beans. It’s almost impossible to overeat on vegetables, so you can crunch away all day. Whole-grain Triscuit crackers are another good option (in moderation) — they have lots of fiber to keep you full, and the flavored ones are delicious. 

2. Get ahead of the desperate-for-anything hunger

Nursing school can be stressful and exhausting. It’s all too easy to let your hunger get out of control — and at that point, you’ll eat anything. Before you know it, you’ve inhaled 2,000 calories of fast food and you feel like garbage.

That sounds bleak, but there’s a solution! It’s so much easier to eat healthy when it’s convenient. When you have time, stock your fridge with foods that are filling, good for you, and ready to eat. That way, you can grab them on your way out the door. If you’re coming home after a long day, you don’t have to stop for fast food because you know they’re waiting in the fridge. 

If you’re on a nursing-student budget, some good, affordable options include:

  • Boiled eggs (make a bunch when you have time)
  • Whole-wheat crackers with cheese (so filling, so good, no cooking)
  • Sandwiches – buy sliced deli meat, veggies, and whole-grain bread
  • Turkey lunch meat rolled around a slice of cheese and a pickle
  • Quesadillas (heavy on veg, light on cheese – use corn tortillas)
  • Quinoa salad with roasted veggies and bit of goat cheese (cook in advance, mix before eating)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Hummus and vegetables

3. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit

Do you find yourself reaching for a candy bar or a bowl of ice cream after you get home from class? Sugary snacks are the worst when you’re trying to eat healthy in nursing school. (So many empty calories!) If you have a sweet tooth, switch out your treats for fruit. Two cups of blackberries has just 125 calories and lots of fiber! Other options include grapes, blueberries, strawberries, and watermelon. Peaches, plums, pears, and oranges are great for grab-and-go snacks. Plus, since fruit has a high water content, it’s much more filling than sugar.

Not ready to go cold turkey? Get the best of both worlds by buying 100-calorie chocolate fruit-dip cups. The chocolate gives you that delicious sugary taste, and the fruit keeps it healthier. Dip banana slices, strawberries, or raspberries, and you’ll be surprised at how satisfying it is.

4. Eating healthy in nursing school is easier with meal prep

Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels

We know — “meal-prep” sounds awful. But. If you can set aside an hour or two on Sunday, you can save yourself so much overeating the rest of the week. Boil a bunch of eggs, chop a ton of vegetables, prepare a grain like quinoa or brown rice, and cook some lean cuts of meat. Then you can combine them into sandwiches, salads, or bowls throughout the week. Don’t forget to pre-portion your favorite healthy snacks into plastic containers or baggies so you can grab them and go. In nursing school, it’s all about taking away the guesswork and making healthy eating the easiest possible option.

Are you on a tight nursing-student budget? Try cooking big batches of affordable foods. Chicken and vegetable soup, chili, and casseroles are all good options. (We love this healthy casserole one from Pinch of Yum.) 

5. Focus on flavor

Eating healthy does not mean you’re stuck with bland chicken breasts! When you’re trying not to gain the nursing-student 15 (or 20), flavorful ingredients are your best friends. Start with spices; they don’t add calories and they make everything better. Our favorite tip? Add a coat of blackened seasoning to a lean chicken breast or a piece of salmon, and it turns a regular old salad into a restaurant-style treat. Season canned black beans with taco spices and eat them with scrambled eggs. Top of a piece of whole-wheat toast with avocado and a fried egg — then, sprinkle it with everything-bagel seasoning.

Another trick? Roast your vegetables! It brings out so much flavor, so it’s a great way to eat mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, and sweet potatoes. Cauliflower is especially delicious when it’s roasted

Eating healthy in nursing school takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth the effort. Even with the stress of classes, clinicals, and studying for the NCLEX, you’ll feel better, sleep better, and get sick less often.