By Lt. Rick Hamamoto
California Medical Facility
(Editor’s note: CDCR doesn’t endorse the recommendations in this piece and recommends consulting your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program. Lt. Hamamoto started his career at the Basic Correctional Officer Academy in May 1986. After graduating, he was assigned to San Quentin State Prison and transferred to California Medical Facility in September 1986. He promoted to Correctional Sergeant in November 2004. In March 2014, he was promoted to Correctional Lieutenant.)
For many employees working in a correctional setting, the shifts are anything but typical. Keeping yourself healthy begins with what’s in your lunchbox. Here are some tips to making healthy food choices while working difficult alternate shifts.
Eating during evening and night hours requires special considerations. Our digestive tract’s daily rhythm is not “set” for digestion at night. However, this does not mean you should skip eating when working these schedules. No matter what schedule you work, plan well-balanced meals for your shifts.
Afternoon and Evening Shift
Breakfast (about 8-10 a.m.) – Regardless of when you get up, breakfast is important. Eat soon after rising. This will help stimulate your metabolism, signaling the beginning of your day. Breakfast suggestions include protein, whole-grain breads or high-fiber cereals, low-fat dairy products, fresh fruit.
Main Meal (about 1-2 p.m.) – Light protein, some fat (preferably plant-based, 15-20 grams), complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, whole-grain pasta or bread, rice, potato. Caffeine is OK.
Work Meal Break (7-8 p.m.) – Choose foods easy to digest. Poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and high-fiber cereals are good choices. Reduce intake of high-fat or spicy foods. Keep this meal light and small. Avoid caffeine.
Follow the same suggestions as the afternoon and evening shifts, only change the times of the meals eaten. Working at night requires eating lighter, easy to digest foods. Again, avoid fats and spicy foods while at work.
Breakfast (about 5-7 p.m.) – This is time for the traditional dinner type foods if you plan to have them. If you are planning to go back to sleep prior to work, make this meal smaller and lighter. Consume protein, fats (preferably plant-based, 15-20 grams), complex carbohydrates and low-fat dairy products.
Work Meal Break – Follow suggestions for the afternoon and evening work meal breaks. Avoid caffeine during the second half of your shift.
Protein – Your first meal after sleep should contain protein. Heavier proteins should be used sparingly, and eaten several hours before work or bedtime. Heavy proteins take longer to digest, so it is best to choose from lighter sources of protein right before and during work. Avoid frying during meal preparation. Here are examples of different proteins.
- Heavy proteins – beef, pork, tube meats, eggs with yolks, high-fat cheeses
- Light proteins – chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites, and low-fat dairy products, legumes
(beans, peas and lentils)
Snacks (before or after work)
- Fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, high-fiber cereals, pretzels, granola bars, dried fruit, low-fat dairy products, low-fat popcorn, nuts or seeds, high-fiber crackers
- If you sleep soon after work, keep bedtime snacks small and light. If you do not sleep until later, the meal can be larger, but not heavier.
- Avoid alcohol near bedtime, as it can disrupt sleep cycles.
- Have a sleep ritual. Go to sleep as soon as you can after work. Avoid getting caught up on chores or errands. Sleep deprivation can lead to food cravings.
- Exercise boosts alertness and will create better daytime sleep. If you have a break where you can get a few minutes of activity in, take advantage! Avoid exercise right before going to sleep.
Learn more about healthy eating and recommended foods to pack in your lunch at https://www.choosemyplate.gov/.