12 Valuable Meal Prep Tips for Busy Shift Workers

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Would you be interested if I told you we had a way to help shift workers to take better care of their health, lose weight and save money in the process? Well, there is… and it’s called meal prep. But we should flag, it’s often easier said than done. That’s where we come in.

Containers of food | Shift Work Meal Prep Tips

Being super organized in the food department not only ensures we are filling our belly’s with nutritious meals during any shift, but it also removes the stress around the common question, “what’s for dinner?” This post will give you 12 helpful meal prep tips specifically for shift workers wanting to up their meal prep game.

1. Consciously Make Time to Meal Prep

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” 

Meal prep sounds great in theory and looks amazing when we see others doing it, but it’s harder to execute in reality.

Why? We get tired and time escapes, leaving us once again trying to find a few dollars at the bottom of our bag for lunch.

While we can’t just “pick a day” to prep as the 9-5 workers would, due to our schedules often being inconsistent, we can work out what shifts are approaching according to our roster and work around that.

You just need to make sure it’s locked into the calendar and you don’t miss the date!

Just remember…

Meal prep doesn’t have to be done on a Sunday night. Try and plan for at least a few shifts, making sure EVERY meal has been accounted for – including snacks.

Related post: 10 Healthy Snacks Ideal for Hungry Night Shift Workers

Other Scheduling Meal Prep Tips:

Set a Reminder

Use your mobile phone to remind you to get organized in the kitchen. This can look different for everyone depending on your roster. 

Allocate Time You Are Going to Meal Prep

Whether that’s on your days off, after an early/1st shift, before a last/2nd shift or even on the days leading up to a night shift. Use the time you have to find a routine which works best for you.

I love using days off because I can chill out, take my time and not feel rushed. Be strict with the time you have allocated for this. 

Related post: 7 Essential Night Shift Tips: Making The Impossible A Reality

But Set a Timer…

You don’t want to meal prep for 10 hours straight on your days off without any time for relaxation. Set a timer for maybe two hours and cook as much as you can during this time.

Use the Local Market as a Reminder (Where Possible)

…to buy delicious, fresh produce around your schedule.

Check out localharvest.org for your nearest market.

Shop Outside Peak Times

This is generally not an issue for shift workers due our to hours of work, but visiting the grocery store at night midweek makes for a stress-free experience both in the parking lot and inside the store.

Related post: 13 Advantages Of Shift Work For Employees

You Don’t Have to Shop and Cook on the Same Day

If you don’t have time to do both – don’t. But resist getting overwhelmed by the amount of food in the fridge. Soon you’ll make a masterpiece out of all of it!

Make Meal Planning a “Thing” With Your Housemates and Family

Once meal prepping becomes a habit and everyone gets involved it’s much easier to do consistently.

Related post: 8 Survival Tips For Single Shift Working Parents

Night Food Market | 12 Valuable Meal Prep Tips for Busy Shift Workers
Escape the hustle and bustle and visit the market out of peak time if possible

2. Know What Shifts You Are Meal Prepping For

Due to the inconsistencies in our shifts, partially felt by rotating shifts workers, the meals you are planning to eat at work can change from week to week – even day to day! 

Related posts:Essential Guide To Working A Rotating Shift Schedule

When comparing a 9-5 worker to a shift worker, we may not need to create 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners. 

But how you attack this meal prep game is up to you. 

If you want every meal planned out for and cooked in advance the entire week then go for it.

But if you’re like us, it may be a little less draining to plan for only certain meals throughout your roster eg. when you’re working, getting home late or preparing for your family.

Using a Google sheet to help you out here is great. I have also created a template for you which we use every week. Get it by filling out your details below. 

Extra Tips:

  • When working a night shift, you’ll want to eat your “main meal” before your shift as it’s nicer on your digestive system. This means you’re not needing to prepare another big meal for the shift and maybe just a few snacks.  
  • Eating a small, filling breakfast is recommend after nights so make sure you have some food ready so you don’t need to stop for take-out. Oats, frozen berries and yogurt are my go-to after nights.

Related post: 6 Quick and Healthy Night Shift Breakfast Meal Ideas

  • Snacks should NOT be underestimated. Shift workers love and crave them to make it through a long shift. Don’t force yourself to rely on the vending machine as most of these foods are high in carbs, fat and sugar. Protein-rich snacks should be a part of your meal planning process. 

Eggs anyone?

For a healthy, high-protein snack, hard boil a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the week, store them in the fridge (not freezer) and bring a few to work each day. They are also super tasty on a slice of hot toast with avocado.

Video: This clip gives some amazing, low-calorie meal prep options.

The title is specifically for women due to the calorie counting but the men can also gain inspiration too – just remember you need a few more calories vs the average female!

3. Write It Down

Don’t rely on your memory when meal planning unless your name is Jim Kwik (an unbelievable memory expert).

Start a real paper list or use the notes section on your phone and write down some meals you want to try for the next few days.


  • Tasty and colorful (two tips I gained from my mom) – You HAVE to love what you’re cooking otherwise meal prepping won’t work
  • Food you already have which “needs to be eaten”
  • Quick, simple, healthy you know is a winner
  • What did your co-workers eat which looked delicious? You need to try that.
  • What recipes did you “screenshot” during the week?
  • What recipes did you record in “MyFitnessPal” App?

Related posts: 6 Healthy, Freezable Shift Work Meal Ideas For Beginners

Don’t think about meal planning as a stressful experience.

Leave the tricky dishes with lots of different parts to your days off or for your “weekend” if feeling overwhelmed.

This recipe book by Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper will give you all the inspiration you need. It’s a great read with beautiful images. It’s available Amazon.com and is called Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering.Opens in a new tab.

Bonus tip…

Always have the basics on hand if the food situation is getting desperate. Rice, nuts, tinned tuna, frozen veggies, oats and frozen chicken breast etc…This way you will never be short of a healthy, filling meal.

[VIDEO] – Best meal prep tips for night shift workers

4. Shop Smart When Meal Prepping For Shifts

The whole point of meal prepping is to not only create a healthy diet, but to also save time AND money. 

Here are five ways to shop smart:

Shop once.
If you are meal prepping for the next 3-4 shifts make a point to only shop once. Don’t get into the habit of just “dropping in” to the grocery store on your way home from a shift. 

Always take a list.
As mentioned, write down every meal you want to prepare using the foods you already have at home and the ones you want to try.

While you’re at the shops stick to the outside isles.
These are generally where the freezer section is and also the fresh produce. In most grocery stores you visit, the closer you move into the middle of the store the more processed foods you’ll discover.   

Don’t add lots of items in your cart you know are really bad for you.
A few are okay but just be very aware that if it goes into the cart – you’ll eat it. Dan and I have now learned that if we don’t buy it… we can’t eat it. Simple.

Take a basket, not a cart, if just “popping in.”
Once it gets too heavy, it’s time to leave.

5. Use The Slow Cooker

….and double (or triple!) the recipe.

The slow cooker or crockpot is hands down our favorite kitchen item, actually, our global knives are, but this is a close second.

See our top shift work tools here we use for meal prepping – plus an amazing pressure cooker!

But why do we love it?

  • Use cheaper cuts of meat
  • Set and forget
  • Multiple meals made in one batch
  • Zero to very little cooking ability necessary
  • Safe to be left alone during the day or while you’re sleeping
  • One pot
  • Limited chance of burning your food (unless you underfill the bowl)
  • Freezable leftovers

Bottom line… Make friends with your crockpot. If you don’t have one, we recommend this one.

Crock-pot recipe ideas:

  • Stew
  • Shredded chicken
  • Soup
  • Curry
  • Broth
  • Desserts
  • Pot roast
  • Texas Chili
  • Pulled pork

Most of these recipes can be eaten on their own or with rice, beans, steaming veggies and or some starchy carbs like quinoa to keep us fuller for longer. 

Also, this Slow Cooker CookbookOpens in a new tab. from Amazon.com is amazing and worth a read.

Delicious recipes spoken in a language even I can understand.

The ingredients are also commonly found in most pantries making a last-minute meal possible with what you have at home. Check it out here.

Kitchen | 12 Valuable Meal Prep Tips for Busy Shift Workers

Don’t be scared to multitask…

Having a meal in the oven, food in the slow cooker, something else on the stove and food on the counter shouldn’t freak you out. Cooking a few meals at once can save SO much time.

6. Think About Cooking Time

On prep day, make your time count.

Turn your kitchen into a “factory”, where you double or triple batches everything!.

Lay out what you need from appliances, ingredients and containers. Put on your apron, headphones if you need inspiration and get yourself into a positive headspace to cook like a manic for a few hours.

Enjoy this “you time!”

Then, first start with foods that need the most time on the stove or in the oven like:

  • Slow cooking…anything
  • Making quinoa
  • Cooking meat
  • Roasting vegetables

Then you can focus on the smaller tasks while the pots and pans are going.

These tasks could include:

  • Cutting up veggie sticks like carrot, bell peppers, celery, snow peas for your shift snack
  • Putting a tablespoon of hummus and/or peanut into small containers you can take to work so you don’t need to carry the entire jar to your next shift
  • Marinade the meat (if not slow cooking)
  • Put granola or oats into smaller containers ready for a morning shift 
  • Cut up the broccoli, pumpkin, mushrooms and place into separate containers. This is to save time when making a stir-fry, casserole or something similar as simply take what you need without having to cut the veggies, dirtying (and cleaning) more utensils. 
  • Preparing chia puddings for breakfast as they need to sit overnight. See a delicious recipe here. 

Dan’s Tip (which I don’t do very well…) Clean up as you go! Leave a rubbish bag/bowl in the sink or on the counter and throw out food scraps and packets as you use them. 

Freezer Tip…

“Blanch” your veggies prior to freezing them to make them last longer. It brightens their color, maintains the taste and vitamins and helps get rid of germs. Step 1: Wash and cut them to the right size. Step 2: Dip them in boiling water and quickly cool them

7. Avoid Reflux Inducing Meals

While you’re meal prepping and reading different recipes for inspiration, take note of ones which are spicy and high in fat.

These foods can lead to uncomfortable reflux, particularly when working night shift as our digestive system is functioning differently in comparison to during the day.

These foods also make sleeping tricky once your shift is complete. (Or if sneaking off for a nap!).

However, don’t be afraid to experiment with new spices! The FreshJax Spice SetOpens in a new tab. on Amazon is super tasty if your food needs a lift.

Read more about when to eat on night shift here and what to eat on night shift here.

Plus it is worth checking out this post titled, What Causes Night Shift Nausea And How To Finally Beat It!

There is no “one size fits all” nutrition plan…so stop looking

Work out what foods you like, what foods you don’t and which ones “just don’t agree.” Then consider your weight loss/weight maintenance goals and devise a plan to suit these needs. Seek a professional opinion from a dietitian if need be.

8. Prepare Smart Sweets

We are constantly told what not to eat when working shift work.

  • No processed foods
  • No alcohol after a shift
  • No soda
  • No candy

The list goes on…


We are unfortunately more prone to weight gain than those who work 9-5pm due to the constant struggle we are having with our body clock. 

Most of us know processed foods, which come in a brightly colored packet in the candy aisle, are probably not good for us… But what can we meal prep that is sweet, delicious and healthy?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • BarkTHINS Dark ChocolateOpens in a new tab. from Amazon.com
  • Healthy Three Ingredient Maple Almond Fudge (2 cups smooth almond butter, 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/4 cup pure maple syrup into a muffins tins, then into the freezer)
  • Dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa)
  • Almond Date Truffles (see recipe)
  • Paleo Baklava Bars (see recipe)

Video – Here is a great clip for some healthy snacks you can make prior to your next shift.

9. Invest in High-Quality Containers

We love these glass containers so much. They don’t smell, warp in the dishwasher or microwave or stain and discolor due to frequent use, as we experienced with plastic containers.

Plus, we want to do our bit for the environment. 

When it comes to containers for shift workers these are the qualities to look for:

  • Dishwasher friendly
  • Size – are they big enough but not too big you are overeating? Are there different sizes available to take condiments and sauces?
  • Lids – do they match? Are the lids effectively going to stop leaks and spills? Is there a four-point lock system or a silicone lid? Be on the lookout for the variety you prefer. 
  • Re-heatable – Can you re-heat them safely in the microwave and even the oven?
  • Stackable – This quality may not be necessary for some with big kitchens, but it’s something to consider if you live in a one bedroom apartment.
  • Airtight
  • Freezable
  • Durable

Related posts: Glass vs Plastic – Why Glass Containers Are the Clear Winner

Mason jars are all the rage too if you hadn’t noticed. Plus, they tick pretty much every box listed above too and are actually perfect to hold your precious meals such as salads, oats and chia puddings.

These Ball Mason Jars 16 oz/PintOpens in a new tab. from Amazon are really great (and pretty too!).

If you get low in containers..

Get an ice-block container or a silicone muffin tray and pour soups, stews and broths into it then freeze. Once hardened, pop into a larger, non-transport friendly container or freezer bag for easy access.

10. Use the Freezer Properly 

Freezers are wonderful when we use them correctly.

Here are a few tips:

  • Label and date the foods which you meal prep or when you remove the original packaging.
  • Just as they do in the grocery stores, keep the items which have been there longer near the front so you use it first.
  • Put food that goes bad fastest, like herbs and chopped fruit, at eye level or in the door of the freezer (or fridge) so you don’t forget about them.
  • Airtight containers are best for freezing food but you can also save space if you use large re-sealable plastic bags and squeeze out any extra air. This method can be tricky to transport food and why we opt for a container rather than a bag. Plus, it’s better for the environment. 
  • Food with lots of water like salad greens, tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs don’t freeze well. It’s best to keep these items in the fridge and eat within a few days. 

Tip: How often should you defrost a manual-defrost freezer? When the interior walls develop a quarter-inch of ice. Many people defrost their freezers once per year. (source)

How Long Is My Food “Good for” in the Freezer?

  • Cooked soups, stews and beans – 2-3 months.
  • Cooked meats and chicken – 3-6 months.
  • Fruits like plums, mangoes, berries – 6-12 months.
  • Veggies – 8-12 months.

11. Meal Prep to Suit Your Work Situation

Are you a travel nurse?

Are you a truck driver?

Are you a construction worker on a remote job?

These types of shift working jobs have limited access to a kitchen, fridge and utensils. So bringing a frozen homemade soup which needs to be thawed then heated is a not an ideal meal prep choice. 

If your job is lacking basic facilities like these you need to think smart.

One tip is to eat your “main meal” before your shift to keep you full and satisfied for at least a few hours before you jump into the snacks. 

Other meals idea could be: 

  • Prepare your own freezer bag using icepacks and bring a chicken salad, hummus with veggie sticks, yogurt or smoothie.
  • Pieces of fruit 
  • Sandwich with a spread like honey
  • Fruit and nut mix
  • Tin of tuna or salmon with whole grain crackers
  • Healthy muffins and banana bread
  • Energy bites made from oats and nut butter
  • Dates

These are our favorite utensils to use as a shift worker. They come in a nifty bag with all the pieces you’ll ever need, plus more. Our tea room does have utensils (about 70% of the time), but I always question how clean they are and that’s why I use this set. 

Bottom line…

Think about your workplace. Is there a fridge, microwave, toaster or sandwich press you can use? Do you have utensils and glassware you can use? Don’t assume your frozen breakfast wrap is appropriate for every shift if you can’t heat it up.

12. Prepare Versatile Ingredients

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Chicken
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Fruit Smoothie

These foods can be added to almost everything and are great to make in bulk (and keep a batch constantly in the freezer).  

Most are also packed with protein, keeping us full and preventing continuous snacking. 

Also while talking about versatile foods…

It’s a good idea to have the “staples” constantly available so you’re never left wondering what to eat after (or before!) a shift. Such items include:

  • Frozen fruits and veggies
  • Frozen brown rice or quinoa
  • Frozen shrimp or salmon as it defrosts quickly
  • Plain oatmeal (not quick oats)
  • Beans
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Peanut butter
  • Chicken or veggie broth
Saucepan with food | 12 Valuable Meal Prep Tips for Busy Shift Workers
Rice NEVER goes unused

Craving an attractive meal?

Use a cast iron grill pan to “pretty up” chicken, steak, burgers or even a sandwich. The lines make your 4-day old steak seem brand new again!


Summary: 12 Valuable Meal Prep Tips for Busy Shift Workers

Meal prep means freedom. 

Freedom to concentrate on your relationships, hobbies, exercise and actually spending time relaxing before the next shift and not worrying what the next meal will be.

It eliminates stress, ensures your diet is packed with delicious fruits and veggies and stops you from wasting money on the vending machine and take-out.

Check out Conquer Your Night Shift Cravings: A Clear Hourly Meal Plan next. You’ll find an hourly guide to exactly what to eat and when.


Emma signature | theothershift.com

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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