Hospital Cafeteria: How to Survive 12 Hours as a Vegan Nurse

Hospital food is not historically known to be healthful, or vegetable forward. Some hospital campuses have fast food establishments, even in children’s hospitals. These cafeterias operate as a business, and their supply of offerings are based on the demand of those purchasing. Unfortunately, this often means less plant-based options.

Let’s say you’re on a stretch of 3 shifts in a row, you get to work, and realize you forgot your lunch. As a vegan, you already know the options in the cafeteria are limited. How do you survive the next 12 hours?

Hot food bar:

  • There will often be cooked veggies at the hot bar. Ask the cooks if the veggies were cooked in butter (usually not vegan) or oil.
  • Indian dishes. Many Indian inspired dishes are inherently vegan or vegetarian.
  • Asian-inspired stir-fry are predominantly vegetables. If there is already meat in the tray, like chicken, ask the cooks if they have an extra batch without animal meat.
  • Italian food, like pasta, is a common cafeteria choice. Get the pasta with marinara sauce, or plain. Top with oil, cooked veggies, and fresh tomatoes.
  • Latinx inspired dishes are easy to veganize. Substitute beans for animal meat. Hold the crema and cheese. Add guac for healthy fat and flavor. Veggie burritos are a great option to keep you satiated.

Made to order:

  • Sandwiches and wraps: Ask for all the veggies, a hummus spread, and avocado.
  • Veggie burger. Confirm the burger does not contain egg
  • Order of fries. You can load with cooked veggies, or veggies from the salad bar.

Hit up the salad bar:

Most hospitals have a salad bar, which sounds boring, but not if you dress it up right. Load up on sustainable ingredients:

  • Hearty protein: beans, chickpeas, lentils, grains (brown rice, quinoa), hummus, tofu (often not kept in the salad bar, ask the cooks if they have tofu or a meat alternative in the back)
  • Healthy fats: nuts, seeds, avocado
  • Nutritious veggies: Bell peppers, beets, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, corn, and sprouts.
  • Dressing: Most salad bars have oil-based dressings like Italian, oil & vinegar. You can also squeeze a citrus fruit over your salad mountain, for extra flavor.

Grab-n-go:

  • Soy milk
  • Granola bar
  • Hummus with raw veggies
  • Vegetable sushi and seaweed salad (if your hospital is lucky enough to carry such things)

Get to know the nutrition staff:

At this point, I’m on a first name basis with most of the nutrition staff. Asking about ingredients in the pre-made foods, what vegan options they have, and special ordering a dish to make it plant based. I highly recommend avoiding peak times, like lunch, that way you’ll have more time to chat with the staff, and for them to make you something off of the menu.

Talk to or send an email to the director of nutrition. Provide them with information on the importance of having plant-based options for staff, patients, and family. Resources already exist to help hospitals provide healthier, plant-forward options. Hospital Toolkit

After the cafeteria closes:

Night shift is often the forgotten group of the hospital. Some cafeterias even close even before the night staff arrives.  It’s good to have back up options if this happens. Most restaurants have delivery or partner with a delivery service that can bring the food right to you during your busy shift.

  • Happy Cow app: The vegan restaurant finder! This app allows you to find vegan restaurants and stores all over the world. You can see reviews and pictures from other vegans.  HappyCow: Find Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurants Near Me
  • Google Maps: Another app that allows you to search “vegan” or “vegetarian.” Helping you find the closest restaurant near the hospital.
  • Yelp: With their new addition of filters, you can search for “vegan” and “Black-owned” restaurants. Highly rated Black-owned vegan eateries across North America – Yelp
  • Instagram: I’ve found many vegan restaurants on Instagram just by searching Hashtags. For example, #DCvegan #BaltimoreVegan. Give it a try for the town you are in.

Extra tip:

Keep shelf-stable food in your locker:

  • Protein bars, protein powder, non-dairy milk boxes, instant veggie ramen, canned soup, trail mix, Indian food ready-to-eat tear-top pouches

Whether you bring your lunch, go to the cafeteria, or order delivery, you can survive and thrive your shift as a vegan nurse!

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