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No spit in this food: 4 great on-duty meals cops can bring from home

Don’t take your chances with unhealthy and potentially tampered foods by doing your own meal prep

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A green salad with a seasoned chicken breast can help power you through a shift. Just keep the dressing in a separate container.


Take the high road when refused restaurant service. Read Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D., advice on how to prepare for being told, “We don’t serve your kind around here.”

Most of the headlines we see about officers being refused service or having been served tainted food involve franchise fast-food joints — establishments that generally feature a long list of unhealthy eating options.

Ditch the fast food and bring a bag (or box) lunch

A healthy alternative to fast-food joints is to make your meals at home — pairing a protein with a slew of vegetables. Put your meal in a plastic container that fits with a reusable freezer brick in a small cooler in the trunk of your squad car.

The following are some ideas to consider for a four-day workweek. And for those who say, “But I can’t cook!” please remember that if I can prepare these meals, literally anybody can.

Shift One: On a large whole-wheat lavash, wrap, or tortilla (OK, you can use white instead of whole wheat) place a healthy fistful of fresh sliced turkey, a few slices of cooked bacon (crumbled), some shredded lettuce, and a couple of scoops of fresh cranberries. Roll that up and wrap it in aluminum foil. I call it the Thanksgiving burrito — it’s simple to make and simply delicious. Be sure to make two of them — trust me on this one — and pop them in your plastic to-go box.

Shift Two: Over a bed of fresh mixed greens, lay a large cooked and seasoned chicken breast (prepared the day of, or the day before) and an assortment of green beans, garbanzo beans, chopped onion (optional, if you’re not interested in adding that to your breath), and chopped celery. In a small, sealable plastic container (about the size of a shot glass) put the vinaigrette of your choice. It’s a three-bean salad with chicken, and it will power you through.

Shift Three: Again over a bed of fresh greens, put several ice-cream scoops full of browned ground turkey (seasoned with chili powder and a dash of powdered garlic when cooked). Add a can of strained black beans, a diced green bell pepper, a diced tomato, and a handful of crushed tortilla chips. Toss some grated Cheddar cheese on top. The dressing in your shot-glass-sized container is your favorite salsa. You’ll note that I omitted avocado. I hate avocado, but if that’s your thing, go for it.

Shift Four: It’s indulgence day — pasta and meatballs! This one takes a little longer to prepare than the others, but the results are worth it. Cook up some fusilli or rotini pasta and make two or three meatballs (consisting of a combination of ground beef, ground veal, ground pork, eggs, and spices). Let cool and put in your plastic container. On top of that, add chopped red bell pepper, a nice portion of artichoke hearts, black olives, and some chopped onions (if you so desire). Put into that shot-glass-sized plastic container your favorite low-fat Italian dressing and add that before eating. This is probably my favorite of all.

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I’ve simplified these recipes — do some experimenting or check out sites like All Recipes for specifics. Remember that in all cases, you should supplement your main meal with a variety of power-packing snacks — apples, bananas, almonds, and energy bars (such as Cliff Bar or PowerBar) — that you can eat every couple of hours to keep you going. Make a bottle (reusable if possible) of water your beverage of choice.

Save money, avoid hassles, and eat better

Once you get rolling with such a program, you’ll find creative ideas popping into your head involving a variety of foods. Whether you prepare any/all the above ideas, rely simply on homemade sandwiches, or choose to go with yesterday’s leftovers, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up saving a fair amount of money and eating much better than you would if you patronize the local fast-food place.

If you do decide to eat at a restaurant in uniform, be sure to look for mom-and-pop establishments which have a much greater tendency to be pro-law enforcement. In fact, those independently and locally owned businesses tend to be thrilled to have cops as patrons. No matter what your patrol area, there’s probably one of these places just waiting to serve you.

If you have a favorite recipe for your on-duty meal, send an email to

Eat well, be well, and stay safe my friends.

The right fuel will give you more stable energy levels throughout your shift, and you’ll be able to move faster in foot pursuits

This article, originally published on August 25, 2016, has been updated.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.