7 easy ways cops can eat healthier on duty
The right fuel will give you more stable energy levels throughout your shift, and you’ll be able to move faster in foot pursuits
Every single time you sit down to eat you are making a decision about your health. You can choose to eat something that will properly fuel your body and promote muscle growth and fat loss, or you can choose to eat something that undermines your fitness efforts.
The decision to eat healthy becomes harder on duty. When you are working, you are surrounded by temptations to eat junk. Fast food restaurants often give discounted – or even free – meals to cops, and if you are working nights these locations might be the only thing open. It’s worth it to fight these temptations and start eating healthy on duty.
Eating healthy on duty will give you more stable energy levels throughout your shift, and you’ll be able to move faster in foot pursuits. Further, if you are able to eat healthy on duty, eating healthy off duty becomes simple.
General for healthy eating
Whether you are eating on duty or off, a few basics apply whenever you sit down for a meal. Here are two things which should always be top of mind:
1. Avoid empty calories: Processed junk food like soda, chips and candy are a cheap and easy way to get something quick. But they provide empty calories that will cause your energy levels to crash later, and they encourage your body to store fat. You wouldn’t put dirty fuel in your squad car, so don’t put it in your body.
2. Eat nutrient-dense whole foods: Choose to eat real foods like meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs and nuts whenever you have the option. Finding something to eat while on the road may limit your whole food options, but even gas stations have some choices. Opt for beef jerky, almonds, sunflower seeds or packaged hard-boiled eggs.
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Buying Your Lunch on duty
You won’t be able to plan ahead all the time. If you get held over your shift or forced to work a double, you’ll need to buy a meal. Here are three considerations.
3. Choose “grilled” at sit-down restaurants: If you’re eating at a sit-down restaurant, most places offer grilled meat and vegetables, salad with a meat topping or omelets. Any of these options will give you the protein you need to feel full and support muscle growth. Swap fries or chips for a side salad or seasonal vegetable option and you’ll avoid feeling bloated and tired later.
4. Try eating at a make-your-own burrito restaurant: It’s easy to eat healthy when you can get a burrito bowl with fajita veggies, tomato salsa, lettuce, guacamole and the meat of your choice. Skip the beans — they are a large carbohydrate source and can cause digestion issues. Consider skipping the rice and going with a double serving of meat instead. If you do choose the rice, ask for half a serving.
The protein and healthy fats in this type of meal will leave you full and satisfied for your entire shift, and by going with the bowl and passing on rice and beans you’ll avoid the carbohydrate overload (and resulting energy crash) that comes with the traditional, tortilla-wrapped burrito.
5. Modifying fast food: Avoid fast food whenever possible. However, if you’re working nights it might be the only 24/7 option available. You can eat healthier at a burger joint by ordering your burger wrapped in a few leaves of lettuce instead of a bun. Order fresh fruit or a side salad instead of French fries. Finally, choose water or black coffee over the giant fountain soda.
Packing a healthy on-duty lunch
Packing a lunch is the easiest way to eat healthy on duty. Willpower is a finite resource, and you use a lot of it making decisions while on patrol. When it’s break time, your reserve of willpower might be drained, and the temptation for junk food can be strong if you don’t have anything on hand.
Planning ahead and packing a healthy meal takes away the need for willpower at break time because your meal was decided ahead of time. As an added financial bonus, packing your lunch saves money in the long run.
6. Preparing your meal: You can easily make healthy meals for the whole week with a few hours of meal prep on an off day and a slow cooker. Using a slow cooker (like a Crock-Pot) is simple, even if you can’t cook. Choose seven healthy slow-cooker recipes (look here and here) and go grocery shopping for all the ingredients on a day off.
When you get home, label seven one-gallon freezer bags with each of the recipes. Wash and chop all of the vegetables and store them in their corresponding bags. Chop all the meat and brown any ground meat – raw ground meat is safe to throw in a slow cooker, but it makes for a greasy mess that isn’t appealing. Put the meat in the appropriate freezer bags and freeze all the ingredients.
Before going to bed, take out your dinner for the next night and let it thaw. Place that meal in the slow cooker before leaving for work. That meal is your dinner when you get home, the leftovers are lunch for your next shift, and you’ll repeat the process with the next recipe. This meal prep plan takes three hours total (starting with grocery shopping and ending with a cleaned kitchen) to be prepared for the whole week. Commit to trying it for two weeks and see how easy it is.
7. Pack healthy snacks: Nuts, beef jerky, carrots and celery, a can of tuna with cucumber slices, peeled hard-boiled eggs, sliced deli turkey wrapped around spinach leaves, apples and bananas all make for easily portable healthy snacks. Take a snack or two with you every shift so that you have a healthy option long after your lunch is gone in case you get held over because of an incident or forced to work a double shift.
If you make eating healthy a priority while you are on duty, you will quickly find that eating healthy becomes a lot easier when you are at home as well. If you are looking to improve your health and fitness levels, eating healthy while you are on a patrol is a great place to start.
This article was updated October 9, 2018.