We all know it can be challenging to eat healthy in the firehouse. Shift meals are notoriously high calorie and big in proportions — and there’s the challenge of trying to eat in between calls.
When I talk about eating “healthy” there’s really two parts: 1) eating foods that are good for your body like fruits, vegetables and high fiber grains; and 2) avoiding over-eating so you can maintain a healthy weight.
Tackling both of these issues is really important for firefighters: heart disease and cancer rates are higher in the fire service compared to the general population but eating healthy foods dramatically reduces risk of suffering from these diseases.
Furthermore, over-eating on-duty can be dangerous. Deaths have occurred from firefighters vomiting in their masks because they’ve just eaten a huge meal right before having to fight a fire.
Eating Good Foods
Addressing the first part is pretty straight forward: try to incorporate healthy foods into your meals. In general, each meal should include at least one serving of fruits or vegetables. One serving is one whole piece (like a banana) or one cup chopped (like broccoli). You can read the top 5 foods I recommend that firefighters eat in this article series: https://firefightertoolbox.com/top-5-foods-firefighters-must-eat/
Strategies for Avoiding Over-eating
The best strategy for tackling the second part — avoiding over-eating — is to have healthy snacks on hand. That way, if you have to skip a meal or eat late, you won’t be as ravenously hungry when you do get a chance to eat, which is when healthy portion sizes go out the window.
The healthiest and easiest types of snacks are whole pieces of fruit/vegetables, or something pre-packaged that’s easy to grab. For example: a handful of nuts in a small baggie or a packaged fiber bar. These are typically found in the cereal aisle (not a granola or protein bar).
Fiber Or Protein?
In the years that I’ve been counseling people on nutrition I’ve noticed that people tend to differ in whether protein or fiber fills them up. So figure out which one you are. If fiber does it for you, then snack on fruit, whole wheat crackers or a fiber bar. If it’s protein that fills you up, then snack on nuts, dairy (like yogurt) or peanut butter.