A menu for social workers on the go

Social workers with high caseloads may find little time to eat, relying on eating crisps and chocolate to sustain themselves. Poor choices, says Carolyn Humphries who shows it is easy to eat healthily

Social workers with high caseloads may find little time to eat, relying on eating crisps and chocolate to sustain themselves. Poor choices, says Carolyn Humphries who shows it is easy to eat healthily

Being a social worker is such a busy and demanding job that it’s often hard to find the time to eat properly. This can lead to poor eating habits, like munching a packet of crisps and a chocolate biscuit with a cup of coffee at your desk while you complete paperwork, or grabbing a takeaway on the way home. You may feel full at the end of the day, but the high fat, salt and sugar in convenience foods can cause fatigue, lack of concentration, weight gain and the risk of serious illness.

Instead you need plenty of slow-release energy starchy carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, rice, couscous, bulgur, wholegrain cereals, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams); a little protein from meat, fish, eggs, cheese, pulses, tofu or other vegetable protein and at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Sounds daunting? It isn’t. With a few simple guidelines you can eat well and wisely, feel a whole lot better, more able to cope with the workload and able to enjoy your leisure time too.

The food issue: why food is at the heart of social care

Get off to a good start

Don’t skip breakfast. Ideally have some wholegrain cereal (preferably without added sugar) and milk with some fresh or dried fruits (and add some chopped nuts or mixed seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower and sesame for an extra boost). Have a glass of pure fruit juice to help absorb the iron in the cereal and as one of your five-a-day fruit and vegetables. If you canÕt face eating, have a smoothie by blending a banana, some other fruit, yoghurt and a spoonful of oat bran or instant oat cereal with some milk or pure fruit juice.

Eat little and often

It’s important to keep your blood sugar levels constant so you don’t get tired or hungry. You need a snack mid-morning and afternoon and do not skip lunch or supper. Avoid high fatty foods, such as crisps, sausage rolls, roasted or salted nuts and sugary treats like cakes, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks because they’ll give you a quick fix and then leave you feeling sluggish. Here are some energy-boosting snacks to keep in your desk drawer or car:

● Raw nuts and raisins.

● Two wholegrain crackers or oatcakes sandwiched with a scraping of Marmite, peanut butter or low-fat soft cheese.

● Rice cakes (avoid the sweet, flavoured ones).

● Banana.

● Pear or apple with a few walnuts or almonds.

● A few dried apricots or prunes and some pumpkin seeds.

● Cherry tomatoes with a few small cubes of Edam, feta or half-fat Cheddar.

● Celery spread with low-fat soft cheese, sprinkled with caraway seeds.

Lunch on the go

Make time to stop even briefly. You need the break and it helps you digest and enjoy your food. Try any of these suggestions:

● Sandwich or wrap made with wholegrain bread or wholemeal flour tortilla with some tuna, salmon, cooked chicken, Edam or crumbled feta and some salad leaves, cucumber, tomato, avocado. Optional: splash of chilli sauce.

● Hummus with plenty of crudites and some wholemeal pitta breads.

● A mixed salad with either diced cheese or chicken, hard-boiled egg, marinated tofu, or canned fish and a few cold new potatoes, tossed in French dressing.

● Cooked leftover rice or pasta with diced chicken or Edam, some drained canned pineapple (in natural juice) and diced peppers, moistened with a little of the pineapple juice and a dash of low-fat mayo.

● Bulgur or couscous with diced cucumber, tomatoes and some olives, some drained canned chickpeas with pesto dressing.

● Homemade cheese and vegetable soup. Simmer a chopped onion and potato with any other vegetables you have in vegetable stock with a good pinch of dried mixed herbs and some seasoning until soft. PurŽe with a little milk and stir in some grated half-fat Cheddar. Make a batch and keep in the fridge for up to three days. Heat at work or take hot in a flask.

Dinner in minutes

Ready-meals are expensive and not that healthy. A slow-cooker is a great way to make sure you get home to a delicious meal, if you can get organised enough to throw it together and switch on before you go out in the morning. Alternatively, for quick stews, use a pressure cooker. But cooking from scratch neednÕt take much time either. Here’s a working week’s worth of ideas to get you started:


Pork and vegetable stir-fry: Stir-fry some pork strips in a little oil for two minutes. Add a packet of ready-prepared stir-fry vegetables (fresh or frozen), some crushed garlic, 1tsp grated fresh ginger and a pinch of Chinese five spice powder. Stir-fry for two to three minutes. Add some soy sauce and spoon over cooked egg noodles.


Thai green chicken curry: Simmer some diced chicken breast and chopped spring onions in a can of coconut milk with 1-2tbsp Thai green curry paste and 1tbsp fish sauce for six to eight minutes until tender. Stir in some cooked broccoli. Serve on rice.


Pasta with tuna and tomato sauce: Simmer chopped canned tomatoes, garlic and some tomato purŽe until thick. Add chopped fresh basil and a drained can of tuna. Season. Stir through cooked pasta, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve with a green salad.


Chilli con carne with rice, topped with grated Edam cheese and plenty of crisp shredded lettuce.


Grilled mackerel served with creamed horseradish, mashed sweet potato and green beans. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over.

Top tips for a healthy lifestyle

● Plan your meals and snacks for the week, do a weekly shop and stick to your plans.

● Take your lunch and snacks with you so you don’t skip a meal or buy high fat and sugar substitutes.

● Fruit and vegetables either frozen or canned in water are as nutritious as fresh so, if more convenient, use them.

● Cook extra rice, potatoes or pasta for dinner so you can have some for lunch next day (see lunch suggestions).

● Switch to decaffeinated coffee and tea. The caffeine gives you a quick boost but will leave you more tired than before.

● Allow yourself two squares of good quality chocolate with high cocoa solids each evening. The feelgood factor is real because chocolate boosts the endorphin and serotonin levels in the brain responsible for that sense of well-being.

Carolyn Humphries is the author of Classic 1,000 Quick and Easy Recipes (published by Foulsham) and about 40 other books on food. She has previously worked as head chef in a restaurant and as deputy cookery editor for Woman.

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