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What’s for dinner? A nurses guide to quick eats after long shifts.

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If you are anything like us, you have precisely no desire to cook a meal after you get done with a 12-hour shift. You are also starving.

For many of you, that may mean your special someone picks up the slack on worknights, or perhaps they even know what to get you from your favorite restaurant.

Still, as prices soar and eating at home looks more and more attractive, it may be time to consider a few faithful standbys you can whip up in just a few minutes.

Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meat

This one is the reason instant pots exist. Brown the meat in the bottom of the pan. Ground beef or turkey works well. Add some onions and garlic if you feel like chopping. If it’s too much, leave it out. Then break a handful of noodles in half and place it in the pot. Take an entire large jar of spaghetti sauce (whichever brand you prefer). Fill the jar 2/3 with water and pour it over the spaghetti, making sure the noodles are covered. Place the lid, close the vent, and put it on high pressure for 8 minutes. Yep… 9 minutes. It’s cheap, and you’ll never cook spaghetti in a different pot than your sauce again.

The best part is that this works for fettuccini chicken alfredo as well- just brown chicken chunks and use two jars of sauce (alfredo usually comes in a smaller jar) with a little less water. The noodles are larger, so it takes 14 minutes in the instant pot.

Don’t have an instant pot? What about an air fryer?

If you like fish, the air fryer and fish filet are basically besties. You can take any fish filet- defrosted- and season it how you like it. If you aren’t sure where to start, try salmon or tilapia and put an equal ratio of lemon pepper seasoning and creole or blackened seasoning. Don’t add any extra salt since most blackened seasonings have a fair amount in them already. Next, spray the top with some oil and place it in the air fryer for 10-17 minutes, depending on how big your filet is.

You can add asparagus towards the end when you have about 8 minutes left. Just break the stalk, so the tender part is what you have to cook. Toss in olive oil and some salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then pop them in with the fish. Done and done.

Still counting on your trusty oven? 

Sheet pan meals are the way to go. Everything cooks at once, and all of it is delicious. This one might take a little longer than 15 minutes, but it is a set it and forget it (but not really, don’t fall asleep while cooking).

One of the easiest is the good ole Shake-n-Bake variety that comes with the bag to shake everything. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, dump some chicken breasts into the bag, get out a little aggression while shaking them, and then put them in a glass baking dish. Of course, it depends on how thick your chicken is, but 20-30 minutes does the trick.

We like frozen microwave broccoli with it, or if you have a little energy left in you, chop some broccoli, toss in oil, and put in the pan for the last 15 minutes.

Stovetop wonder for the win

Last but not least- taco night. This one is a stovetop masterpiece just waiting for you at the end of the day. Brown some meat, add a little taco seasoning, and boom, less than 15 minutes fridge to plate! All you need are some tortillas and whatever toppings you prefer. You can use ground beef, turkey, or even chicken.

With so many options, these cheap but yummy stables are easy to have on hand and even easier to make. You don’t have to settle for frozen pizza… though sometimes we suggest you do. If you need ice cream out of the carton, we are down for that too. Just don’t overdo the wine or spirits.

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN


Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?


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