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Health and Wellbeing: practical tips for healthy eating

HSE staff are leading the way on RTE’s Operation Transformation 2021. Find out how you can introduce healthy eating habits to improve your health and wellbeing this year.

Published: 26 January 2021

Lockdown has changed all of our lives, making it more difficult for many of us to stick to our healthy eating and exercise routines. Two of our health service colleagues are offering the nation some much-needed motivation as participants on RTE’s Operation Transformation.

Hazel Hartigan, a nurse in St John’s Hospital Limerick, and Sharon Gaffney, a Director of Finance and Organisation Services in the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin, have been inspiring their followers on the OT plan, showing that while healthy eating can be a challenge, starting with a few small changes can make a big difference.

It is important to remember that eating the right balance of foods and keeping physically active are essential to good health and weight management.

A healthy weight helps to prevent the development of many chronic diseases and makes it easier to go about our daily lives. This is particularly important at the moment during the COVID -19 pandemic. Many people are struggling with poor eating habits and the dreaded COVID kilos. What we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to keep healthy and to prevent, fight and recover from infections.

While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems. Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

Tune in to Operation Transformation every Wednesday to find out how they are both continuing on their weight-loss journey.

To help with your own healthy eating goals, here are some practical tips:

Plan ahead

  • Shop from a list
  • Plan your meals for the week
  • Prepare your meals using fresh, in-season ingredients
  • Try making some extra meals to store. You could make enough to last for several days, and freeze them in portions to use at times when you don't feel like cooking.
  • Leftovers can be good for lunch
You can find more help with developing your food plans
Read our advice on shopping safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t skip meals

  • Eating 3 balanced meals a day helps to keep your energy levels steady
  • Will help avoid the afternoon slump and craving for a sugar hit
  • Eat meals as a family in a screen-free zone

Start the day right

  • Start your day with porridge, wholegrain bread or high fibre cereal, dairy and fruit.
  • High sugar cereals should be avoided

Use the healthy food for life resources

  • Becoming familiar with the Food Pyramid will help you plan healthier meals. HSE Healthy Eating Guidelines
  • Learn about portion size- eating too much of the right foods can also cause weight gain.
  • Base your main meals on vegetables, salad and fruit, wholegrain bread, brown rice and pasta or other grains.

Make the most of your lunch break

  • Stop for lunch- take a break and get out for a walk
  • Avoid sandwich fatigue! Vary the types of bread & fillings – pitta bread, bagels, wholemeal rolls, wraps. Keep a stock in the freezer so you don’t run out
  • Have non-sandwich lunches - soup, protein foods with a salad
  • Include at least two vegetables, more is better
  • Plan to have and use leftovers

Get your snacks right

  • Foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are not needed for good health.
  • Food from the top shelf of the food pyramid are high in fat, salt and sugar and calories and contain very few other nutrients
  • Over-consumption leads to overweight and obesity
  • Choose healthy snacks- nuts, fruit, carrot sticks, oat/rice cakes, low-fat yoghurt

Eat more vegetables, salad & fruit

  • We only eat 2 ½ servings a day - aim to increase to 5-7 servings a day
  • Half of plate/meals should be from this shelf
  • Include in all meals - breakfast, lunch & dinner for all the family
  • Chop up fruit and leave it out or in the fridge
  • Try having a meat-free dinner once or twice a week

Drink the right drinks - stay hydrated

  • Dehydration can lead to fuzzy thinking, poor memory and leave you feeling tired
  • Remember that drinks containing caffeine will act as a strong stimulant
  • Drink 8-10 cups of water, herbal teas

Keep a diary - mindful eating

  • Using a food diary can help to identify your triggers and what your particular challenges are around sticking to a healthy eating plan e.g. biscuits with a cup of tea or late-night eating watching television. This can help you plan small changes.
  • It might take you time to get used to a new eating pattern. Make changes slowly and give yourself time to adjust. Set goals.
  • Slow down - don’t eat standing up
  • Don’t let a bad day turn into a bad week
  • Be kind to yourself but be honest

Be aware of alcohol calories

  • If you have a pint of beer or a big glass of wine most evenings, you will be taking in around 1,000 extra calories a week. In a year, that could be an extra stone in weight.
  • Late-night snacking after drinks and hangover junk food binges/snacking can also lead to weight gain.
  • For more information go to

Shift working

Many HSE Staff work long hours or shifts and find it difficult to keep healthy and regular eating patterns. We know that working irregular hours disrupts the body’s natural body-clock, may affect eating patterns and have a negative effect on health, putting shift workers at a higher risk for weight gain and chronic disease.

How to eat well on shift work

Unplanned weight loss

If you or someone you know is experiencing unplanned weight loss that might be related to illness, social isolation or reduced appetite, it is important to tell your GP or public health nurse. They can recommend some dietary resources that can help, such as a high-energy high-protein cookbook called Making the Most of Every Bite. The cookbook and other resources are available on but make sure you seek advice from your GP, nurse or dietitian.

You can find more Healthy Ireland healthy eating guidelines here.                                       

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