Chef cooks up healthy menus for City firefighters

Fighting fires and saving lives can be physically demanding work that burns a lot of calories. That creates particular nutritional needs for firefighters. Minneapolis firefighters recently had help meeting those needs thanks to a wellness grant from Medica.

As part of the grant, chef Marshall O’Brien shadowed Minneapolis firefighters for a few 24-hour shifts to get a firsthand look at life on the job. He then created meal plans and provided nutritional guidance specifically for City firefighters and the work they do. Smart nutrition helps firefighters maintain the high energy levels and quick reaction times necessary for their duties.


O’Brien’s top advice? Drink more water. Hydration is key for firefighters, especially since they are often working in hot environments or performing physically demanding work that causes sweating. Because total hydration can take as long as 24 hours, firefighters need to follow a program of ongoing hydration. That means drinking half their body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, a firefighter that weighs 200 pounds should aim to drink 100 ounces of water each day.

O’Brien recommends that firefighters eat more protein after fires to recover from their physical exertion faster. He suggested protein bars for a quick snack as well as freezing high-protein meals for healthy options right away after responding to an emergency.

Another key to feeling good: sleeping. While this can be tricky for firefighters who work 24-hour shifts and have no control over their schedules, O’Brien says pineapple; dark chocolate and green, leafy vegetables serve as good sleep aids.

Firefighters often rotate responsibility for cooking at each fire station. Research shows that eating behaviors of firefighters are influenced by working conditions as well as the food “culture” of the fire station, so O’Brien left recipe books at each fire station to help each station’s cooks pick healthier meals. Read the recipe book.

Those of us who aren’t firefighters can also benefit from many of chef O’Brien’s tips; for example, the hydration formula, getting enough sleep and having healthy options readily available after exertion. The healthy recipes are also suitable for almost everyone.

Next up, chef O’Brien will offer nutritional guidance to Minneapolis police officers and Public Works employees.

Published Apr 29, 2014