Creating a Healthy Food Environment in the Workplace
One of the pitfalls of healthy dieting is temptation. Even for the most resolute individual, the lure of junk foods can be irresistible at times. These enticements can be found everywhere: at birthday parties, during the holidays, and – worst of all – every day in the workplace break room.
When faced with the brightly-colored packages in the office vending machine, or the fully-stocked fridge full of sodas, even the strongest among us have thought, Perhaps just this once….
Driving by the multitude of fast-food outlets every day on the way to work is bad enough for a dieter’s willpower. As an employer who encourages wellness, it is important to consider your role in creating and maintaining a healthy workplace food environment for employees. Easing the burden of temptation and offering wholesome food options at work will help promote their healthy choices in the office and support their overall dietary wellbeing.
The first step to providing a variety of healthy eating options in the office is to use the power of the nutrition rainbow. Offer a spectrum of colorful fruits and vegetables: apples, carrots, bananas, blueberries, and pomegranate seeds are a great start. For some healthy fats, add nuts like pistachios and almonds (which also promote increased brain function and productivity). Some delicious dairy options are Greek yogurt and quinoa smoothies. For a truly satisfying snack, try hummus and veggies (broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, and bell peppers). And switch out the white bread for whole wheat. Focus on providing foods that are high in vitamins, healthy fats, and fiber.
Avoid food items that are high in sodium, cholesterol, sugar, and unhealthy fats. This includes your typical ‘junk food’ like chips, candy, donuts, and anything fried. Less obvious are the more common snack and lunch options: crackers, cheese, most lunch meats, cream cheese, and eggs. If you want to offer tastier, albeit less nutritious, items opt for low-sugar, low-fat, and reduced-sodium alternatives.
Stocking the Break Room
The first step is giving the break room a makeover. Toss out the sugary drinks in the fridge and replace them with flavored or sparkling water, iced teas, or coconut water. Install an office water cooler to encourage employees to stay hydrated. Fruit juices may seem like a natural alternative, but they are often packed with sugar, so they are an item to avoid.
The cabinets should have a variety of snacks like granola bars, nuts, and rice cakes. Replace the junk food in the vending machine with healthier options like kale chips and other deliciously nutritious compromises. Fill a basket with brightly colored fruits and place it in plain sight; even picky eaters can’t resist a beautiful fruit display!
Rethinking the Meeting
Sometimes the only thing we look forward to at a meeting is the lunch or snack that comes with it. Donuts and pizza are the most common choices, but there are healthier ways to draw a crowd at your next meeting. Hummus and guacamole are crowd-pleasers, or you could consider providing food from a local restaurant. Summer rolls, salads, chicken… these are all great lunch options for a hungry office.
Many workplaces now offer regular catered lunches. This is a fantastic way to provide employees with hand-picked food items that fit into your healthy food initiative.
Creating a Culture
A health initiative’s best support is someone who leads by example. It is up to the employer to demonstrate how eating healthy can be easy, fun, and beneficial. After making the necessary changes in the office food options, make a point of consuming these items yourself. Once employees see how rewarding and simple dieting can be, they will be on board with the new changes.
Provide employees with dietary tools to motivate and educate them. This can include handouts explaining the benefits of eating healthy and how to eat healthy, as well as the changes being made in the workplace in order to support their efforts. Some companies plan regular visits from nutritionists on-site so that they may answer any nutrition-related questions and create customized diet plans for employees.
Nutrition is a great focus for workplace social challenges, including weight loss or healthy-eating competitions. Challenges help to motivate employees by adding an element of fun competition to health goals that they may otherwise be reluctant to attempt.
In 2015, the American Heart Association launched an updated, step-by-step guide to cultivating healthy change in employees’ eating habits after leveraging the original “toolkit” in their Dallas headquarters. With the strategies outlined in their guide, AHA saw excellent results in employee diet, including a forty percent increase in general awareness of nutritional content of various food and beverage items.
Hopefully, these results will spread to workplaces across the nation. When company leaders become invested in the health of their employees, remarkable changes can be made, not only in their diet, but also in their overall health, happiness, and wellbeing.