Like yours, our employees spend much of their lives at work and consuming meals and snacks away from home. Research has shown that good nutrition can help establish healthier and more productive workforces, and also prevent and better manage chronic diseases.
Here are five things we learned about healthy eating in the workplace:
- Restriction doesn’t work. Your employees still need to make choices for themselves. Rather than shifting from a lunch buffet of fried foods to a raw salad bar; start by providing a mix of foods that include the usual items along with salads (condiments on the side), fresh fruit or vegetarian options. The key is keeping healthy food visible. Over time, you may find that you need to start providing more of the healthy options!
- Successes/celebrations don’t always need to be treat-centric. We get it. Food is used to celebrate everything from birthdays to weddings, so it’s easy to use food as a celebration in the work environment. Rather than ordering the usual buffet, suggest your team go bowling, play a game during an impromptu afternoon break, or better yet, volunteer together!
- Use all the free resources available to employers. Many websites and certified organizations provide resources specifically for work sites. Find out what resources are available in your area. Common resources are the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and Cooking Matters just to name a few.
- Encourage activity when offering food. This is especially beneficial during meetings lasting more than 4 hours. Be creative and find ways to get your employees active. Plan part of the meeting to be a walking meeting and encourage movement breaks or lead a group stretch every hour. At Pinnacol, we encourage employees to stand when it feels better and frequently find that at the end of a long meeting, half of the room is on their feet.
- Education is key. Employers are uniquely positioned to educate their employees and support healthier nutrition habits. When food is available, post average calorie counts or the amount of activity needed to burn off the calories (a great tool for this is CalorieKing.com). Use your resources (a nutritionist or college program with a nutrition curriculum) and provide “Lunch and Learn” programs that focus on nutrition or healthy cooking habits. Work with a nutritionist or use a restaurant’s online menu and nutrition calculator and create your own library of healthy options at local restaurants. Create your own healthy toolkit as a guide for department managers and other leaders to use so employees receive the same message and options from everyone.
As a leader, you can help arm your employees with the tools to make healthy choices. Rather than focusing solely on "what’s good" and "what’s bad," focus on choices and providing alternatives. As you begin making changes within your work site, remember that it’s the smallest changes that can reap the biggest rewards.