Healthy Eating at work: 4 tips for employers

Because people spend so much of their time each day in the workplace, as an employer, you have the opportunity to create a food environment and develop nutrition programs that make healthy eating easier. What your employees eat is ultimately up to them but making the right choices available allows them make better decisions Check out our tips on how you can take the steps towards creating the best environment for your employees.

1.       Create a more nutritious menu and food environment

Healthy behaviours begin with a healthy environment. Cleaning up the workspace and filling it with the right stuff is at the heart of your effort in supporting employees’ nutrition. The “right stuff” reflects the six principles of healthy eating, which means offering foods that reflect a health promoting, disease preventing, and energy boosting plant-based diet.

A healthy food environment should strive to increase healthy food options and limit unhealthy food options. The specifics for creating the ideal food environment in your workplace will depend on where people are eating. The canteen is often the major setting, so looking to menu offerings and food preparation techniques (i.e., how food is cooked) will be a central component for most large companies. Yet vending machines, and foods provided in other company settings can be just as important. And simply adding more nutritious options isn’t enough. Limiting the variety of energy-dense, sugar-filled snack foods and menu items that tend to populate so many workplaces is also critical.

2.       Make it attractive: Taste, cost, and convenience matter.

Research shows that taste is the major driver of food choices, so paramount to the effort of getting employees to consume healthy food is making it delicious. This may require teaching healthy cooking techniques to food service professionals in your workplace and/or changing vendors to obtain higher-quality products. It also means expanding healthy options beyond traditional offerings to engage employees in eating healthfully.

Tired messages about consuming more fruits and vegetables and simply offering more whole fruit in the cafeteria likely won’t do the job—especially if sweet and salty snacks are at the ready. Food cost and convenience are important, too, so create competitive pricing strategies and placement to help make the nutritious choice the easy choice for employees.

3.       Keep it moderate.

There are many foods that you’ll want to think twice about keeping on hand in the workplace given the epidemics of obesity and chronic disease so many employees struggle with managing. Sugary, fizzy drinks as well as sugary fruit drinks and energy dense foods like crisps and donuts should be greatly limited to reduce temptation.

Yet total denial seldom works, nor is it necessary in an overall healthy, energy-balanced diet. Moderation is an important component of any healthful diet—and enjoying life in general. There is no reason to completely rid the environment of all the foods your employees love. The key in the workplace, as in other spaces of peoples’ lives, is to keep such choices as special, once in-a-while treats.

4.       Add the necessary ingredients to make it work.

Focusing on the food available in your workplace is a central component to supporting healthy eating – but that alone usually isn’t enough. There’s much more you can do to ensure employees are aware of what they’re eating and help them make the most nutritious choices in the workplace and beyond. Factors like providing health and nutrition information, creating incentives, considering the social environment, and utilizing technology can help shape and sustain healthy eating habits. You may want to consider bringing in additional expertise and resources to help guide efforts to build a better food environment that your employees will love.

Moreover, creating a healthy food environment should be just one part of an overall wellness program, and that in and of itself requires careful planning and implementation.