Did you know that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month? For employees, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be a challenge amidst competing demands of the work day, family responsibilities, and other social obligations. But the food we eat while working not only impacts our health—it can also affect our productivity. Below are eight guidelines for promoting healthy food choices in the workplace.
Benefits of a Healthy Workplace
Why should employers be concerned about healthy eating at work? Encouraging health in the workplace has many potential benefits for both employers and employees:
- Lower health care and disability costs
- Enhanced employee productivity
- Reduced employee absenteeism
- Decreased rates of illness and injuries
- Enhanced corporate image
- Improved employee morale
- Improved employee recruitment and retention
- Increased well-being, self-image, and self-esteem
- Improved coping skills with stress or other factors affecting health
- Improved health status
- Lower out of pocket costs for health care services
- Increased access to health promotion resources and social support
- Improved job satisfaction
- Safer and more supportive work environment
Tips for Encouraging Healthy Food Choices
Increasing the nutritional quality of food available in the workplace can help support a healthy lifestyle for your employees. When offering food and beverages at meetings and staff gatherings, consider the following guidelines to ensure that you have healthy eating choices available:
1. Offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Salads, cut-up raw vegetables, and sliced fruit are all good options.
2. Stick to fat free or low-fat and low-calorie foods. Always put dressings on the side. Try salsa, low-fat yogurt dressing, and sweet mustard as toppings.
3. Provide a variety of grains, especially whole grains. Cereal bars, baked tortilla chips, pretzels, rice cakes, and pita bread all fit the bill.
4. Pay attention to portion sizes. Portion sizes have increased substantially and can contribute to added calories. Try to offer smaller portions of foods, such as mini muffins, mini bagels or small cubes of low-fat cheese.
5. If catering, stick to the "healthy" or "lite" section of the menu. Look for foods that have been baked, grilled, broiled, roasted, poached, or steamed. Avoid fried foods.
6. Consider offering only beverages at mid-morning and mid-afternoon meetings. 100% fruit juices and water with a slice of fruit or seltzers are good choices.
Other ways employers can encourage good nutrition at work include:
7. Provide filtered water. Making water freely available may help employees avoid soda or other high-sugar drinks.
8. Ensure that healthy food and beverage choices are available in vending machines. Talk with your vendor about including healthier items such as granola bars, baked chips, and reduced-fat cookies and crackers. Labeling healthy options helps to encourage smart choices.
You can also ask your employees what healthy choices are appealing to them. For more great tips, check out the Guidelines for Healthy Foods and Beverages at Meetings, Gatherings, and Events included in the North Carolina HealthSmart Worksite Wellness Toolkit. You can also visit our section on Employee Health & Wellness.
And while you're promoting health in the workplace, don't forget to give your company a compliance check-up with our free tool, the 2012 HR & Benefits Compliance Quick-Check.
Image Credit: nutrilover