Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits at Work

Most people want to eat healthy, but have trouble staying focused and avoiding unhealthy food every day. Taking a quick poll around the office, you would likely find that most people there want to eat better, but don’t have the time or energy to do so. Additionally, workplace social events are full of pressure to eat unhealthy food, and even day-to-day there is usually a baked good or two floating around from a well-meaning worker. All of these things contribute to an unhealthy workplace, yet all are easily avoided. The key is tact and team spirit.

healthy eating

Making Healthy Food Available

First, healthy food must be available. It is no use telling people “don’t do this, don’t do that” as it creates a negative atmosphere, where everyone feels chastised and guilty. Instead, make healthy food the easier option.

With a Cafeteria

Create a committee to generate consensus on what healthy alternatives could be added to the menu. They could also find out which unhealthy options no one really likes, yet eats for convenience (mediocre cake, cold fries), and replace them. The key is to only add options that people want to eat, not to fill the menu with things no one will order.

Ordering Out

Ask local restaurants with healthy options (trendy cafes, as well as vegetarian, Japanese or Greek restaurants are some common options) for a stack of take out menus, and distribute them at everyone’s desk, or leave an array in the common areas. A related method would be to decide on a day each week when you’ll all chip in and get a set lunch (or catering) for everyone from one restaurant. If it is good, people will remember the restaurant and begin to order from there. No guilt required, no restrictions.

Packed Lunches

Finally, if people prefer to make their own lunches, they could form a potluck lunch group with the theme of healthy eating. Each week, two or three people bring in something healthy in a portion large enough for the whole group. To encourage non-chefs to join, there is no reason not to allow healthy pre-packaged food from brands like Kashi and MorningStar.

Making Unhealthy Food Unavailable

There is often social pressure to eat in the workplace. If your office has traditions of people bringing donuts or baked goods to share, the situation can be tricky to avoid. It may be best to send out a gentle reminder of healthy alternatives, and avoid hurt feelings.

However, if there is a true workplace-wide push for health, a simple memo may be enough to keep cupcakes out of the break room. Again, avoid “don’t” and “shouldn’t,” substituting ideas and a call for opinions on what would be welcomed in place of sweets. Once some opinions have been gathered, a secondary memo collecting people’s ideas can be sent out a month or so later as a gentle positive reminder.

Vending Machines and Self-Sabotage

If your office has vending machines full of soda and chips, don’t self-sabotage by keeping them. If possible, either remove or replace the contents with non-processed snack foods such as nuts, dried fruit, or whole grain crackers. Sodas can be replaced with flavoured waters from the same companies. If you cannot get rid of or change the vending machines, simply unplug them during the hours when people are eating due to boredom (mid-morning and mid-afternoon). Another option is to take up an office collection of $2 per week to begin keeping apples, peanut butter, and bottled water in the break room.

Of course it doesn’t have to be apples and peanut butter, as always the key is to let everyone have a say and come to consensus. People will choose a healthy option if it is available and tastes as good as the unhealthy ones. Trust in your co-workers or employees and gently nudge them into creating a healthier workplace for themselves.

About the Author: Blog post contributed by Neil Mikkelson on behalf of FruitfulOffice.co.uk. Neil is a freelance writer and independent nutrition researcher. His articles mainly appear in health and wellbeing blogs. Learn more about the programme from www.fruitfuloffice.co.uk.