Nutritionist Goodness Me Nutrition
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Workplace wellbeing: how to encourage good nutrition at work

Nutrition has more effect than you might think on an employees’ productivity. The wrong foods can make us sluggish and lethargic at work, whereas eating properly can boost energy levels and help us to become more creative. Here are some ideas to encourage a healthier eating culture in your organisation. 

16th Jan 2020
Nutritionist Goodness Me Nutrition
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Supporting your employees to be healthier should be a workplace wide effort throughout the year, not just at the start of the year. Full time employees will spend more time at work than at home, and most people normally have at least one meal a day at work, equating to around a third of their calories.

Creating a healthy culture of work/life balance can be tricky, but sometimes leading by example, and getting managers and leaders to take the initiative helps.

Depending on your budget and desire for change, there are several stages of commitment you can make towards healthy nutrition at work.  A holistic approach will provide the most benefit, and this involves:

  • Focusing on culture change across the organisation.
  • Ensuring food provided at work is healthy and balanced.
  • Educating your staff about nutrition.
  • Creating space to eat healthily (both physical space and time in the day).
  • Supporting them with common dietary associated issues like weight loss, diabetes or fitness.

Culture

Creating a healthy culture of work/life balance can be tricky, but sometimes leading by example, and getting managers and leaders to take the initiative helps.

Most workplaces have a tradition of bringing in cakes, sweets, or chocolates for special occasions. As a caring employer, you don’t need to ban these customs, but it might be worth finding someone to lead a new way to bring in healthier options like energy balls, popcorn or vegetable sticks.

If people stay late in your offices to work, encourage them to get outside. We know that walking can make you more creative. In one study people were 60% more creative after a 30 minute walk. Encourage people to get outside in all weathers during the day.

It can be hard to strike the balance between providing support and being seen as ‘nannying’ your teams.

Managing stress levels at work can help people make healthier food choices. This may support other ongoing health conditions. When we’re stressed we tend to experience broken sleep, and then reach for the sweet treats to provide energy. Stress also contributes to common employee sickness issues such as anxiety, IBS and back pain.

Availability of food

Making healthy food available at work will support staff members who prefer to buy food or need to grab something quickly at work. Your canteens don’t have to be full of cheese sandwiches and chips.

Some ideas to support healthier food at work include:

  • Change up your vending machines for healthy versions. Opt for modern vending machines that can offer low sugar popcorn, seeds and nuts, protein bars, water and healthier crisps like vegetable crisps.
  • Offer free fruit to your employees. Doing this on even one day a week would help to promote a healthier alternative to chocolate bars.
  • Offer herbal teas alongside the traditional tea and coffee options in the kitchen or staff room to help reduce caffeine use.
  • Offer fridges and microwaves in the kitchen to allow people to bring in food from home. It’s cheaper for employees to bring in left-overs from last night and often healthier than what’s available from the local cafes.
  • Provide nutritional information on food made onsite. You could ask your caterers what options they have to support healthy choices at work. Often, only pre-packaged food has nutritional information provided.
  • Complete a nutritional audit of your food options looking at proportions of fresh food available, and the content of salt, fat and sugars available across all the foods on site.

Educating your employees

It can be hard to strike the balance between providing support and being seen as ‘nannying’ your teams. Bringing in qualified nutritional experts can ensure you’re giving correct information, and educating in the optimal way. Other suggestions include:

  • Create monthly themes for eating well at work throughout the year and give ideas for healthy foods that support the themes.
  • Offer nutrition ‘lunch and learn’ sessions by bringing in qualitied nutrition experts to talk about key hot topics such as gut health, diabetes, high blood pressure, weight loss, nutrition for stress or nutrition for mental health.
  • Create healthy snack and meal ideas that employees can try. Place these recipes in your kitchens or canteens. Some nutritionists will create a pack of recipes for your staff to try at home. 
  • Offer subsidised nutrition consultations with a nutritionist to provide targeted support for individuals.  

Workplace wellbeing champions

You could work with employees to identify what specific changes would help them be healthier at work. Create some health champions to support change across the workplace.

Ask the champions to canvas staff and find out what would help them step away from their desk to eat lunch; are there any cultural or physical changes that can be made to the site to help?

Rest and digest

Create a physical space to eat lunch in the office where your staff feel welcome and comfortable so they choose to get away from their desk.

When we eat mindlessly in front of a computer, or whilst talking in a meeting, it is more likely our body is in a state of ‘fight or flight’. When we’re in this stressed state our body doesn’t prioritise digestion. This means stomach acid, production of digestive enzymes, and gastric motility is reduced. This can lead to bloating, fermentation in the gut, and poor digestion which may exacerbate any IBS symptoms.

It’s estimated between 10-20% of the population have IBS and £3bn is lost to sick leave related to IBS each year.

Working lunches

If your company runs working lunches where people are expected to stay in the room through the meeting, try to ensure that it’s not all beige sandwiches, crisps and cakes on offer. Normally these buffets are high in carbohydrates, salt, saturated fats and devoid of fresh vegetables or protein. Eating a meal high in carbohydrates will most likely make the meeting attendees sleepy after lunch, so they won’t be performing at their best.  

Working lunches should include protein, healthy fats and vegetables, for example:

  • Fresh salads from a local café
  • Protein in fish, meat or tofu
  • Nuts and seeds as snacks
  • Fruit platters instead of muffins and pastries

You could also create a culture of walking meetings. Of course, it won’t always work in all situations, but sometimes walking can result in better conversations.

Finally, remember that a lot of our eating habits are culturally ingrained. By making a conscious effort to redirect our thoughts and educate our teams on healthier lifestyles, we can all make a difference.

Interested in this topic? Read How to use technology to support healthy living and boost the employee experience.

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