As the midday meal, lunch is essential for giving us the strength we need to power through the afternoon slump. A healthy lunch can replenish your energy reserves and provide your body with nutrients. However, a recent survey found that 56% of American employees struggle to prepare a healthy lunch. In other words, more than half of America’s workforce is not receiving the daily nutrition they need.
To help solve this issue, this article will discuss what makes a meal healthy, why it can be challenging for employees to eat a balanced diet at work, the value of healthy lunch options at work and how to make employee lunch healthier.
What Makes a Meal Healthy?
The first step to eating more nutritious meals is to break down what qualifies as healthy. People often have a very narrow view of this term, limiting “healthy” options strictly to salads and vegetables. This restrictive mindset leads to disappointment when the food choices before us in real life do not match up with those expectations.
In reality, one of the primary pillars of a balanced diet is variety. Including multiple food groups and a rainbow of colors on your plate is typically a reliable technique for determining whether a meal contains a wide range of nutrients. Working a mix of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy products into your diet will provide your body with the vast array of vitamins and minerals it needs.
For those who pack their lunches at home, which surveys indicate 86% of workers do at least somewhat often, incorporating at least three different food groups is an excellent goal to aim for. Though there is no magic formula for the perfect healthy meal, the more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains you consume, the better your overall health will be.
The same rules apply when employees grab lunch at the workplace cafeteria — variety is crucial. Instead of opting for the same slice of pizza every day because it is a quick and easy option, filling a plate with more nutritious whole foods from different food groups will serve as better fuel for powering through the rest of the workday. Many workplace cafeterias have started labeling their dishes to state what ingredients are in a dish, making it easier for employees to identify healthy options.
Why Are Employees Struggling to Eat a Healthy Meal at Work?
Even when healthy meal options are readily available, it can be hard to eat right at work. Indeed, 56% of employees who eat lunch during their work hours admitted they have difficulty making smart choices. However, 91% of those employees said they are interested in improving their lunch choices to be more health-conscious.
So what’s coming between these employees and their ability to make better lunch decisions? According to employees who tend to have an unhealthy lunch at work, convenience and taste are the main culprits. While 60% of employees said they make poor lunch choices due to picking whatever is most convenient to grab and go, 54% of employees said they opt for the tastiest lunch, which isn’t always the healthiest.
Along with convenience and taste, stress can play a significant role in workers’ lunchtime decisions. Across the country, 35% of employees reported that they tend to have a less balanced lunch on exceptionally busy or stressful days than they would have had during a typical workday.
Part of the problem with workplace stress is that it impacts the decision-making process. Instead of taking the time to think through their lunch options and weigh the potential nutritional benefits, frazzled employees reach for whatever is quickest, so they can get back to work as fast as possible.
It can often seem easier for an employee to pick up an indulgent favorite food that they know will fill them up and be enjoyable. These “safe” food choices, such as a burger and French fries, can feel like a sure thing compared with a bowl of quinoa, chicken and roasted veggies. And while fast food can be an easy on-the-go option for busy workers, it is typically far from healthy.
Choosing unhealthy lunch options on particularly stressful days can quickly turn into more frequent trips to the nearest drive-thru, thus perpetuating a pattern. Like any habit, making poor lunch choices can be challenging to break, but it is possible. Planning your lunch is the secret to escaping bad lunch habits, so you never even get the chance to make an unhealthy decision in the heat of the moment.
Taking a more mindful approach to lunch decisions effectively brings about significant behavior change. Though it might feel like a slow start, gradually making less nutritious options more of a special-occasion treat — as opposed to a daily indulgence — is the first step toward breaking the habit.
The Importance of Providing Healthy Eating Initiatives in the Workplace
One of the best ways to help employees make better lunch choices is to provide them with healthy food options. Because many workers do not have the spare time to prepare nutritious, home-cooked meals to bring in for lunch, a workplace cafeteria that provides healthy meal options is crucial for helping them stay well-nourished and energized.
Without an appealing workplace cafeteria that serves healthy lunch options, many employees may find themselves going out to eat or ordering takeout for lunch. Compared to a home-cooked meal, a lunch from a restaurant can add an extra 184 calories, which means going out for lunch mid-workday is typically not a nutritious choice.
Considering employees are at work five days per week, a worker could have five meals each week that negatively impact their health. These unhealthy lunches’ long-term effects can add up over time, causing severe issues like obesity and obesity-related risk factors, such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.
However, a company cafeteria can help protect its employees from these health complications by providing accessible, readily available healthy meal options. Offering premade healthy meals in a workplace cafeteria enables employees to make wise, convenient and tasty food choices.
Promoting healthy eating in the workplace can also influence employees’ long-term wellness. Supplying employees with nutritionally balanced food can lead to cultivating a healthier work environment overall, bringing even more benefits to the workers and the company.
Specifically, focusing more on health initiatives in the workplace comes with these five advantages.
- Reduced risk of illness: A combination of healthy eating and active living can lower the chance of developing heart disease and some forms of cancer.
- Decreased anxiety: Making healthy eating and living choices can alleviate the feelings of anxiety, stress and guilt that can come with getting stuck in an unhealthy eating cycle.
- Increased positivity: A healthier lifestyle results in an elevated mood, higher energy levels and greater self-esteem.
- More social opportunities: A health-conscious company cafeteria with seating offers employees the chance to interact with each other during their midday break and connect with co-workers from different departments.
- Improved productivity: Healthier, happier employees feel more motivated to pour their best effort into their projects. Additionally, a workplace cafeteria with healthy meal options allows employees to focus more on their work without worrying about what to do for lunch.
How to Provide Healthy Meals for Your Employees
Providing balanced choices at the workplace is essential, but figuring how to encourage healthy food choices at work can be challenging. In addition to supplying healthier options in the cafeteria, companies need to take a more holistic approach by accounting for vending machines, meetings, parties and special events.
Below are a few ideas for incorporating more healthy food options into a company’s daily activities.
- Cafeteria: A company cafeteria can easily promote healthy workplace eating by serving dishes made with fresh, unprocessed ingredients instead of calorie- and sodium-dense choices. Introducing more plant-based recipes is an ideal way for a company cafeteria to demonstrate how delicious healthy eating can be.
- Vending machines: Most likely, employees will want to snack between meals. Stocking vending machines with healthier options like granola bars and trail mix packets, instead of more traditional vending machine foods such as candy bars and chips, will help them stay on track with a healthy snack.
- Meetings: Instead of bringing doughnuts to the next early-morning meeting, go for a healthier option like a fresh fruit tray and bagels. For afternoon meetings, consider providing choices like wraps stuffed with leafy greens or hummus and fresh-cut veggies.
- Parties and special events: Though there’s nothing wrong with celebrating a special occasion with a slice of cake, be sure to keep the meal balanced with healthier appetizer and main course options. Simple swaps, such as shrimp cocktail for cheeseburger sliders, can add a bit more nutrition to the night while keeping the party going.
While implementing all of these changes may seem overwhelming, working with a reliable business dining service can help your company transform its cafeteria into a healthy-eating center. The right hospitality partner will offer the exact dining solutions your company needs to cultivate a healthier environment to work in.
Encouraging Employees to Eat Healthier in the Workplace
While no company can force its staff to make healthy food choices, there are a few ways to motivate your team to make smarter nutritional choices in the workplace. To learn how to get employees to eat healthy, check out the following tips.
1. Mix up the Menu
Along with being the secret to healthy eating, variety is the spice of life! No one wants to eat the same meal every day, no matter how delicious it is. Keep employees coming back for your healthy cafeteria options by enticing them with tasty, innovative menu items that rotate frequently.
Offering employees a wide range of nutritious alternatives to fast-food staples can also prove that healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring. Experiment with whole grains by using ingredients like wild rice instead of white rice and substituting whole-wheat couscous for regular pasta. For the less adventurous, swapping nutrient-dense whole-wheat pasta for white-flour pasta won’t change the dish’s taste at all.
Additionally, stocking a salad bar with various brightly colored vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans is ideal for accommodating employees who prefer to design their dish themselves. Be sure to include several raw, steamed, sauteed and stir-fried veggies.
2. Teach Healthy Strategies
While choosing the smarter option between an apple or a piece of cake may be easy, some healthy food choices are a bit harder to discern. For example, is a fruit salad better than an apple, less nutritious — or are they equivalent? The answer largely depends on whether the fruit salad is in a sugary syrup, which is an ingredient commonly snuck into pre-packaged fruit salads.
Teaching employees to see past the appearances of foods marketed as healthy will prevent them from unknowingly making unwise decisions. Your company can make healthy eating education accessible by posting information online, in the cafeteria or both. Displaying the nutritional details of each cafeteria dish will help employees make more informed choices.
The company cafeteria can also demonstrate how to put together a healthy, balanced meal by serving sensibly portioned dishes that are about half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter lean protein and one-quarter whole grains. Pre-packaging these meals will make them easy for busy employees to grab on the go, while working each food group into their diet.
3. Offer Financial Incentives
Another effective method of encouraging employees to make healthier choices is to lower food prices. While many people choose fast food because it is cheap, making a company cafeteria’s healthy lunches more affordable will enable them to compete with other less expensive alternatives.
One study showed that upping the amount of fruit and vegetable choices in the workplace by 30% while reducing their cost by 50% led to a 300% increase in fruit and salad purchases. Financial incentives have considerable influence over employees’ dining decisions. As an employer, you can nudge your workers toward healthier choices by keeping cafeteria costs low.
4. Provide Support
Along with revamping the cafeteria, companies should provide employees with adequate support to lead a well-balanced lifestyle in general. Make sure your company encourages healthy behaviors in all areas of life by offering programs like these.
- Healthy eating classes: In addition to placing healthy eating brochures in the company cafeteria and posting health-conscious content on your internal website, coordinate some health-focused classes that employees can participate in after work hours. From healthy cooking classes to nutrition symposiums, these classes can be a fun way to equip workers for better living.
- Physical activity clubs: Organizing work-sponsored intramural sports teams or running clubs can motivate employees to exercise regularly. On a smaller scale, you can encourage more movement throughout the workday by putting together an employee walking group or launching a stair-taking initiative.
- Stress-management events: Seminars about how to handle stress can help employees avoid burnout and other negative emotions. These events also present an excellent opportunity for employees to socialize and build stronger connections.
Partner With American Dining Creations to Bring Healthy Lunches to Your Company
If you’re looking for a dependable hospitality partner to bring fresh, healthy food to your corporation, consider the business dining solutions offered by American Dining Creations. We’re a hospitality and culinary company that takes healthy dining to the next level with innovative recipes and complete nutritional transparency. We’ll create a custom dining plan to fit your company’s needs and keep your employees healthy.
Find out more about how your company can start offering employees smarter lunch options by contacting American Dining Creations today.