The employer's guide: Promoting healthy lunches at work

Published: 22 July 2015The employers guide: Promoting healthy lunches at work

One significant contributor to staff health that should be considered by all employers is diet, particularly in the workplace. It's no secret that hectic schedules, long days and back-to-back meetings hinder people in their quest to eat well, with convenience out-trumping concerns about health on a regular basis. According to a BBC poll, 54% of office workers regularly spend their lunch breaks at their desks1. With this in mind, grabbing a guilt-laden, fast-food option that requires little time and effort is probably more of the norm than most people would care to let on. However, as an employer, there's plenty you can do to motivate your staff to embrace healthy lunch options.

Why promote healthy lunches amongst your staff?

Encouraging employee health comes with more than just the obvious benefit of reduced sick-days. It's proven that eating well actually promotes productivity, with a higher intake of fruit and veg leading to increased feelings of curiosity and creativity2. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Ron Friedman tells us that, "Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon."3  So if our employees are grabbing pre-packed sandwiches, pizza slices, pastries and other such fast-food options at midday, there's a big chance they're not going to be performing as well as they could be.

So what can you do about it?

Provide healthy snacks: Studies show that we're better at resisting salty snacks, calorie-laden food and indulgent meals when we decide what we're going to eat when we're not desperately hungry4. The idea is to plan what we're going to have for lunch ahead of time, not at 12:30pm when our judgment is impaired by low self-control, which is brought on by low energy5. With this is mind, you could do things such as providing free healthy snacks throughout the day, prompting staff to decide on their lunch after eating something mid-morning.

Run health-themed days: Jamie Oliver's 'meat-free Mondays' trend has been a massive hit, so why not try something similar in the workplace? Not only will it get people on board with healthy eating, but it will create a sense of team effort, which is bound to make eating healthier both more appealing and more approachable.

Re-vamp your canteen: If you provide a canteen for your employees, ditch the pies and puddings and replace them with equally as delicious, but much healthier meals. Use recipes that will sustain your staff throughout the afternoon, and that aren't filled with empty calories. Starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, brown rice and potatoes are great for slow-released energy6. These mixed with a bit of protein and good fats will give your staff the energy they need for the afternoon, without inducing a mid-afternoon slump7.

Provide cooking classes: One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of healthy eating for many is a lack of understanding when it comes to cooking. If you can encourage your employees to create healthy meals, they could cook up a storm for dinner and bring the leftovers in for lunch (this will be great for their pockets too). Team up with a cookery school and put on regular lessons for your employees to attend. Not only will it get them on the road to healthier eating, it'll be good for staff morale too.
From increased concentration to thriving productivity, to a generally happy and healthy workforce, the reasons for promoting healthy lunches at work are endless. So ditch the buttery bagels and get prepping some fruit and veg. Eating well equals working well - now there's food for thought.

Sources:

  1. Desk lunch: How can you make it a bit nicer?
  2. On carrots and curiosity
  3. What You Eat Affects Your Productivity
  4. Time-Inconsistent Preferences and Consumer Self-Control (PDF)
  5. What You Eat Affects Your Productivity
  6. The energy diet
  7. Lunch Foods That Will Give You Energy for the Afternoon
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