Ten ways to encourage healthy eating at work

Poor eating habits during the day can be a significant part of the problem for people struggling with their weight. The workplace is an ideal place to spread the message for healthy eating strategies – as well as providing a communal environment to encourage people to shed the pounds, says nutritionist Reena Sharma.

Here are 10 ways to help spread the healthy eating message in the workplace.

1. Education campaigns

Making sure your staff are aware of healthy eating campaigns in the first place is a good start. Posters around the workplace reminding people of initiatives such as “Five a Day” and Change4Life will ensure information is easily seen. Companies should consider participating in national campaigns and awareness weeks to focus attention on specific issues. Making sure information is circulated around staff, via email or leaflets, on a regular basis, is a good way to spread the word.

2. Make it easy

If it is too difficult to make a healthy choice, people will often lack the time or motivation to go out of their way to find an alternative. There are many simple things a conscientious employer can do to encourage healthier eating in the workplace. Ensure any kitchen or dining areas provide the right equipment and crockery for people to be able to store and prep their own breakfasts, like cereal and skimmed milk, instead of resorting to running out for a fried bacon sandwich over the road.

3. Provide incentives

Many workplaces provide free fruit once a week or on a regular basis, and/or access to free mineral water. Vending machines are a constant source of temptation when hunger strikes. Make sure a selection of healthier options, including fruit, cereal bars or lower-calorie alternatives, are available alongside the normal chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks for a quick snack. Cutting these things out altogether – at least without consultation first – is unlikely to be a popular choice. But providing alternatives (for free, where possible) can make people think twice.

4. Go for awards

Take the lead, and sign the whole company up to a recognised, certified scheme. In Scotland, workplaces with canteens and staff restaurants can try for the national “healthyliving” award. In Merseyside, Health@Work runs an initiative called the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, which operates as a health version of Investors in People. It is hoped that it will be rolled out nationwide. Not only are schemes like this good for staff wellbeing, but they send out a positive message about the company involved as well.

5. Make it clear

If you provide food to your employees, make sure they understand what low-calorie options are available. Another idea is to subsidise healthier items, such as salad bars or baked potatoes rather than chips and pies. Make healthy menu options easy to identify, and make sure canteen staff are knowledgeable about low-fat dishes to be able to answer questions about them.

6. Put it in writing

Make it official and state your company’s dedication to promoting healthy eating in the staff handbook. Let employees know your commitment translates into company policy, and you’re serious about making sure healthier options are available to them wherever possible. Let staff know if there are supplies in the office that are provided free of charge, or subsidised, on a daily or weekly basis. A corporate food plan should be considered if lunches are bought in from external catering companies or food is provided by an onsite canteen.

7. Lunch breaks

Creating a culture where staff feel able to take the full length of their designated lunch times and have regular screen breaks is something that is often overlooked, even though we all know it is important. Discourage people from eating at their desks; not only can there be spillages, but it prevents people getting up and stretching their legs. A proper break gives employees the chance to get out of the office, get some fresh air and have the time to enjoy a leisurely healthy lunch if they so wish. A little exercise and a chance to recharge the batteries with a proper meal help to avoid an afternoon slump.

8. Alcohol awareness

Encouraging alcohol awareness in the workplace will help to deal with problems associated with substance misuse, such as sickness absence and decreased productivity. Drinking too much outside of work time can also mean taking in a lot of extra calories, which people often do not realise. Cutting back on alcoholic drinks can have an impact on the waistline – helping staff to think about their drinking can be beneficial for body and mind.

9. Work with local suppliers

Creating working relationships with local businesses can give staff variety and can create business networking opportunities. Working to offer your staff discounts or deals at nearby outlets, or letting catering firms onto your premises to trade, could enhance the local business community as well as helping staff make a saving.

10. Group activities and challenges

Try getting people more involved with healthy eating events, such as cookery workshops or tasting fairs in the workplace, or team weight-loss challenges. If people have a chance to try new things and see how easily healthy options can substitute old favourites, they are more likely to be encouraged by new recipes and food in the canteen.

Reena Sharma is a company nutritionist at North-West health consultancy Health@Work, funded by Liverpool Primary Care Trust.

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