Everyone’s talking about workplace wellness these days, but too often, workplace wellness doesn’t extend to the food we see at meetings, coffee breaks and conferences. So many employees strive to eat nutritiously to keep their bodies functioning well and their brains working optimally, but common workplace practices can undermine their efforts. When managers or teammates bring treats to meetings where the majority of the room is trying to avoid sugar and empty carbohydrates, it is not helpful.
Supporting Healthy Eating at Work
Support employees, clients and partners who are trying to stay healthy by providing food that will help them feel great and enhance their cognitive functioning, creativity and innovation during meetings. Make a long-term investment in employee health by spending a little more on better quality food. Cheap candy, cookies and chips may be attractive to the budget in the short term, but they are expensive to employees’ health in the long term.
Set people up to work at their peak level. A sugary snack might produce a temporary energy boost, but it will fade quickly and leave people feeling fatigued and unable to focus well. Processed and sweetened foods stimulate or disrupt functioning in blood sugar, adrenal glands and the brain, causing the body to fight hard to bring everything back into balance. Instead, choose foods that maintain stability in hormones, blood sugar and physiology.
Healthy options to stock in the office kitchen or break room include:
- Healthy snack bars based on whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and even grass-fed meat
- Nuts, which are filling and easy to store and filling (Walnuts are especially good for the brain.)
- Dark chocolate, whose anti-inflammatory qualities enhance health
- Packets of fizzy vitamins that, when mixed with water, can satisfy an urge for a sweet drink without resorting to sugary sodas or energy drinks
Supporting Healthy Eating During Training
If trainers want to bring a snack to their next in-person session, they can pick up some of these fresh foods that contribute to balanced nutrition:
- A box of berries, which are full of antioxidants and other important nutrients
- Slightly sweet vegetables, like baby carrots, celery sticks, cut jicama, snap peas or cherry tomatoes (hummus makes a great dip)
- Peel-and-eat clementine oranges, which fill the room with a marvelous fresh, citrus scent (Just make sure to bring a bowl or paper towels for peels.)
- Exotic fruit, like fresh figs or kiwis, which are easy to cut in half and eat with a spoon
Supporting Healthy Eating During Conferences
Darby Coleman, Integrated Work’s conference planner, says her biggest advice is to not settle for the default options on hotel menus. “Most hotels will work with you to select healthier options,” she said, “but you have to be clear about what you’re looking for.” She also suggested avoiding temptation by asking for outright substitutions rather than add-ons. Her other recommendations include these:
- Serve balanced breakfasts that include protein, not pastries full of empty calories. For a sweet option, ask for cut fruit rather than whole fruit; attendees may ignore whole fruit like apples, because they don’t want to be too noisy during a speaker’s presentation.
- At lunch and dinner, steer clear of heavy carbohydrate meals like pasta. Choose grilled fish and chicken with vegetables rather than fried or sugary foods. Make sure that salads have dressing options beyond heavy, creamy dressing.
- Speaking of salads, make sure that each meal has hearty vegetarian or vegan options beyond salad and soup. One way to do so is to have animal protein as an option that meeting participants can add if they choose. For instance, offer a fajita bar where participants can skip the meat in favor of healthy vegetarian protein and fat sources like beans and avocados.
- Afternoon snacks are best composed of fresh vegetables; fruit; and protein like nuts, cheese, or low-sugar protein bars. Many people naturally lose energy around 3:00 p.m., so help them replenish it for the last sessions of the day.
- In some locations, hotels tend to serve regional cuisine that’s heavy in unhealthy fats or sugar; for instance, the American south is famous for its fried foods. Meeting attendees don’t have to sacrifice their enjoyment of regional cuisine as long as meeting organizers ensure that not all meal options are fried or creamed. Roasted vegetables, fresh produce, broth-based soups, and grilled meats or seafood will lighten the menu.
Empathetic managers and training or event planners avoid bringing unhealthy food into employees’ work lives and don’t feel offended if staff members don’t partake in the occasional indulgence. When managers care about employees and learners and want to make sure their impact on them is positive, they provide food options that enhance cognitive functioning, creativity and innovation. Why not make it easy for everyone to fuel themselves to deliver their best?