To mark this year’s Healthy Eating Week (13th – 17th June), Roz Witney, nutritionist at leading entrepreneurial operator, Dine Contract Catering, looks at ways in which businesses can foster healthier eating habits among their employees.
“Research by the British Heart Foundation claims that more than two-fifths of workers in the UK believe their job is having a negative impact on their lives, with stressful working conditions leading to poor lifestyle choices such as eating unhealthily and avoiding exercise. What’s more, over a third of workers surveyed by the charity said they had put on weight directly because of their work, with regular overtime resulting in less time or energy to exercise and prepare healthy meals.
With an estimated 14,429 businesses with catering facilities across the country, workplaces have a duty to promote healthy choices. Here are my top five tips for encouraging healthier lifestyles among your employees:
- Make healthy eating easy
Today’s office workers take an average of 17 minutes for their lunch break, so not only should nutritious meals and snacks be abundantly available, but they should also be easy for customers to identify without having to scrutinise detailed nutritional content.
For example, our own ‘heart’ grading system (with three hearts representing the healthiest and one the least) was created to make it as easy as possible for busy workers to make an informed choice.
Running promotions on healthier options, is another simple means of driving healthy choices. For instance, tea is often the most popular drink at break times, but green tea in particular helps sensitise cells so they are better able to metabolise sugar. This is backed up by a Japanese study that showed a 33% reduction in the development of type 2 diabetes in those drinking six or more cups of green tea per day, compared to those drinking less than one cup per week.
Display such health-boosting products prominently – suppliers are usually happy to share material to help with on-site promotions.
- Reformulate recipes
Regularly identify your most popular options and, for those high in sugar and fat, ask caterers to see whether there’s a way to reformulate recipes to make them healthier, without compromising on taste. For example, xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables, can be a useful sugar substitute. As well as being low GI (and therefore having less of an impact on blood sugar levels), it has around 40% fewer calories than refined sugar and, because it isn’t converted in the mouth to the acids that cause decay, it is far kinder on teeth.
- Keep lunch breaks sacred
Enjoying their lunch away from their desk not only discourages staff from overeating, but research suggests that those who don’t take their lunch break work slower and less accurately in the afternoon than colleagues who take at least 30 minutes away from their workstation. Create a dining environment that encourages people to linger over their food and they are likely to reap the health benefits this brings.
- Promote healthy habits at home
Leaflets and posters in prominent positions in staff restaurants and canteens are a useful way of offering quick tips on how employees can lead healthier lifestyles both in and out of work. For example, this could include simple pointers on ways to incorporate more activity into their daily lives or advice on healthy meal planning.
- Lead from the top
When it comes to your own staff’s health and fitness, leading by example is a positive way to encourage all employees to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. From sponsored walks to tougher physical challenges like climbing the Three Peaks, taking part in physical endeavours pitched at different levels of physical capabilities are a fun way to foster healthy lifestyles while potentially raising money for charity at the same time. Make sure members of the senior management are involved in these activities to lead by example!”