by Rachel Brown, Keene State College Dietetic Intern
Most Americans have good intentions to improve their diet. They try to read nutrition labels, plan to have salads for lunch and try to skip out on deep fried foods.
But in today’s workplace, do we even have a chance to choose healthier options? Sometimes the only food options available during the workday are the fast food restaurants within walking distance, the vending machine at the end of the hall, or your coworker’s basket of leftover Halloween candy.
Worksites can be the most challenging place to choose healthy options. Not only are you surrounded by unhealthy choices, but you are also feeling the stress that comes along with work. When we are stressed, we tend to go choose more of our “comfort foods” that contain higher amounts of sugar, sodium and saturated fat. In fact, research shows that constant, mild stress (such as the type you experience at work) can induce over eating and the choosing of more pleasurable and palatable foods.
So how do we navigate our food environment at work? Here are a few suggestions:
Bring Food from Home
You have control over the food you have at home, so why not bring it to work? You can change the food environment at work by simply utilizing your own groceries. Bring a nutritious lunch from home to have available when you’re hungry. It can keep you from having to choose from unhealthy options at a close fast food restaurant or kiosk. For example, you could bring a bag of sliced apples with peanut butter or an orange with a handful of nuts to have at your desk for when you want a something before or after lunch. These small changes can make a huge impact on your nutrition and health.
Advocate for Healthy Vending or Employee Snack Baskets
Another suggestion to help change your at-work food environment is requesting a healthy vending program or an employee snack basket program. These programs make providing healthier snack items for its employees a policy at the worksite. The healthier vending machine or snack basket program will improve access to healthier snacks for you to choose from. If you don’t like the idea of having to plan ahead to eat healthy, talk to your supervisor or fellow employees about starting one of these programs. Contact a Worksite Wellness Advisor (Free!) to help you develop workplace policies such as these. If more healthy options are added to the vending machines or snack baskets, the food environment of the workplace is drastically changed to encourage healthy eating.
Make the Better Choice
There is typically a “best” option among the foods available to you. Not all options at fast food restaurants or in vending machines are unhealthy. When you begin being mindful of the choices you make at snack or lunch time, you may find that you make better, more nutritious choices. Search for the snacks that provide a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in order to keep you full and give you energy. An example of this could be a trail mix. When deciding what to have for lunch, choose something that includes a fruit or vegetable to add vitamins, minerals, and fiber into your meal. Finding healthy food at work may be difficult, but small changes make a big difference when it comes to your health!