We all know that nutrition is important for optimal mental and physical wellbeing. Yet when you’re at work, it isn’t always easy to eat well.

Oftentimes lunch is just treated as an incidental part of the working day: hunger strikes, you grab something quick, inhale it at your desk—done.

But with 67% of us eating two meals a day at the office, and lunch hours becoming squeezed to a 22 minute average, the topic of food at work is starting to gain attention.

In a Feedr survey, only 23% of Londoners said that they find it easy to access healthy food options near their workplace. It’s no surprise then that with a more sedentary working day and a lack of healthy food options close by, our health and wellness would take a hit.

So what can we do to eat better when we’re at work? To get to the bottom of this, we gathered together some experts across the nutrition and wellness industries to give us the inside scoop on what companies can do at a top level to bring meaningful change to their employees daily eating habits.

Contributors: Riya Grover, Kim Johnson (Wellness London), Katherine Kimber (Registered dietitian and founder of Nude Nutrition), Emily Warburton-Adams (POW Food).

6 ways to champion nutrition in the workplace

1. Make the healthy choice the easy choice

When people are time-pressured, they fall into rhythms. They’ll go to the same local shop, get the same packaged food, because it is quick, convenient, and they know they’ll like it enough to scoff it down while working on their impending deadline. People know what is good for them and what they want to eat, but they don’t have the time or mental energy to seek it out.

Make the healthy choice the easy choice for your employees, by making it a priority to provide nutritious snacks in the office. Too often, employees can skip meals or snack breaks and end up feeling irritable and stressed, which ultimately affects performance.

Key tip: provide healthy snacks – fruit, energy balls, fruit, nuts etc – so if employees are rushed and don’t have time, they can at least snack on healthy nutritious food.

2. Eating well can be affordable

Healthy, nutritionally dense food is more expensive than its less nutritious counterpart, meaning your team might not be so keen to opt for the pricier option, and go for less healthy food instead.

Subsidising meals on a company level, sourced from quality vendors, is a great way to mitigate this problem, and it doesn’t need to cost the earth either! By putting just £3 against employee lunches, you can help your employees acces healthy, high-quality meals for a fiver, at a minimal cost to the business. Everybody wins!

Key tip: Try splitting the cost of lunch with your employees to help them access healthy meals in an affordable manner, and keep productivity high throughout the day.

PRO INSIGHT: A recent study showed that for every 80p spent on nutritional initiatives in a company, there was a £2.60 return in productivity, measured by reduction in sick days.

3. Socialisation = success

There is a lot of research around socialisation and its positive impact on mental health and morale. Building this into your company culture through team meals is an easy win – people have been gathering together over food since time immemorial, and this is something that has been lost in the modern London workforce.

Get your team together over some delicious food, maybe once or twice a week, and watch your employees’ moods and productivity lift as they get their socialisation fix.

Key tip: If budget and space permits, create a break out space so that your team has a comfortable environment to socialise in, and use it regularly!

4. Lead by example

How many times have your employees worked through their lunch break? Sometimes it is because your employees feel stressed, or are working to a tight deadline, but sometimes, it can be the result of a work culture that frowns upon lunch breaks. However, lunch breaks can provide a much-needed social break, or opportunity to relax and recharge from the demands of the day.

The unspoken rules of what is and isn’t acceptable at work fundamentally come from actions of those in leadership positions. Verbally encouraging your employees to step out for a lunch break won’t do the trick if you don’t do the same. Instead, go out for lunch yourself! Employees who see senior management stepping out will be more inclined to do the same, as your actions have set the precedent that this is an acceptable thing to do.

Key tip: Encourage employees to take time to eat and socialise at lunch by setting the example yourself

PRO INSIGHT: The Nocebo Effect – if you believe you’re intolerant to something enough, you’ll start getting the physical symptoms of intolerance, even if you’re not intolerant at all. This is a key example of how our mental states can affect our physical health.

5. Finding something for everyone

Increasingly, people’s food preferences are getting more and more personalised. It can be difficult, as an office manager in an office environment, when the pressure is on to cater for all these different needs while keeping everyone happy. Luckily, lots of great food brands like POW are rising to the challenge, and designing dishes so that there is always something for everyone.

At Feedr, when we design menus, we try to optimise across a variety of profiles – from how hearty or light a dish is, to different taste, texture, and dietary profiles. Different people are at their best when they eat in different ways – so it is important to provide as much variety as possible to have your employees at their optimal performance.

Key tip: Make sure there is something for everyone. This is getting easier with the rise of great innovative vendors and better nutrition education.

6. Be a chisel, not a hammer

When it comes to changing behaviour, you need to be a chisel, not a hammer. Getting big groups of people on board with big changes takes time. But be patient with them and they will come around. And as they start to see the value in the wellness offering you’re providing, it will become more integrated within the company.

For example, once a decision-maker in a company adopts our Cloud Canteen, we see 90% uptake among staff and have a great retention rate. We know we’re making a difference because we look at all the qualitative feedback coming in and can clearly see how we are impacting our users’ daily eating routines. We always find being as accommodating as possible to get people talking about the service is a great way to drive adoption within a company.

Key tip: Gather feedback from your team on what’s working and what isn’t, and how the wellness initiative you implement drives positive change. Something as simple as before, during, and after surveys can be invaluable in assessing qualitative feedback.

PRO INSIGHT: A big systematic review looked at 35 studies addressing nutrition interventions that had been running in workplaces for between 1 to 5 years. They found improved nutrition led to a 1-2% uplift in productivity (measured in sick days). If you think that the average working year is 260 days, 2% means 5 working days saved per employee due to nutrition reducing sick leave. That’s pretty powerful.

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