7 Low-Budget Hacks to Encourage Healthier Food Choices at Work

Flickr Creative Commons, JD Hancock

Flickr Creative Commons, JD Hancock

Many companies have been snapping up the latest wearables and platforms in the name of corporate wellness. While the efforts are admirable and have good intention behind them, it’s important to give thought to whether or not these point solutions are being launched within an actual culture of health within the workplace. According to a survey done by AON Hewitt, employees in companies with strong cultures of health, 75% feel they have control over their health, with 77% having participated in a wellness program.

Consider the common areas within a workplace – namely, the cafeteria and break rooms. These places are not only a central hub for chit chat and down time, but they’re a welcome pause in the day, a place to get nourishment, and refresh haven before tackling a new project.

With these communal, high traffic areas in mind, it’s time to ask a few questions:

  1. Are you giving employees true opportunities to make healthy choices?
  2. Are there any overlooked areas you’re making it tougher for employees to make healthy choices?
  3. Does your on-site action and messaging match the efforts and investment made?

The reality is that you don’t have to do a complete, expensive overhaul of your cafeterias and breakrooms to start seeing change. And you don’t have even have to tell employees what to do. Try taking a page from some of the work being done to encourage healthier eating in students and one of silicon valley’s most famous cafeterias.

7 Low-Budget Hacks to Encourage Healthier Food Choices at Work

1. Take Pride in Presentation

Instead of keeping apples and bananas in a case or splayed out on a tray, what about keeping them in a bowl? Cornell researcher Brian Wansink bought an inexpensive lamp from a department store, and used it to shine light on the wire bowl holding the fruit. The result? Fruit sales went up 54% by the end of the school week.

2. Learn the Location

The first thing seen is usually the first thing that’s grabbed. Google was placed in the spotlight for strategically moving their salad bar to be front and center, visible when you first walk into the cafeteria. In the same fashion, consider swapping some items around and testing what works. You can even try placing healthier items in a high traffic area that is already somewhere the employee travels in their daily path, such as the register or where the napkins are.

3. Re-think Visibility and Accessibility

Part of encouraging healthier choices is about not setting down hard rules of what should and shouldn’t be done. Nobody likes to be told what to do. But with tweaks to the visibility and accessibility of unhealthier items, such as candy, juice and soda, you can discourage the unhealthy choice, or at least encourage mindfulness around that choice. Consider Google’s choice to move the M&M’s from the clear, easy to access dispensers, to opaque plastic jars. According to ABC News reports, in the seven weeks after the candies were no longer visible, New York employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories in M&M’s. Cornell University’s Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (B.E.N.) pushed the chocolate milk to the back of the cold cabinet, resulting in an increase of regular milk purchase by 46%.

4. Bundle Healthy Options

For cafeterias, consider pairing one item with a healthy option. Rather than a sandwich always coming with chips, make it an option to add a piece of fruit or small salad, rather than maintain selling them a la carte. Give them the option.

5. Offer Trays

According to Kathryn Hoy, B.E.N.’s manager, eliminating trays reduced the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that people chose because of the jugging factor. “When we removed the tray, we found people were more likely to grab those convenient foods that are pre-packaged.”

6. Color-code It

Visual cues with colors are our specialty – it’s how we inform WellnessFX members of their risk ranges on their biomarkers. Similarly, consider a similar system for labeling items in the cafeteria, or on the tongs in the salad bar. Simple green-yellow-red coding can give context and direction quickly, so employees can make informed, healthier choices.

7. Get Leadership Involved

Leadership involvement is essential to a successful culture of health. Their actions and participation communicate the value of the program to the entire team. Corporate wellness platform Limeade doesn’t hesitate to discuss this point as a key strategy for building an effective culture of health. “Your C-Suite leaders need to be accessible to employees and visibly show their support in order to enforce the rationale and commitment to the program. In doing so, they need to show that they care about health – both their own AND that of their team….The emotional impact of a leader who’s passionate about well-being is far more motivating than a leader whose primary concern is costs. Your executives can convey this by sharing personal stories, and by sponsoring and participating in events and challenges.

3 Ways WellnessFX Can Help

  1. For more blog posts on a healthier workplace, check out How to Create a Culture of Health at Work, our 6 Tips to Incorporate Volunteerism in the Workplace, and 11 Healthy Foods to Add to Your Office Kitchen (and a Peek into Our Own Fridge).
  2. If you’re in Silicon Valley, we’ll be at the upcoming 2015 Workplace Wellness Summit on June 12th. Ping us on twitter if you’re attending, too.
  3. Want to learn more about our work with employers and their corporate wellness programs?

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.