Does this sound familiar? You walk into your organization’s onsite cafeteria and the first thing you see is the daily special. It’s a Giant Spicy Beef Burrito topped with Monterey Jack Cheese and served with chips and a medium drink for $5.99.
As a member of your wellness committee you think about the recent results of your needs and interest survey. Both your top health risks and top employee wellness related interests include diet-related preventable chronic diseases.
This is not surprising because nearly half of American adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases and about two-thirds are overweight or obese.1 In Massachusetts, that number is slightly less with almost 60% of the population overweight or obese.2
Let’s say the top health risk in your organization is overweight and obesity. Conveniently, it is also the top interest. So now you have a goal to support employees in their efforts to manage weight with access to healthy food choices at the worksite. This scenario is ideal for the development of food and nutrition policies for your workplace.
Food and nutrition policies define healthful food options; set expectations for the availability of healthful options and ultimately change the food culture by making new norms. The goal is to make healthful choices the easy and expected choices at your worksite.
Your first step is to define healthful food options and it’s important to use both nutrient and ingredient standards. For example, healthful beverages might include chilled, tap or plain sparkling water, 100% vegetable juice with 140 milligrams of sodium or less per 8 oz. serving, plain nonfat milk, regular and decaffeinated coffee, regular, decaffeinated and herbal tea. Look to existing resources such as the Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending to help set your standards for beverages, snacks and meals.3
Next you set expectations for availability by thinking about where and when food is offered at your organization. Your onsite cafeteria, vending machines, break rooms, catered meetings and company events are a few examples. You might subsidize the healthful food items served in your company cafeteria to make them more accessible and attractive. Consider setting a requirement for a certain percentage of healthful snack options in your onsite vending machines. Lastly think about developing catering and special event policies. For example, if your organization is paying for the company picnic, require that a certain percentage of the food and beverages served meet your healthful definitions.
Ultimately, your goal is to slowly and methodically change the food culture at your worksite. Foods and beverages that meet your standards should be prevalent throughout your workplace, from your onsite cafeteria to your vending banks to your break rooms. Employees are onboard because you’ve addressed their needs and interests whenever food is served at work. And the next time you venture to your onsite cafeteria, you have the option of choosing a different special of the day, Grilled Local Veggie Whole Wheat Burrito served with a fresh fruit cup and a medium unsweetened iced tea. Imagine!