Start changing the way your employees think about food

Promoting healthy eating in the workplace is part of any corporate wellness program — and lunch-and-learns can be a component of that — but let’s face it, giving up an hour of your own time for a lecture on fiber? That’s a tough sell.

“Many people don’t learn their best in that type of environment, and they don’t want to be preached to,” says Bob Calvin, director of performance nutrition at EXOS. “Plus, it’s minimal impact. At the most it’s an hour once a week or month, whereas with other methods you can target people across platforms and environments and have a daily interaction.”

If you’re trying to spice up your workplace nutrition program, try these creative ideas for lunch-and-learns and beyond.

Cooking demos provide the opportunity to touch and taste new, healthy options.

1. Build your own experience.

Instead of lecturing about the benefits of a healthy diet, bring different food options and do a cooking demo. “If you want to shift eating behavior, encourage people to touch and taste the various options,” says Karla Wright, senior director of nutrition at EXOS. “Maybe it’s playing with different bowl-style meals so they can create their own combination of what they like. You have to meet them where they are and then work on simple habit upgrades. Changing the way people think about food will help them make better choices.”

2. Take advantage of existing communities.

Getting lectured about healthy eating? Not so fun. “Targeting the audience — maybe only the softball team or a specific department is invited — and having a discussion around a topic, such as fueling performance with healthy picks, can make lunch-and-learns more palatable,” Wright says. Tying it to an event is always good, too. Is that softball team heading to the playoffs? Perfect timing to make snack packs as a group.

3. Aim for short, captivating experiences.

Employees simply may not want to dedicate 45 minutes of their free time to education. Instead, try “snack-and-learns” for an opportunity for some sneaky dietary tips. You can even pair them with movement opportunities like stretching and snacking. And simple signage in the break area that reinforces “perfect pairings” — combining a fruit or veggie with high quality protein or fat —  can prompt people to make healthier choices, says Wright.

The more people are exposed to information throughout the day, the more messages are likely to take root.

4. Make repetition surprising.

You have a somewhat captive audience for 40-plus hours a week. Instead of relegating nutrition messaging to the lunch hour, integrate it into the workday and at different locations. “It could be that the café food menus have an element of education to them or there’s information in the bathroom or gym,” Calvin says. “The more people are exposed to information throughout the day, the more messages are likely to take root.” Other strategic placement spots include the break room, stairwells, elevators, email newsletters, and even the floor (using stickers designed to be walked on) leading to the cafeteria, Wright suggests.

Use cafe signage or menus to sneak in tips for healthier choices.

5. Change up the wording.

Many people don’t understand what terms like carbs, protein, and fat mean, so making meaningful dietary changes around them can be difficult. “Changing how food is referenced in nutrition education can help people think about it in a new way,” says Calvin, who works with an athletic population. He suggests referring to macronutrients and food groups based on their functions, such as calling carbs “fuelers,” proteins “builders,” fats “protectors,” and veggies “preventers.” Why? “Tying together their functions with the type of food resonates better with some people,” he says.

Use visually appealing imagery and nutrition tips to complement cafe signage.

It’s always better to master one habit than attempting to tackle 10 new ones at a time.

Combining movement with nutrition education can help highlight the importance of both.

6. Relate nutrition to what people already know.

Many people are more familiar with the fundamental types of exercise — cardio, resistance training, flexibility work, recovery — than the essentials of good nutrition. “Equating food to something they’re interested in and know more about can help drive home the message,” Calvin says. “I tell people to build their meals in the same order that they build their workout.” Start with your warmup — a good foundation of veggies on your plate. “Then we move into skill work or lifting, which equates to protein next. Then we do some Energy Systems Development, which is carbs. Finally, we finish with a little recovery work and maybe some foam rolling, which is protective. Those are your fats,” he explains.

7. Focus on one topic at a time.

It’s always better to master one habit than attempting to tackle 10 new ones at a time. Whatever aspect of nutrition you’re pushing during a certain week or month — portion control, eating fiber at every meal, choosing high-quality lean proteins, eating more plant-based foods — reinforce that across platforms. That way, all the education hits the same note instead of bombarding employees with a variety of different messages, which might feel overwhelming.

About the Author

Janet Lee

Janet Lee, L.Ac., DACM, is a health journalist whose work has appeared in Self, Shape, Real Simple, Consumer Reports, SKI, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.

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