Everyone knows the way to a person’s heart, but who knew the way to attract employees and keep them healthy is also through their stomach? With the relationship between and diet and health so closely related and well known today, the typical doughnuts at meetings and pizza and cookies at the office may not cut it anymore.
So many people today are proactively using a variety of eating styles and dietary restrictions to address their individual health problems. In a survey I did of such individuals for my book Change BITES, almost 75% reported that their health problem could become serious if not addressed by diet changes. Those same people indicated that the number one reason they had difficulty staying on track was because the right foods weren’t available or cooked properly. With health care costs increasing for employers each year and with diet as a major root cause, companies need to take a more active role in supporting employees in their diet preferences.
Access to healthier food options such as vegan, keto, low-carb or gluten-free not only shows support for employees’ individual health goals, but can also help attract and retain new employees. Healthier employees can also lower absenteeism and keep health insurance costs in check. Providing easy access to healthy meals also takes an enormous “weight” off employees’ shoulders and allows them to focus on more value-added tasks.
Here are a few ideas to help employees make better dietary choices and to support them in their programs:
1. Provide access to meals that cater to a variety of eating styles and dietary restrictions — Employees are grateful for healthy meals that are complimentary, subsidized or simply accessible to them. Daily offerings of fresh, quality foods aren’t restricted to large corporations. Smaller firms can provide a few breakfast items such as oatmeal cups, hard boiled eggs or fresh fruit. Contract with a local caterer to offer simple lunches such as grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, grain or bean salads and vegetarian chili.
2. Host wellness education and cooking sessions to improve knowledge and skills —Foods prepared at home are less likely to be loaded with salt, fat and sugar so the more employees develop basic cooking skills, the easier and more likely they are to prepare healthy meals at home. Invite a local chef or cooking school student into the office over lunch one day and watch employee’s eyes light up and engage in conversation with co-workers. Invite a health coach to conduct a session on a variety of health topics and use it as another way to provide dietary education and bring employees together.
3. Partner with local restaurants and organic eateries that provide healthy options and reward employees with discounts and gift certificates — There are so many new restaurants, take-out meal services and organic markets popping up in cities across the country. Establish partnerships with those jay provide meals with simple, whole foods and cater to specific eating styles. Use discount coupons and gift certificates to motivate employees or reward them for a job well-done.
4. Sponsor eating clubs — Having a tribe of people who share the same eating style or wellness goals is a huge recipe for success. Offer to sponsor a Keto club, vegan group or whatever is most popular in the office. Having the ability to share in the challenges and lessons learned from others who simply “get it” can make all the difference in the world. Treat the group to a special snack box that is delivered each month and caters to their food plan. Set-up a Facebook group or discussion forum for members of all groups to share knowledge and best practices.
5. Provide access to healthy “meals to go” for busy employees working through lunch or late at night — For those days when people must stay late or work through lunch instead of ordering in pizza, provide healthier choices. At other times, bring in a few extra lunches for employees to grab and go during busy times. They can use the time saved to take a quick walk or download a meditation app for a few minutes to relax and decompress. Easy access to a meal or snack reduces the chance of grabbing highly processed, high-sugar junk food which often leads to the afternoon crash.
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6. Encourage using meal-prep kits for fast, healthy cooking at home — Partner with meal-kit delivery services offering employees discounted delivery at home or on-site pick up to help them stay on track with their food plan. Grabbing a meal kit on the way home from the office is not only a time-saver but also great way to get the whole family involved in the cooking process at home.
Some private schools and colleges are already using food and wellness as a competitive edge. This is evident as health-conscious parents tour kindergartens and colleges alike closely assessing the quality of food as an important criterion for selection. High school seniors have even been known to take colleges off their list because they were known for having terrible food.
Employee wellness isn’t just an HR issue, it’s a business issue with significant impacts on costs, productivity and retention. If the way to an employee’s heart (in body and mind) is in fact through their stomach, we better get cooking.