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Why should a workplace be concerned about healthy eating?

Together - healthy eating and active living - combined with a positive outlook can lead to:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer.
  • Elevated mood, energy and self-esteem.
  • Reduced anxiety and stress.
  • Opportunities to spend enjoyable time with family and friends.

How do you start a 'healthy eating' program?

While it's most important for an employer to provide a safe and healthy workplace, it's also important to encourage healthy lifestyles among their employees. Healthy eating programs can be a great first step. They can bring lots of people together to learn how to improve their health both at work and at home. As always, these programs should be part of a complete workplace health program and should not take resources or attention away from workplace hazards that may be present.

Before you start:

No matter how much you plan or make people aware, healthy eating programs should be voluntary - not everyone will join or be interested. Survey employees to help you to decide what types and levels of programs to offer.

When planning a health program, be sure you know the interests of your audience. In this case:

  • Know why people are interested in a healthy eating program. Are participants looking for general nutrition information, or more specific programs such as heart health?
  • Be sure to consider what types of programs have been offered in the past. Which programs worked? Which did not?
  • Know exactly who your target audience is.
  • Plan when will the program be offered (seasonal, or all year)
  • State who people can go to if they have individual questions or want more help

What should a healthy eating program focus on?

Workplaces that are going to start a healthy eating program should focus on the main messages from the Canada's Food Guide. They should also make sure that wherever their employees get their food - whether it's vending machines, canteens, or cafeterias - offer some healthier food choices.

Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide suggest:

  • Eat the recommended types and amounts of food each day.
  • Eat at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day.
  • Have vegetables and fruit more often than juice.
  • Make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day.
  • Drink skim, 1% or 2% milk each day.
  • Have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils, and tofu often.
  • Eat at least two Food Guide servings of fish each week.
  • Include a small amount of unsaturated fat each day.
  • Be active every day.
  • Satisfy your thirst with water.

When selecting any item (vegetables, fruit, grain, milk, meat/alternatives, or beverages), select those prepared with little or no added fat, sugar or salt.


What are sample topics for a workplace healthy eating program?

When offering nutrition information at the workplace, be sure to offer a wide range of options. Topics for programs may include:

  • Understanding the basics.
  • Weight management and body image.
  • Fad diets.
  • Fats and cholesterol.
  • Salt reduction.
  • Planning balanced meals for the whole family.
  • Aging well.
  • Making smart choices while grocery shopping and reading food labels.
  • Programs for specific health conditions (diabetes, heart conditions, etc.).
  • Healthy eating on the run.
  • Vegetarian eating.

Some more specific things you can do with a workplace healthy eating program are:

  • Offer material for employees to take home to help them make healthier choices when planning meals. For example:
    • Provide a sample shopping list and a plan for the week's meals you can make from that list.
    • Have handouts of the Canada's Food Guide.
  • Provide information about how to make healthier food choices when shopping, ordering in restaurants, etc.
  • Teach people how to read and understand food labels.
  • Provide cooking demonstrations, or cooking tips, for making healthy foods.
  • Post a list of local restaurants that offer balanced food menus.
  • Invite a speaker to a 'lunch-n-learn' session.
  • Have "theme" weeks or months.
  • Stock vending machines with healthier options.
  • Arrange for the cafeteria to offer a range of healthy food choices for every meal.
  • Have a refrigerator and microwave at work so people can bring healthy lunches from home.
  • When lunches or drinks are provided at meetings, be sure to provide healthy choices.
  • Arrange for a group to go to a weight management program together, or have the program come to your office at a convenient time.
  • Give people a way to share healthy recipes with each other, by using Intranet, e-mail, or posters.
  • Provide information about how to use low-fat ingredients in favourite recipes.
  • Organize a potluck lunch at work featuring healthy food choices. Try a multicultural day.
  • Offer incentives, if people are interested.
  • Offer a new tip or goal for each week, such as:
    • I will eat 7 fruits or vegetables each day.
    • I will eat breakfast every morning.
    • I will have an extra piece of fruit every day.

Does the workplace influence how people eat?

Yes. Always remember that the workplace environment influences the health of its employees. For example, if a healthy eating program is offered, remember to look at where the employees eat their lunch. A safe and clean eating area is a requirement under most occupational health and safety laws. Beyond this, it is important to look at what is offered at vending machines and staff cafeterias. If you don't look at the larger picture and see how the way the workplace itself influences the eating patterns of the employees, the program will often not work very well.

Be sure the workplace supports healthy eating programs by providing time for employees to go to information sessions, offering appropriate foods in the cafeteria and vending machines, or by having refrigerators and microwaves so that meals can be stored and prepared appropriately.


What are some tips for snacks to keep at work?

Store in your desk or lockerStore in the lunchroom fridgeOn the Road
  • Crackers
  • Dried fruit / Canned fruit
  • Juice box
  • Rice cakes
  • Cereal
  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned fish
  • Bagels / Bread
  • Bran muffins
  • Yoghurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Fresh fruit
  • Raw vegetables
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Salad greens
  • Baby carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Bagel bits
  • Rice cakes
  • Apples
  • Crackers
  • Pretzels

(Adapted from the article Plan well. Dietitians of Canada.)


How can meetings and other work functions help employees gain healthy eating habits?

SituationTry to LimitTry Instead
Meetings
  • Donuts
  • Large muffins
  • Cookies
  • Tea and coffee with cream
  • Small muffins
  • Bagels
  • Scones
  • Tea biscuits
  • Fresh fruit
  • Juices / Water
  • Milk
Vending machines / Catering Trucks
  • Danish
  • Chocolate bars
  • French fries
  • Pop
  • Chips
  • Juices / Water
  • Pretzels
  • Sandwiches
  • Milk
  • Soup
  • Fruit
  • Cereal boxes
  • Yoghurt
  • Whole grain breads
Hectic Schedule / Long Hours
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Coffee with cream
  • Hot dogs
  • Pizza with double cheese and pepperoni
  • Fresh fruit
  • Muffins
  • Vegetable sticks
  • Salads with lower-fat dressing
  • Lean sliced meats
  • Milk
  • Yoghurt
On the road / Lunch Meetings
  • Chips
  • Fried foods
  • Large burgers
  • Salads loaded with dressing
  • Small plain burgers
  • Bagels
  • Cereal bars
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Juice / Water
  • Turkey sandwiches
  • Pizza with ham and vegetables

(Source: Dieticians of Canada)


Do some jobs have specific nutrition concerns?

In most cases, no. Most jobs today do not require the employee to eat any additional calories to compensate for physical activity at work. The exception may be very physical work such as people who lift or carry heavy loads most of the day, such as shovelling, sawing trees by hand, farm work, etc. If you have concerns about meeting your nutritional needs, ask a dietitian or your family doctor for advice.


Should a workplace offer salt and fluid supplements?

A person working at a high pace or in a very hot environment loses water and salt through sweat. This loss should be made up by having the worker consume more water and salt. Fluid intake should equal fluid loss; in other words, what goes out must come in. On average, about one litre of water each hour may be required to replace the fluid loss. Plenty of cool (10-15°C) drinking water should be available on the job site and workers should be encouraged to drink water every 15 to 20 minutes even if they do not feel thirsty.

Many people opt for sport drinks, fruit juice, etc. Drinks specially designed to replace body fluids and electrolytes may be taken but for most people, they should be used in moderation. They may be of benefit for workers who have very physically active occupations but keep in mind they may add unnecessary sugar or salt to your diet. Fruit juice or sport and electrolyte drinks, diluted to half the strength with water, is an option. Drinks with alcohol or caffeine should never be taken, as they dehydrate the body. For most people, water is the most efficient fluid for re-hydration.

A worker used to, or acclimatized to, lifting heavy loads or working in the heat sweats more "efficiently" - they sweat sooner and sweat more, but they lose less salt in their sweat than labourers who are not used to such work. For this reason, the salt in a normal diet is usually enough to maintain the electrolyte balance - and keep the body working well. For unacclimatized workers who are not used to manual labour or working in the heat, and who will therefore lose more salt in their sweat, they may wish to use extra salt in food. Salt tablets are not a good idea, however, because the salt does not enter the body system as fast as water or other fluids. Too much salt can cause higher body temperatures and can also make someone feel thirsty or sick. Workers on salt-restricted diets should talk to their doctor about how much salt they need for their job.


Are there some fluids that aren't good for drinking in hot environments?

Some drinks can cause more urine output than the amount of fluid consumed: basically, more comes out than what goes in. So if you want to stay healthy, comfortable, and hydrated in hot environments, avoid or limit caffeinated drinks such as coffee and some sodas.


Where can I get more information about healthy eating?

This document has covered some of the basics of a healthy eating program. For more information you may wish to contact one of the following:

Health Canada: The Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion - serves as a focal point for nutrition and has information on the following topics:

  • Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating
  • Dietary Reference Intakes
  • Nutrition Labelling
  • Vitality
  • Healthy Weights

The Dietitians of Canada

(Adapted from: Workplace Health and Wellness Guide. CCOHS)

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Document last updated on September 3, 2008

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