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Fit to eat

Organisations are seeking ways to improve the health, wellbeing and performance of their staff. Julia Edmonds, managing director at Lexington Catering, argues that providing healthy food in the workplace is a great way to do it

An unhealthy diet not only increases the risk of a range of chronic diseases, it has a huge impact on performance. Nutrition is a key factor in the regime of elite athletes, and it’s no different for those of us in the non-sporting world – what we eat and drink affects our mental and physical health.

The spread of ‘clean eating’ restaurants and cafés are evidence of people’s growing realisation of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Many of us spend a large part of our day at work and most of what we consume during the day is eaten in the workplace. This means employers have a huge opportunity as well as a responsibility to help improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce through such means as vending machines, staff restaurants, workplace catering and the facilities provided to store food and drink.

It’s clear that employers need to become more proactive in catering to the health and wellbeing of their people. Earlier this year the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published a report, ‘Growing the health and wellbeing agenda: From first steps to full potential’, which shows the majority of employers are still too reactive in their approach. It’s easier to respond to problems than innovate to improve health and wellbeing.

Professor Cary Cooper, CIPD president, said: “The way we manage people and create cultures that enhance wellbeing are now bottom line issues. It’s high time business leaders recognise this and create cultures where wellbeing is centre stage and people are happy, healthy and committed to achieving organisational success.”

Educating employees about healthy eating and providing healthy food options at work is an excellent start. Indeed, improving the food offer is becoming integral to organisations’ attempts to create great places to work.

The importance of nutritious food in workplaces is reflected in the government’s drive to reduce obesity and promote healthy eating. The Department of Health has introduced a number of initiatives ranging from strict rules around labelling to targets for reducing salt and sugar in food. But while these targets are important, they will not by themselves bring about real change. It’s about creating a
healthy eating culture – and facilities teams have a major role to play in making sure employees and visitors in their buildings have access to healthy food and drink.

Providing healthy options is all very well, but they are useless if nobody chooses them. It’s important to understand what customers actually want to eat. Our research into eating habits and changing trends has highlighted some key themes.

There is a continuing increase in the number of people choosing to eat out. More and more people are buying meals and snacks outside the home. Breakfast is becoming more important; research by market information group NPD suggests there has been a huge rise in the number of people grabbing breakfast, their first meal of the day, out of the house.

A grazing culture is developing, with people tending to snack throughout the day rather than sit down to big meals. It’s interesting that some people are trying to incorporate healthy eating into their lifestyle by ‘eating clean’ from Monday to Friday so they can justify letting their hair down at the weekend or dining out with friends and family.

Another noticeable trend is that more people, not just vegetarians, are opting for meat-free options. With all the information available about ingredients and nutritional content, consumers are much better informed about which foods are going to help them meet their health objectives. This in turn is leading to more demand for ‘free from’ products.

The millennial generation is set to dominate the workforce a decade from now, so understanding their tastes and habits is essential. Millennials are heavily into grazing, and they won’t want to compromise on quality and flavour. A research report from contract caterer Elior, ‘The Millennial Eater’, reports over two-fifths of millennials saying that quality and taste are the most important things when choosing lunch.

About Sarah OBeirne


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