Choose to create a positive nutrition culture says Lauren Parsons

Have you ever wished you could improve your nutrition, feel better, work smarter, and positively influence your entire workplace?

The food that you and your colleagues consume has a huge impact on how you work and function. Nourishing yourself with whole, real foods is one of the best things you can do for your health and happiness.

As Michael Pollan says, ‘Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ Especially when you are busy with the high demands of work, ensuring you are well fueled affects how you perform. It helps you maintain energy, stay focused and even affects your mood.

The challenge is that sometimes the workplace isn’t conducive to great nutrition. The good news is that you can change this.

You are a leader

You’re the leader of your own life and everything you do influences those around you.

Think about the kinds of foods consumed at your office. Are healthy choices the norm or are you surrounded by processed foods, chips, and cake? We all know that processed foods aren’t great for our health. What you may not realize is how much they affect how you perform.

The two biggest food enemies of productivity, which also happen to be some of the most common cravings, are sugary and fatty foods. The quick pack of chocolate that you grab ends up making you feel more tired, creating an insulin spike, followed by a blood sugar low which causes your energy to crash. This jeopardizes your ability to work properly and affects your health.

We are what we repeatedly do, and workplace culture emerges over time.

Sometimes without realizing it we get swept away by it. When I was the HR Manager of two large fitness centers, we had a culture of bringing in baking on our birthdays. It was just expected, and it was a bit of fun, but we had over 120 staff which meant that two to three times a week there would be cake and nibbles in the staff room. Oh, the temptation!

What are the norms in your office?

The great thing is that whatever they are, you can change them. It all starts by being intentional and choosing to create a positive nutrition culture.

Quick tips to boost your nutrition at work

1. Prepare lunches in advance and take them with you. You could do this in bulk on a Sunday evening. Whether you make up a salad bar by prepping diced vegetables for several days ahead or make individual salads – in mason jars or other containers – by doing several at once you save both time and money.

2. Keep a delicious vinaigrette at work so you can easily whip up a flavorsome salad on the spot, simply by taking a few vegetables with you.

3. Try preparing cooked meals in advance and freeze them. A friend of mine would regularly roast a chicken and cook vegetables and store a stack of 12 lunch meals at a time. Invest in portion size containers and get into this habit once every two weeks and you won’t even have to think about lunch. If you want more variety, simply do a few different batches and create a library of meals in your freezer.

4. Plan leftovers from your evening meal (which is often planned out to be one of the most nutritious of the day), this way you have an instant lunch and lots of variety.

5. Have non-perishable lunch items on hand at the office. This could be canned fish, beans or legumes, a flavored grain mix you can easily cook through with boiling water, nuts and seeds or perhaps some frozen meals stored at work. It’s handy to have something on hand for yourself or perhaps a colleague.

6. Make nutritious homemade snacks for mid-morning/afternoon and again use your freezer to store them so you can easily grab one or two each day. They will be defrosted in time to have them as a snack later.

7. Get three work colleagues together and pick one day each a week to bring in a shared lunch for the four of you Monday to Thursday, with Fridays as the day off/flexible day. This way you only have to plan and create a meal once a week and you have a new and different lunch provided on the other days.

It can be an amazing way to connect with your workmates and share new ideas and flavors. Social connection is one of the foundations of wellbeing, so this has wider-reaching benefits than just the food itself and it’s fun seeing what people come up with – from soups and salads, to wraps and quiches, to shared meals of all kinds.

How you eat counts too

1. Taking a break away from your desk is great to clear your mind, makes you feel more refreshed and helps you re-focus.

2. Sitting and eating mindfully every time you eat is one of the best food habits you can get into. Take time to really savor your food, focusing on the smell, texture and flavor of each mouthful. This engages the satiety center in your brain making you feel more satisfied.

3. Avoid multi-tasking eating with work. Even if it’s not your current norm, or on days when you feel overly busy – force yourself to take a break. Giving your mind time to wander is vital for problem solving as it sparks creativity and makes you more innovative, effective and better at problem solving.

4. If possible, head outdoors to eat your lunch – getting sunlight into the retina of your eyes helps you get better sleep – another foundation of wellbeing.

Steps your organization can take

1. Create appealing spaces to relax and consume food. Think about color choices and make staff rooms positive, vibrant colors. Set them up to be clutter-free, with comfortable relaxing spaces that make people feel good.

2. Ensure there is ample space for staff to store food, especially refrigerator space so team members can bring salads, smoothies and whole foods and store them safely.

3. Have a well-equipped staff room kitchen to make it easy to prepare simple meals at work. Plenty of chopping boards, sharp knives and ample bench space will make salad preparation a breeze. Quality matching plates and cutlery make people feel valued.

4. Rather than encouraging people to bring in high-sugar baking for special occasions, praise staff for coming up with creative whole food options for shared lunches/morning teas.

5. Have a fruit bowl available for staff, or even in a public space for both staff and clients. Have a system to keep it well stocked.

6. Encourage staff with excess fresh produce from their gardens to bring it in to be shared. Create a space such as a basket with paper bags where people can bring in things to share.

7. Always provide nutritious options at staff functions and meetings. Have a range of dips with vegetable sticks, wholesome crackers, fresh fruit, wholefood recipes, sushi, salad items, nuts etc., so your staff can fire on all cylinders.

8. Provide easily accessible chilled filtered water and herbal teas to encourage your staff to stay well hydrated.

Once you start creating this positive food culture in your workplace, no one on your team is going to want to go back to the foods that made them feel so tired and unproductive!

Do you want additional tips that will help you develop a positive workplace culture? Get a complimentary copy of Live Well, Work Well at and learn how to design a workplace that is happier, healthier, and more productive.

Lauren Parsons is a New Zealand-based, award-winning Wellbeing Specialist who believes that everyone deserves to thrive. She is passionate about equipping and inspiring people to truly boost their health and happiness. With over 20 years’ experience in ... (Read More)

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