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Eat Healthy at Work

July 2007

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Many American workers consume a significant portion of their food away from home. Foods consumed at cafeterias, from vending machines, and in public food-service establishments during lunch hours and breaks are often high in hidden calories and fat and often not as nutritious as foods prepared at home. In general, the diet of Americans exceeds our recommended needs for saturated fat, trans-fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Poor food selection and consumption of foods high in fat, salt, and sugar cost employers an estimated $9.3 billion in lost productivity in 1995. A poor diet is an underlying factor in the development of conditions such as heart disease, some cancers, stroke, diabetes, overweight, and obesity. Many workers are suffering from chronic illnesses and conditions that a change in diet and added activity would improve or prevent. Taking “small steps” to eat healthier meals and snacks in the work place can help them continue to consume a more nutritious/low calorie diet all day long.

Workplace foods need to include lots of lean protein and plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains, along with 1% or fat-free dairy products, so that workers have a variety of low calorie, fresh foods available daily. Minimal fried and high fat foods will also help to reduce the health risk for obesity and disease along with steering workers toward eating a healthier diet.

Here are some suggestions to eat healthy at work:

  • Eat fat-free, low-fat, or low-calorie foods and beverages. Include fat-free or low-fat dressings or toppings such as salsa, low-fat yogurt dressing, sweet mustard; low-fat or calorie desserts such as angel food cake; low-fat or skim milk, low-fat yogurt or cheeses; and lean meats, poultry or fish, cooked and dried beans, peas and lentils.
  • Eat smaller food portions such as mini-muffins or mini-bagels and 1-inch low-fat cheese squares.
  • Eat foods that are low in salt and sodium, such as unsalted pretzels, popcorn, or baked chips; grilled or roasted entrees; and entrees cooked with spices and herbs instead of salt.
  • Eat foods and beverages low in added sugars. You could serve unsweetened cereals, fruit spreads, cereal bars, water, 100% fruit juices, and regular and decaffeinated coffee or tea.
  • Eat a variety of grains—especially whole-grain foods—and fruits and vegetables. Examples include fresh fruit and salads; fresh and cooked vegetables; whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereals; muffins, fruit breads, or granola bars.

Additional information about eating healthy foods in public places is available in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health publication Guidelines for Offering Healthy Foods at Meetings, Seminars, and Catered Events.