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Workplace Nutrition

Workplaces can be an ideal setting for promoting healthy eating. Employees spend an average of 60 per cent of their waking hours at work and eat at least one meal and snack during their workday. Workplaces can provide a variety of on-site opportunities to positively influence employee eating habits through the food choices available, the programs set in place by management and by the environment itself.

A healthy nutrition environment exists when a workplace consistently promotes healthy eating through words and actions. An effective program includes a comprehensive approach that uses a variety of strategies, including education, skill building, supportive environments and nutrition policies.

Video: Creating a Healthy Workplace Nutrition Environment

Getting Started

Step 1: Getting buy-in

Get management and employee support. Having Management play an active role during the introductory and implementation phases will help ensure adequate time and resources are allocated to achieve the proper organizational changes necessary to build a healthy workplace nutrition environment. It is also important to engage employees early on to build excitement and gain support for the upcoming changes.

Present the business case. Healthy eating can lower the risk of nutrition-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, obesity and other chronic conditions. Healthy eating also helps with overall health and well-being. The cost to the workplace for these conditions ranges from a few hundred dollars to several thousand per employee, per year. A general workplace nutrition program has the potential to return $3.27 per dollar invested in the program and provides benefits to both employees and employers.

Learn more about creating a business case for a workplace nutrition program.

Step 2: Planning for action

Customize your program. Congratulations! Now that you’ve gotten buy-in for a workplace nutrition program, you can start to customize a program that suits the needs and wants of your workplace.

Your first step towards creating a customized nutrition program for your organization is to complete an assessment with this healthy eating in the workplace checklist

Next, form a workplace wellness committee to lead these initiatives and increase your program’s likelihood of success. A committee should include employees from different areas of the company and representation from management. The committee can set priorities of action for your program by gathering information on what’s already being done and employees’ specific program interests.  

As well, you can collect information about employee interests through formal or informal discussion, a suggestion box, e-mail, or using a survey. Crowdsourcing will help guide you toward creating a customized program that suits the needs of everyone involved while making the organization as a whole feel that their needs, concerns and wants are being heard.

Organize program actions. The workplace wellness committee can develop an action plan for the priority areas determined from the assessment. Start with “small wins” to help gain momentum and ongoing support for future initiatives.

Step 3: Taking action

Implement the plan. It’s time to put the plan into action. Effective communication of the plan will help set your program up for success and get ongoing support from management and employees. Change can be hard, so it’s important to build awareness about the benefits of the change, how the change will occur and that it will provide more, healthier, choices.  

Evaluate the plan. An evaluation helps to show clear benefits to employees and can help get continued buy-in and support. Evaluations also provide an overview of your accomplishments and help guide future direction.

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Education and Skill Building

Nutrition education

A workplace nutrition program can provide opportunities for employees to learn about healthy eating, practice healthy eating skills and gain confidence to make informed decisions about the foods they eat.

Other resources:

UnlockFood.ca
Dietitians of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Diabetes Canada
Health Canada – Food and Nutrition
Education on Factors that Influence Eating Habits 
Credible Healthy Eating Education for Employees
Health Canada’s Health Promotion Calendar

Skill building

More information on incorporating skill building into your workplace nutrition program.

Find a dietitian

For more information on nutrition education geared towards decision-makers, or employee training and workshops, contact a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are regulated health professionals who provide quality nutrition care and credible nutrition information by translating the science into healthy eating information and advice. Look for nutrition professionals that have the RD credential. This means they are regulated by and accountable to the College of Dietitians of Ontario. To find out more about the difference between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist, visit www.dietitians.ca/thedifference

To find a dietitian:

Call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 to speak to a registered dietitian for free

Find a dietitian in your area on the Dietitians of Canada website

Some supermarkets offer services from a registered dietitian. Contact your local grocery store to find out if this is available.

For a more in-depth look at nutrition information, please visit our nutrition page.

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Supportive Environments

The physical environment

A supportive physical nutrition environment helps make the healthy choice the easy choice. Workplaces that have a supportive physical environment provide healthy food options to their employees and encourage employees to bring their own healthy lunch, snacks and beverages. 

Here are some examples of actions that promote a supportive physical environment in the workplace:

  • Display print resources or posters in the workplace
  • Provide a clean and inviting eating space with enough seating for staff to eat comfortably
  • Provide access to appropriate food storage and preparation equipment, like a refrigerator, toaster and microwave
  • Schedule appropriate breaks that provide employees with enough time to eat, and encourage staff to leave their work  stations for meals and snacks
  • Provide culturally appropriate foods and accommodate special dietary needs, for example, vegetarian diets or a dairy/food allergy options
  • Offer healthy foods at the same or reduced cost as other foods
  • Offer healthy foods in cafeterias, tuck shops, and vending machines
  • Offer healthy foods at your meetings and events
  • Promote the Good Food Box program
  • Have a food safe environment
    • A food safe environment protects the health and safety of employees by preventing food-borne illness. Visit food safety to find out more about making your workplace environment food safe.

The social environment

A supportive social environment means having an organizational culture that promotes healthy eating behaviours and encourages employees to pursue nutrition education while recognizing that there are many factors that affect and influence food intake and health. A supportive social environment doesn’t place the onus of responsibility on individuals to resist the environment in order to maintain good health and it encourages inclusiveness of all body types.

Here are some examples of actions that promote a supportive social environment in the workplace:

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Healthy Nutrition Policies and Guidelines

Healthy nutrition policies and guidelines are the most effective way to make your workplace nutrition program a success. They are enforceable, written statements that provide guidance on building and maintaining healthy physical and social nutrition environments.  They ensure that your workplace’s actions align with its healthy eating messaging.

To learn more about developing healthy nutrition policies and guidelines for your workplace, see these samples:

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