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.
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.
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.
Education and Skill Building
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.
- Factsheets and e-newsletters
- Table toppers, point-of-purchase information, or pay stub/cheque inserts
- Promote Nutrition Month during the month of March
- E-mail blasts with any of the resources above
Dietitians of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Health Canada – Food and Nutrition
Education on Factors that Influence Eating Habits
Health Canada’s Health Promotion Calendar
- Promote participation in and/or start a community garden
- Make your workplace green with a company compost and green bin
- Offer or promote healthy cooking classes
- Promote healthy eating apps and online tools
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. Find out more about the difference between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist
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.
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:
- Address weight bias as part of harassment prevention policies
- Positively portray individuals of all body sizes in company documents and resources
- Avoid focusing on weight
- Avoid using food as an incentive or reward
- Use fundraising tools other than food or use healthy food options
- Include counselling from a registered dietitians as part of the workplace health benefits
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:
- Healthy Eating Workplace Guidelines
- Healthy meetings and events in the workplace policy
- Healthy celebrations in the workplace policy
- Healthy vending machine in the workplace policy. You can use this sample survey to assess employee’s healthy vending machine food preferences
- Food as an incentive in the workplace policy
- Food as a reward in the workplace policy
- Healthy fundraising in the workplace policy
- Healthy retail settings in the workplace policy