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Nutrition education makes eating healthy at work easy

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The average American spends close to 2,000 hours at work each year. That’s around 250 lunches eaten at desks or at the nearest fast food outlet, or maybe skipped altogether under a deadline crunch. In other words, it’s a lot of opportunities for employees to practice poor nutrition, and that’s bad news for employees and employers alike.

Poor nutrition is a serious issue in the workplace. Failing to eat right can sap employees' energy, spoil their mood, and make them less productive. Lost productivity related to illness costs American businesses $260 billion each year, and much of that can be attributed to how we choose to fuel our bodies. That’s a pretty serious incentive for employers to help employees embrace better nutrition habits.

The good news is, there are some easy ways to address the challenge of improving employee nutrition. Providing basic nutrition information is one simple way to educate employees who don’t know a trans-fat from a carbohydrate and help them get used to fueling their bodies the right way. That instruction doesn’t have to dig into the finer details of human physiology. The basics are simple: the colorful fruits and vegetables on the perimeter of the grocery store are healthier than the processed foods in the center aisles.

Want to provide more guidance than that? Consider creating shopping lists with healthy snack and meal ideas to steer employees in the right direction.

Another important step employers can take is to make it as easy as possible for employees to make the healthy choice when mealtime arrives. Ditch the candy bars in office vending machines and replace them with more nutritious options, get rid of donuts at employee meetings, and give employees the resources they need to eat better. Not every office can offer a full kitchen for preparing lunch, but most at least have a microwave in a break room. If you do, it’s a good idea to also offer a refrigerator and utensils so employees can store fresh foods and not rely on eating out and processed foods every day.

Cultivate cooking skills
One of the easiest ways to ensure employees have nutritious leftovers available for lunch is to help them make healthy meals in the first place. Cooking can be intimidating for anyone who lacks experience making healthy, flavorful meals. Even if you know your way around a chef’s knife, it can be easy to fall into a rut, cooking the same familiar recipes over and over again.

The simple fact is, in a world where a burger from your favorite restaurant is just an app order away, people don’t cook like they used to. Only 45% of people 18 to 24 and 64% of those 25 to 34 consider themselves somewhat good at cooking, and about 53% of millennials say they eat at a restaurant at least once a week, compared with 43% of Generation X. Fewer than 60% of meals are made at home today, down from 70% 30 years ago.

That doesn’t mean cooking is entirely off the table, though. It turns out, people want to cook at home. In fact, nearly 70% say they enjoy cooking for others. The problem is, many feel inadequate in the kitchen, so help from employers could go a long way toward improving employee nutrition.

How can employers put employees on the right path? Here are a few easy tips.

Just add inspiration. One of the biggest barriers to cooking at home is time. Women today spend less than an hour a day preparing meals, compared to nearly two hours in 1965. Men spend even less time in the kitchen at just 20 minutes a day. However, cooking good food doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and employers can help get that message across by providing access to good cooking instruction and healthy meal ideas. Videos from experienced, engaging nutrition professionals featuring easy, nutritious recipes for meals and snacks are an effective tool to educate viewers about the best ways to fuel their bodies, and get employees excited about planning and preparing their own meals.

A recipe for success. Another barrier between employees and success in the kitchen is the intimidation factor. Many people simply don’t know how to navigate their way through the kitchen, whether they lack basic cooking skills, struggle with knife skills, or aren’t sure or how to flavor food with natural spices. Providing opportunities for employees to learn these skills can help them feel more confident in the kitchen and encourage them to experiment with healthy recipes and cook meals at home more often.

Once employees have a little education under their belt, try collecting healthy recipes from your employees to make a company e-cookbook for employees to print at their leisure. Employees get the thrill of sharing one of their creations, and their co-workers know they’re getting content from someone they trust.

Celebrate culinary creations. Once employees have had some time to hone their culinary chops, have a little fun with it and host an office potluck. No bags of chips or grocery store veggie platters allowed. Encourage employees to bring their favorite healthy dishes or snacks. Employees may even discover a new favorite.

Eating unhealthy food is easier than ever. From fast food to frozen meals to delivery services, nutrient-poor food is all around. Helping employees break through the junk food clutter with good nutrition education and skills will pay off in the form of reduced health costs and increased productivity and will be worth the effort.

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