By Chef Daniel Green HR Management & Compliance
Workday eating looks dramatically different today than it did this time last year. With more employees working remotely, frozen meals and fast food runs are giving way to home cooking for a growing number of individuals. In fact, as a passionate advocate for improved nutrition, I have been heartened to see that people are cooking more overall. And while some have relied on comfort foods in the midst of these challenging times, many are making healthier meals the new norm.
This shift to healthier eating is good for employees’ waistlines, but it could have a significant impact on an employer’s bottom line, as well. Healthy eating isn’t just about weight loss, after all. Because what we eat affects how we live, choosing nutritious food helps employees feel better and be more energized at work. In other words, no more mid-afternoon slump caused by carb-heavy breakfasts and fatty fast food lunches.
Even more significantly, choosing healthy foods helps employees avoid chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, which affect half of American adults. Those conditions cost employers an estimated $36.4 billion each year, providing additional motivation for employers to nurture and expand upon the healthy eating trends that have taken shape in recent months.
The good news is, I know from personal experience that it’s possible to turn nascent healthy habits into a healthy lifestyle. I’ve made that transition myself, and I’ve helped others transform their diets. With the right encouragement, you can help your employees continue and build upon healthy habits and make healthy eating their new normal. Here are a few tips to consider integrating into your workplace and well-being initiatives.
While many home cooks have already become more confident in the kitchen, there is still room to grow. Nobody picks up one cookbook and becomes an expert, and there are plenty of people who have yet to begin their culinary journey. Consider that as recently as 2 years ago, 21% of Millennials didn’t know how to fry an egg, and only 65% described themselves as good cooks. Employers can support knowledge of nutrition and healthy cooking by doing something as simple as sending recipes in e-mails or other internal communications. Consider options with a small number of readily available ingredients. Even better, encourage employees to expand their horizons with a culinary world tour that introduces them to experiment with food choices that go beyond their everyday options.
Video is another powerful tool for offering instruction. Views of YouTube “cook with me” tutorials increased by 100% during the pandemic, but while many such videos feature delicious-looking food, I see plenty that lack the good nutrition employers should encourage. Look for ways to guide employees with trusted online resources, or provide access to licensed content about nutrition or instructions that are easy to follow, healthy, and delicious. Be sure to look for content that will allow employees to explore new techniques as their skill level grows.
Beyond recipes, virtual cooking classes help budding chefs build skills they can apply to any number of dishes. Help your employees build confidence in the kitchen, and they’ll be better-prepared to tackle new challenges.
A key element of any behavior change is starting with small, attainable steps. Employers can help make healthy eating a way of life for employees, whether their kitchen skills trend more toward Julia Child or Chef Boyardee. Helping employees discover nutritious meals that taste great and won’t take them all night to prepare will encourage them to continue cooking long after the pandemic has ended. If you want to make cooking instruction more relatable, consider recruiting employees who are skilled in the kitchen to offer tips. Doing so may also help employees strengthen their personal connections.
Consider the biggest obstacles that keep people from exploring new cooking options. Start with a classic recipe that has been tweaked to reduce carbs and fat, and add nutrients through vegetables. For example, encourage employees to try a recipe for a lean spaghetti Bolognese that replaces the pasta with zucchini noodles. Or, try a Thai curry served on cauliflower rice, which cuts the carbs by 90% and is ready to eat in 15 minutes.
Office potlucks are probably out of the question for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean we all have to keep our cooking to ourselves. One of my favorite things about a good meal is enjoying it with friends. Consider that dining with friends leads to better self-esteem and less depression, cuts stress, boosts mood, and combats loneliness. Communal eating has also been shown to improve digestion, which enhances the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Those are all significant positives in times like these.
Look for ways to allow employees to eat together even as they work remotely. Maybe employees can gather for Zoom lunches or coffee breaks. Even better, create regular Zoom cooking nights. Give employees a common list of ingredients, and see what everyone comes up with. Or, ask employees to share their family’s signature dish.
In addition, you can collect some of your employees’ new recipes and create a cookbook so everybody can enjoy the kitchen knowledge their coworkers have been developing.
Helping people learn to cook and enjoy nutritious food is my passion, and I have seen an encouraging growth in personal motivation to hone healthy-cooking skills. As a result, there is an important opportunity here for employers that want to encourage better nutrition among their employees. With just a few simple steps, employers can make healthy eating a habit that continues long after employees are back to eating in the office break room.
Daniel Green is an internationally known chef, host, television personality, and award-winning author. He is a healthy-eating expert and world-renowned television celebrity cook in England, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, and the United States. He also hosts a series of healthy-cooking video classes for Wellbeats, a content and software-as-a-service company that delivers on-demand, virtual fitness programming for corporate wellness programs.