Building Nutrition into Employee Programs

A nutrition expert offers tips to employers, who increasingly are trying to help employees eat and live more healthfully.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007
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In all of my experience as a dietitian and a food service professional, I have never before witnessed such attention to obesity, nutrition and weight as we are experiencing right now. At every turn, it seems, consumers are surrounded by information about the newest diet fads, healthy product claims, media reporting and the latest clinical studies. City, county and state legislators are even weighing in. 

It's not surprising that employers are getting involved, as well.

To encourage healthier lifestyles for employees, and to curb skyrocketing health-care costs associated with obesity, more and more businesses are putting plans in place to help employees eat and live more healthfully.

From expanded benefits programs and on-site exercise facilities to nutrition-education efforts and healthy dining programs, employers are increasingly advocating the importance of health and wellness to their employees and employees' families.

Aramark is often called on to help guide nutritious workplace dining for our clients. We serve meals at approximately 1,300 businesses in the United States and aspire to make health and wellness a priority.

Our approach to doing this can be summarized as follows:

* Enable healthier lifestyles by providing a broad selection of consumer-preferred foods and beverages that deliver great taste while at the same time being better for consumers;

* Educate with credible, proven, topical health and wellness information customized to fit consumers' busy lives; and

* Encourage better choices by making the choices easier to access and more appealing.

When designing a health and wellness plan in the workplace, it's important to remind employees that adopting an eating plan for health is not a fad or a quick fix. It's a long-term commitment to live a healthier lifestyle. 

One resource available to everyone is the USDA food and activity guide for Americans. The key messages include eating more fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains; eating less fat, sugar and salt; maintaining healthy weight and engaging in daily physical activity.

Remember that a number of outside influences -- media coverage, coworker-recommended diet plans, advertising, legislation -- can go into a diner's decision to eat better.

Employers can help provide a clear, logical voice to help educate on topics of nutrition and wellness and at the same time enable employees to choose and enjoy the freshest, most flavorful and healthy dining options in the company's cafe.

In addition, here are some ideas companies can offer employees as quick tips for eating healthy away from home:

* Ask for a takeout container and put some of the food in before you eat to control portions. 

* At a sit-down restaurant, ask that bread, beverages and tortilla chips be served with the meal, not beforehand.

* Eat the vegetables on your plate before the main course.

* Be alert to high calorie clues on the menu such as "buttery, breaded, batter-dipped, creamy, deep fried, jumbo, supreme, grande, king-size."

* If you must have sweets, share a dessert.

* Order a smaller ounce portion of steak and save approximately 75 calories for each ounce you downsize.

* Order your sandwich on whole wheat bread. Spread mustard instead of mayonnaise.

When dining out with children, some additional tips include:

* Look beyond the children's menu, often limited to fried, high-calorie, high-fat foods. Split one healthier adult entree between two children.

* Encourage water, skim or 1-percent milk instead of high-calorie, sugary drinks. Replace sweetened beverage with sugar-free.

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* Ask for low-fat or fat-free dressings, mayonnaise and dairy items and sauces -- and get them "on the side."

* Replace mayonnaise and cheese on burgers or sandwiches with catsup, mustard or barbecue sauce.

* Stick with items that are baked, broiled, steamed or poached -- not fried.

* Slow down! It takes almost 20 minutes for the brain to register that the body is full.

* Ask for nutritional information when eating out.

For on-site cafes, promotions and marketing are crucial elements in helping people find healthy foods quickly -- a must in the fast-paced world of business dining. Posters, point-of-sale materials, shelf tags for grab and go items, informational table tents and diet-based menu icons all help attract consumers to healthier items and allow them to make purchases at lightning speed.

Our chefs work to create new flavorful and appealing menu items based on fresh ingredients that also happen to be lighter or healthier. For instance, they have reduced fats in traditional sandwiches by using crunchy, fresh vegetables or apple slices in place of cheese and replaced fat-laden mayonnaise with zesty, low-fat spreads loaded with flavor. 

An emphasis on world flavors such as Vietnamese or Mediterranean allows companies to remain on-trend with today's tastes while relying on recipes that highlight fresh vegetables, herbs and other flavorful additions while at the same time being inherently healthy.

Heavy cream or cheese sauces are lightened with a reliance on citrus, herbs, spices -- anything to add flavor that customers crave with little to no added fat and calories.

Jenifer Bland-Campbell is senior director of nutrition program development with Aramark Innovative Dining Solutions. With more than 20 years' experience in food service and clinical nutrition management, Bland-Campbell is currently in charge of developing nutrition education and materials for all of Aramark's businesses across the United States. A registered dietitian, she earned her B.S. in Dietetics from Hunter College of the City University of New York and her M.S. in Clinical Nutrition from New York University.

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