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Improving Health – One Lunch at a Time

Tammy Pelstring

A healthy lunch with fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

It is no surprise that employees who eat well tend to be well, while employees who favor less healthy diets are more likely to cost employers billions of dollars in healthcare costs, absenteeism and lost productivity. Obesity alone costs employers $13 billion annually.1

The good news for employers is that workers often consume nearly half their daily calories during the workday: 23 percent at lunch and another 23 percent in snacks throughout the day2, providing an opportunity to empower employees to make successful lifestyle changes. The better news is that improving daytime eating habits requires just two things: the right resources and the right tools.

The Right Resources

Effective resources can mean all the difference between lunch-making dread and lunch-making passion. Here are a few that can easily make a difference to any Health and Wellness program.

1.Easy-to-Follow “How To” Guide—providing a “How To” guide for transitioning to a wholesome lunch routine is the single most important resource employers can provide.

  • Smart Lunch Basics – packing smart lunches is the foundation for change. A smart lunch consists of nutritious plant-based foods that are wholesome, fresh and minimally processed. Processed foods typically contain additives like sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, colorings and flavorings. Eating a smart lunch leaves employees feeling satisfied and energized and reduces the desire for between-meal snacks. A lunch rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains provides the vitamins, minerals and fiber our bodies need.
  • Ingredient Labels – a smart lunch starts with smart ingredients, and that means educating employees about the importance of learning to read beyond clever marketing messages. Many lunch and snack items contain words like healthy or natural, but a quick glance at the ingredient labels reveals a very different picture, including perhaps a long list of hard-to-pronounce ingredients that do not seem to resemble food.
  • Change it Out – replacing less nutritious foods for healthy alternatives can go a long way towards better health. Switching from processed items to whole foods, purchasing bread, rice, and pasta made with whole grains instead of refined white flour, replacing oil-based salad dressings with oil-free alternatives, and enjoying fresh baked potatoes instead of fries are just a few examples. In addition, drinking water instead of sugar-laden beverages is the easiest way to reduce caloric intake while providing the body with the hydration it needs.

2.Quick-reference Guides – providing a quick-reference chart of wholesome lunch choices makes planning easy. Having the right foods on hand and maximizing leftovers turns lunch making into a fast, efficient and fun experience.

3.Lunch Menus – deciding what to pack for lunch can often be a struggle, but having access to an extensive; lunch menu library goes a long way.

4.Lunch Photos – Lunch photos are not only fun, but also they are terrific for generating program buzz.

  • Providing enticing photos of easy-to-replicate, wholesome lunches keeps employees inspired to pack good lunches. Employees who receive new photos regularly by email or RSS remain more engaged and feel more supported, leading to greater success.
  • Encouraging and providing a platform for employees to share their own lunch photos fosters a sense of pride, community and motivation.
  • Providing access to lunch photo galleries is another great way to inspire employees to post their creations and to share inspirational lunch ideas for others to enjoy.
  • Creating lunch photo contests can incentivize employees to pack wholesome lunches, especially if awards are given for specific categories like the most creative lunch, the most nutritious lunch or the most colorful creation.

5.Incentive Programs – logging lunch-making successes can be a terrific source of pride and motivation, and the right incentive charts can make all the difference in helping employees transition to healthy lunch and snacking habits.

The Right Proven Tools

Providing participants with the most effective tools is essential to lifestyle change and program success, making lunch box kits the ideal incentive for program participation. For example, employees who sign up for a particular wellness workshop or health screening event might receive their own lunch kit and “how to” guide.

Employees who use containers designed to provide portion control as well as a framework for packing lunches with nutritional balance, attractive colors and textures, and variety tend to embrace lunch-making change. Compact, stylish, compartmentalized containers are ideal for helping participants pack fun, easy, balanced lunches. Eating lunch from a sturdy container with real stainless utensils makes lunch more appetizing and elevates the mid-day meal from an afterthought to a “real meal.” Reusable water bottles encourage employees to remain hydrated throughout the day, not only ensuring a clear head, but also reducing the temptation to reach for caffeinated or sugary drinks. Lunch kits containing a high quality, soft-sided carrier ensures that meals remain fresh and appetizing.

Why Lunch?

By focusing on one meal of the day, employers can do much to improve employee health, wellness and productivity – with very little investment. With the right tools and education, participation and success rates are high. Nevertheless, these lifestyle changes carry over to breakfast and dinner as well, involving additional members of the family, who will all benefit from these long-lasting, life-long changes.

1-CDC Return on Investment (ROI) http://www.cdc.gov/leanworks/why/roi.html

2-   Food Politics by Marion Nestle  Blog Post: July 23 2012

About the Authors

Tammy Pelstring and Amy Hemmert are the co-founders of Obentec, Inc., maker of the Laptop Lunches® Bento-ware line. Their mission is to provide families with the tools and resources for improving lunchtime nutrition. Learn more at www.laptoplunches.com.

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