It would be hard to get through a workday without food. Food can be a part of the culture in a workplace. But how healthy is the food in your workplace? In this expert interview, Leslee McGovern, MS, RD, LDCN, CWPM discusses nutrtion in the workplace and how organizations can serve as a role model by offering healthy choices. You can also read our previous blog on food at work here.
Interview with Leslee McGovern
Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essential Series. I’m Mari Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. I’m delighted to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that relate to employee wellbeing in the workplace. My guest today is Leslee McGovern.
Leslee is passionate about nutrition, health, and is an experienced wellness professional. Leslee’s been a dedicated member of the Advancing Wellness team for the past two and a half years. Leslee has over ten years of experience designing and implementing corporate nutrition and wellbeing programs for Fortune 500 companies. She is a registered and licensed dietician and she has special expertise in developing health promotion environments that encourage nutritious food choices at work, at home, and beyond. Welcome, Leslee!
Leslee McGovern: Thanks, Mari, I’m excited to be here. I love to talk about nutrition in the workplace, so I’m very grateful.
Mari Ryan: Good, thanks. When we think about nutrition and employee wellbeing, physical elements are one of the aspects, or one of the foundational aspects, of employee wellbeing, and nutrition, obviously, would have a lot to do with that. The food in the workplace can influence employees throughout the workday. I’m curious, as we start this conversation, if you could talk a little bit about why should an employer care what their employees eat? What are the benefits to an employer of having their employees eat healthily?
Leslee McGovern: That’s a great question, and there are lots of reasons why employers should care about what employees eat. One in particular is that employees that are well-nourished are productive. They feel good, they are happier and healthier, and they are better able to give you their best work – that’s the first reason.
Another reason, of course, is that nutrition is related to every single chronic disease that you can think of. The choices that you make on a daily basis, and the choices that you make more often, are the things that are going to impact things like your weight, blood pressure, lots of those types of chronic illnesses that are of concern to employers.
Mari Ryan: Okay, that certainly is a good reason for why employers should care, because that can impact not only productivity, but healthcare costs and can have a cultural impact as well.
Leslee McGovern: Absolutely. Another reason why they should care is because if it’s important to their employees, then it should be important to them as well. For example, they have an opportunity to have a teachable moment about healthy nutrition, if employees are interested.
Mari Ryan: When we think about healthy choices, can you talk a little bit about what it means to make healthy choices when we think about food and nutrition?
Leslee McGovern: We think about, from a nutritional perspective … experts agree that you can’t go wrong with plants – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, all those types of products that you hear about. Water, another healthy choice. Those really are all healthy choices. They are foods that are close to nature, they are foods that are minimally processed. For example, if you think about something as simple as an apple, which I happen to have right here in my hand, when you have an apple that is basically in its raw form, just like this, that’s the best way to eat it. As you start to process it a little bit, so for example as you go from apple to apple sauce, and then even apple juice, what you do is you lose some of nature’s benefits. The best thing to think about is whole foods. That’s the best choice.
Mari Ryan: All right, that’s a great way to think about that. The less processed, the better, is the way to think about it.
Leslee McGovern: It is, and not all processing is bad, because, for example, let’s think about frozen vegetables, which may have been cut up and frozen, but they were fresh when they were put away into the freezer. That’s a minimally processed food item. There are certainly some frozen prepared meals that have been minimally processed as well. That’s not usually the case, but there are those types of offerings.
Mari Ryan: That’s excellent. What can an employer do to foster healthy choices in the workplace?
Leslee McGovern: There are so many things that an employer can do. If you have a policy about food in the workplace, often organizations will have policies around meetings and catered events, and essentially that’s an opportunity to say that we will offer healthful choices as part of the offerings of everything that we do. What does that mean? It means that if you are having a catered meeting with clients, perhaps you have a display of foods, and certainly you are going to have a fair amount of fruits and vegetables for them to choose from.
I like the idea of setting up those fruits and vegetables first in the line of choices, and then you can have your variety of other foods, but you are always offering a choice that’s nutritious and that is healthful. You can take it a step further, you could do little cards to label the foods, and sometimes that’s important if you have any employees that have certain issues or allergies with foods. That’s something else that you can do.
You can also provide as part of this whole catering policy, you could develop some training materials for all the people in your work force, so they know how to make a healthy choice. This might be sample menus; it might be for different types of events. It might be a sample “backyard barbeque” that the organization has every summer. It could be sample snacks for meetings. The more detailed, the better, just so you can give people that are ordering the food examples of things to choose.
Mari Ryan: Are there some specific resources that are available, healthy meeting guides, or things like that that are available to help with that kind of training?
Leslee McGovern: There are lots of them. I love to go to the CDC’s workplace resource center, and then the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has a healthy workplaces toolbox, so those are good places to look for policy samples.
Mari Ryan: Right. You’ve talked a little bit about the policies in the workplace that they can adopt, but how do we do that in a way without feeling like the employer is the food police?
Leslee McGovern: I know, and some employers would love to be the food police, but in the end, most employers want … in this day when you are trying to get the best talent to be with you and stay with you, you want to work with your employees and give them choices and meet their needs and their interests. If you have a group of employees that is interested in improving their eating habits, and they told you that in a needs and interests survey, or you learned that through another type of survey in your organization, then you have an opportunity to work with employees and develop some policies and procedures and have everybody go with you.
What I don’t advise is that you take an all-or-nothing approach, because that generally doesn’t work, even with your food service provider because you risk the chance of folks not participating in what you are offering them and leaving and going out of the building.
I like to see employers work with their employees to provide healthful options and drive them to the healthful options through how it’s positioned, how it’s promoted, and then make sure there’s a little something for everyone there.
Mari Ryan: That’s great. Thanks so much for sharing all that with us. Anything else you’d like to add for our audience?
Leslee McGovern: I think one of the things that people should remember is that there is always an opportunity to offer that healthful choice without being too forceful, and positioning it in a way that people will welcome. I think if you work with employees and you have an employee base that is interested in making those healthful choices, you can make that opportunity and you can use your partnerships to actually make that happen in a positive way where people will embrace it.
Mari Ryan: Wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with our audience today. I appreciate your time.
Leslee McGovern: You’re welcome.
Mari Ryan: Thanks so much for being here.
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