Anthony Bennett: Countering stress without too much indulgence

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haw-week-badgeWho hasn’t wolfed down a chocolate bar from the office vending machine because they’ve been too busy for lunch, or to counter the stress of a deadline? Most of us have done it, and indulging once in a while is no bad thing.

But having too many sugary snacks and bad foods, too often, can have a seriously detrimental impact on employees’ energy, stamina, productivity, mood and overall health. The converse is also true: eating well can work wonders for the body and mind.

These days, people know this, of course. And yet knowing doesn’t always translate into doing. So how can employers help their employees to steer clear of the vending machine and, instead, make good food and drink choices, consistently?

Bennett Hay, voted as the best place to work in hospitality by The Caterer, has been implementing health and wellbeing strategies across its workforce since day one of the business.

In its recent SRA Sustainability Rating Report, Bennett Hay scored 94 percent in its commitment to society, which includes colleagues, customers and communities. ‘Healthy Eating’ was the bespoke hospitality provider’s second highest scoring area, after ‘Treating People Fairly’.

Bennett Hay has adopted various initiatives to promote healthy eating among our colleagues, to help them counter the stresses of modern life. Based on our initiatives, here are a few suggestions that might also work for other businesses.

Give staff a free meal per shift and provide a good selection of freshly-prepared, healthy meals, and drinks, for them to choose from. This might include a special healthy range of food and drinks, similar to Bennett Hay’s Restore range, which helps people rehydrate, manage their blood sugar, support their immune system and get more antioxidants.

Consider bringing on board a nutritionist to help you design a healthy range of menus. Bennett Hay’s Restore menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner are designed around research by celebrity nutritionist Ian Marber, also known as The Food Doctor, who trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) in London. The menus are extremely popular with staff and customers alike because they are healthy and taste great, and they help people make their food choices work for them.

Foods used in healthy ranges should generally have a low glycaemic index and pack a nutritional punch. Dishes might include: legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils, which are packed with magnesium, an essential mineral that helps the body to break down glucose into energy; foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and avocado, which can protect against heart disease and improve cognition; walnuts, which are a top dietary source of the happy chemical serotonin; dark leafy greens, which help ward off bad moods thanks to being high in the vitamin folate; and chicken and eggs, which contain tryptophan, the key ingredient in making serotonin.

For drinks, provide a bespoke range of freshly ground artisan coffees, which can increase mental alertness and cut the risk of depression, when consumed in moderation. Also provide premium teas, some of which contain high levels of antioxidants, and fresh juices and smoothies, which are high in vitamins and minerals.

Signpost healthier and reduced fat options on menus, and put any healthy food range in packaging that can be easily identified. Also offer reasonable portion sizes and give people the option of requesting healthy cooking methods.

Further encourage employees to eat healthy by providing a complimentary fruit platter in the office. For meetings, provide genuinely healthy options, rather than force people to overdose on carb-laden sandwiches and biscuits.

Healthy eating initiatives that are done for the right reasons tend to be especially successful. Bennett Hay colleagues repeatedly tell us in surveys, and in other ways, that they love our initiatives. Why? Because we genuinely care for them and want them to feel healthier and happier. Productivity and performance gains are not our main aim, although they are a fantastic by-product.

It’s also tempting to want to evangelise about healthy eating and expect everyone to get on board straight away. But many people are wary of change and need time to get used to it. Trust that people will naturally pick up initiatives over time, when they see others doing so and feeling and looking great. Also ensure that there are enough options to allow varying levels of engagement, in order to appeal to as many people as possible.

It’s also important to strike the right balance between helping employees to make good choices and not interfering with, or damaging, their sense of autonomy. Support staff in creating, owning, delivering and driving their own healthy eating initiatives, and trust them to get it right.

If staff want to have chocolate, crisps and sugary drinks in their vending machine, then so be it. And if they want to have protein bars, energy balls, packets of fruit and nuts and seeds, and water, to keep them energised, focused and positive throughout the working day, then even better.

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