Wellness is a very broad term, with Webster’s Dictionary defining it as “the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” Employers may be seeking ways they can effectively support employee wellness to enhance retention, productivity, morale, job satisfaction, and positivity. Given the wide range of activities that accompany wellness initiatives, employers may be challenged as to where to start. However, in environments such as hospitals, senior living communities, and other healthcare entities where there is already a dining program established, a logical place to start may be employee meals. Leveraging an employee meal program provides employees and employers with several wellness benefits, including:
Creating an employee menu around whole ingredients with health-promoting benefits supports satisfaction, and satiety, along with an inherent “teaching moment” for appropriate portion size and meal design. Long-term benefits of overall healthier eating may contribute to weight management and/or loss as well as positively impact health measures of blood pressure, heart health, and diabetes.
An on-site employee meal program maximizes the employee’s allotted break time thus allowing them time to eat and the possibility to socialize during the meal period. The company of others and conversation builds relationships and camaraderie, while contributing to one’s wellness. Positive relationships with co-workers promote employee retention.
Efficient Use of Time
As indicated by “community,” on-site meal programs allow employees to optimize the entire break time for dining. In contrast, workplaces without an established program leave employees with options that do not make the most of their time, which may include preparing their own meal at home, leaving the premises to purchase take-out, or potentially, not eat at all. Having an appropriate amount of time to dine also supports “mindfulness.” Mindful eating encourages a focus on the experience of eating, including the taste, smell, and appearance of the meal. Fundamentally, mindful eating involves eating slowly, without distraction, and listening to physical hunger cues of fullness.
Dollars and “Sense”
An employer-supported meal program is a tangible benefit that can be used for recruiting and retention purposes. In addition, employee meal programs are linked to employee productivity in terms of nourishment and use of time. Employers can decide if the meals are complimentary or low-cost to the employee, as well as payroll deducted. Providing employees cost-saving opportunities is a significant benefit, especially in today’s market of ever increasing-prices.
As an expert in food and nutrition, Unidine Corporation embraces wellness with ingredients as the foundation. Registered dietitians and culinarians collaborate to develop recipes that meet wellness criteria which include:
- Health-promoting ingredients
- Flavorful and delicious
- Fresh, non-processed food approach
- Satisfying, supporting a “just-right” fullness after the meal
- Balanced to include a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins
- Rightsized portions
The label “healthy” is not enough to appeal to employees. Despite all the benefits of an employee meal program, if the menu does not sound and taste amazing, the employees will not take advantage of it. Unidine’s experts in nutrition and culinary develop recipes that take a marketing and education approach through its Live Healthy platform.
Live Healthy encompasses a large recipe database to support an employee meal program along with educational materials of Wellness in the Kitchen recipe cards, the Dietitian’s Dish newsletter, and other promotional materials, all of which are easily accessible by the on-site managers. OH SO GOOD and Naturally Nourished are Unidine’s signature wellness recipes crafted with the recipe concepts already discussed, each with added customization:
- OH SO GOOD recipes meet certain nutritional requirements, including total calories and sodium per serving. The easy OSG green symbol helps employees quickly identify these recipes as a better-for-you option. Recipes include a spin on comfort foods including butternut squash mac & cheese and turkey meatloaf.
- Naturally Nourished recipes promote plant-forward, healthy, and environmentally conscious options. Naturally Nourished focuses on moving plant foods to the center of the plate while offering a smaller portion or no animal protein at all in a recipe.
Part of the challenge of selecting healthier options is to actually know what to look for and why. Employees with some basic nutrition knowledge tend to make better choices. Providing nutrition education is an important part of enhancing the wellness aspects of an employee meal program. Unidine Corporation’s registered dietitians create monthly wellness education materials that appeal to the general public. Based on sound nutrition principles and research, the Dietitian’s Dish newsletter focuses on topics such as healthy grilling, better sleep, and identifying whole grains. Accompanying the newsletter is a monthly recipe book, Wellness in the Kitchen. Nutrition education can expand further to cooking demonstrations, hands-on kitchen skills and cooking classes. Employees are encouraged to not only improve their meals at work but also outside of work. The possibilities of building an employee wellness program around meals is endless, and nutrition knowledge and cooking skills is attainable by all employees. With some planning and initiatives to engage and excite employees, employers will quickly realize the benefits of an employee meal program and may look for other avenues to enhance wellness.
Submitted by Jenny Overly, MS, RD
Jenny Overly is the Senior Director of Clinical Excellence and Wellness for Unidine Corporation. As a registered dietitian, Jenny’s years of experience encompass wellness initiatives supporting the development of many of Unidine’s signature programs including OH SO GOOD and Hydrate for Health. She is a contributor to content development for the Live Healthy wellness materials. Jenny’s career spans a variety of healthcare settings including acute care and senior living and seeks opportunities to get others excited about their nutrition journeys!
At Unidine, the Directors of Nutrition support the development of dietitians through clinical documentation evaluation and teaching clinical skills to improve quality of care to the patients served. Our competency training for dietitians centers around performing the NFPE, documenting malnutrition criteria and obtaining a diagnosis of malnutrition so dietitians are prepared, knowledgeable and able to make informed interventions to improve patient outcomes.