Did you know that on average an employee consumes an extra 1,300 calories on food in the workplace? A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is the case for most. The study focused on 5,000 employees and their workplace food consumption including vending purchases and our personal favorite – the freebies. The study results indicate that about 70% of that is free provided by the employer through an office meeting or celebration. That calculates to about 900 calories of extra calories provided free of charge for employees. And in calorie per pound terms, this is an additional 1.25 pounds per week? 1.25 additional pounds. Per week. For free.

Initially, I was shocked at these numbers. 1,300 extra calories per week seemed like an awful lot especially considering about 900 of them being completely free. And then I thought about my week at work. And the fact that it included an office birthday celebration of build your own ice cream sundaes (~600), the manager’s meeting where we had a chili cookoff (~300), a cooking demo of our new Smash Burger (~240), and the Merb’s Candy Apple that they sent us home with (~900). It doesn’t take more than some quick math to figure that I was way over the average 900 calories of free food in the workplace. Not to mention that our team does all of our recipe development and specialty baked goods at the office kitchen. A very tempting environment. Yikes.

While I realize my work environment may be unique because I work in the food industry, something tells me that the research done by the CDC is pretty spot-on. It may even be undercalculated based on underreporting and mindless eating habits. Many of the companies we provide foodservice for provide routine dessert bars for office birthdays, catered buffets for lunch-time meetings, grab and go snack tables in common areas, and company-wide holiday meals as work incentives. One of our companies provides free soda for employees all day every day as a way to boost morale. The soda alone can contribute to the free-of-charge extra 900 calories in just one day! Speaking of morale, who wouldn’t go for a warm coffee and bagel from the break room on this cold, rainy day? Especially if it’s free! 

You know what’s not boosting moral though? The health impact of these extra pounds of incentive calories consumed at work. I’m not saying don’t indulge a little here and there to celebrate an office birthday. That’s not my job. My job is to help you recognize that there is a real difference between having a reason for an extra hundred calories and eating the Snickers that came out of the vending machine when you purchased SmartPop because “it was meant to be”. My job is to help you realize that the habits we form in the workplace – such as taking that breakroom cookie back to the office to enjoy in front of our long to-do list was not in our plan for the day. And when it adds up then it can derail our health goals. This mindless, take more because it’s free mentality can add significant excess sugar and sodium to our daily nutrients and increase our health risk for diabetes and heart disease.

So what do we do about this? How do we celebrate our office accomplishments and our coworker’s milestones without piling on the health risks of our employees? Do we take away the catered lunch and hold a mandatory lunch hour meeting with hungry managers? Do we cancel the holiday party and snack stations at the risk of lowering employee morale? Absolutely not. I am not saying that these are the answers to help decrease employee health risks at all. But I know that every single one of our companies wants healthier employees in the workplace. And I am suggesting to them to consider the ways in which we choose to provide incentives and meals which may not be good for us as a company in the long run.

The Executive Dining Catering Menu is a great place to start looking for more nutritious ways to celebrate and feed employees. Our team has designed an entire page dedicated to sandwiches, salads and wraps all rich in fiber and protein at 500 calories or less.  We have healthy snack alternatives such as yogurt parfaits and build your own trail-mix bar. Our Executive Chef Chuck and myself develop a seasonal healthy lunch option for our lunch buffets. Go for it this season and try our sunflower and pumpkin pasta with roasted fall vegetables. You can offer our sparkling infused water beverages at snack stations rather than regular sodas or our snack pack kale chips as an alternative to Doritos. And if you’re worried about employees complaining at meetings if you choose to order healthier alternatives, trust me, they will still eat them. And probably like them even more! That’s just an added bonus of knowing that the food we eat is a way of respecting ourselves.

So take health and morale into account when providing food for employees. And if you’re on the consuming end of the deal think about the nutritious foods you originally intended to eat today before you “swing by” the breakroom just because you heard the pharmacist brought a sales call lunch.