Did you know that the average employee consumes an extra 1,300 calories 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 and the personal favorite – freebies. The study results indicate that about 70% of the food is free as an office meeting or celebration. That calculates to about 900 calories of extra calories free of charge for employees. In calorie per pound, this is an additional 1.25 pounds per week. 1.25 additional pounds. Per week. For free.

Initially this shocked me. Thirteen hundred extra calories seemed like a lot considering about 900 of them are completely free. Then I thought about my week at work. An office ice cream birthday celebration (~600), a manager’s meeting chili cookoff (~300), a cooking demo of our new Smash Burger (~240). It soon became clear that I was way over the average 900 calories of free food at work. 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.

I realize my work environment is unique because I work in the food industry, but I think that the research is pretty accurate. Potentially it is under-calculated due to underreporting and mindlessness. Many companies routinely offer dessert bars, catered buffets, and snacks. One, in particular, provides free soda for employees all day as a way to boost morale. The soda alone can contribute an extra 900 calories in just one day!

You know what’s not boosting moral though? The health impact of these incentive calories at work. I’m not saying don’t indulge a little to celebrate a birthday. That’s not my job. Instead, I encourage you to recognize that there is a real difference between having a reason for an extra hundred calories and eating Snickers just because it was in someone’s desk candy jar.  This mindless, “take free stuff just because” can add significant excess sugar and sodium to our daily intake.

So what do we do about this?

How do we celebrate our office accomplishments and 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 decrease employee health risks. But I know that each company wants healthier employees in the workplace. I am suggesting to consider the ways in which we choose to provide incentives and meals, and seeing if there is a different – more balanced – way to have the same impact?

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 and I develop seasonal healthy lunch options for our lunch buffets and boxed lunches. See for yourself with this season’s pumpkin pasta with roasted fall vegetables. You can offer our sparkling infused water beverages at snack stations rather than sugary drinks or our snack pack kale chips as an alternative to Doritos. If you’re worried about employees complaining at meetings, if you choose to order healthier alternatives, trust me, they will still devour them. They just might like these options even better! 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 are an employee, consider your best intentions before you “swing by” the breakroom.