Campaign Encourages Healthy Workplace Eating

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Windsor Star/Beatrice Fantoni

The health unit wants to make local workplaces healthier, and ultimately more productive, by getting them to change what's served at meetings from the usual coffee and doughnuts to healthier, fresher options.

"Our health behaviours are ... largely influenced by the environment that we're in," said Jennifer Jacob, a public health nutritionist at the Windsor Essex County Health Unit.

The Meet Smart Healthy Meetings Policy and Catering Program aims to endure that food offered at meetings includes whole and balanced options instead of just the usual coffee and sugary carbs, Jacob said.

For example, any snacks offered should feature at least one fresh fruit or vegetable and one high-protein option such as cheese.

To make it even easier for workplaces to join in, the health unit has started certifying local catering companies with the Meet Smart seal of approval. A certified caterer is one that offers balanced menus that meet the Meet Smart criteria. The first caterers to join include the Green Bean Cafe, the Caboto Club, the Fogolar Furlan and the Ciociaro Club.

The Meet Smart policy also includes tips for encouraging physical activity, Jacob said.

The Windsor branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association began testing the policy this summer and the response from employees has been overwhelmingly positive, said Michelle Drouillard, a human resources generalist there.

"(Employees) feel like we're taking their health seriously," Drouillard said. At their latest all-day training in November, CMHA employees told her they felt much more alert and engaged thanks to the 10-minute exercise breaks. Drouillard said she's also seen some of her colleagues adopt healthier food choices in everyday life.

The 175-employee organization now uses the Meet Smart guidelines for weekly meetings as well as group training without going over budget, Drouillard said. When a business or community organization signs on with Meet Smart, they are provided with a guidebook that includes suggestions for what and how much to serve at meetings, sample menus and physical activity tips.

As well, Meet Smart workplaces can contact a registered dietitian at the health unit at any time for advice, Jacob said. Some employers might think the idea won't fly, Drouillard said, but they will be surprised how receptive employees will be. "This is taking work life balance once step further."