Nutrition at Work: Opportunities to Improve Employee Wellness

Stacey Penney
Stacey Penney
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Easy to implement strategies can make the workplace a nutritionally positive experience. Offering healthy food alternatives and involving employees can jump start healthy changes.

Health care costs continue to rise for both employers and employees with profits and paychecks shrinking to cover basic health care benefits. One way to address this economic challenge is to encourage and help workers get well and stay well, and healthy eating is a cornerstone of this endeavor.

If you are a Nutrition Coach, encouraging your client to participate in workplace wellnes programs is a great idea. To be properly equipped to encourage and coach, check out all of the NASM nutrition courses.

The Benefits and forms of Workplace Wellness Programs

Depending on which reports you read, each dollar a company invests in workplace wellness programs saves between $1 and $13, with a median return of $3.14 on reduced health care costs and improved productivity (1).

From a business perspective, there are additional benefits besides improved employee health and decreases in healthcare costs, such as reduced absenteeism, enhanced work performance, improved job satisfaction, and employee retention.

Workplace wellness programs can take shape in various activities including fitness, weight loss, stress management, smoking cessation, and healthy eating. Perhaps one of the easier changes to make is by making healthy food choices available at the workplace.

Beyond the initial thought of the vending machines, there are multiple strategies worksites can implement to improve nutritional habits and the quality of foods eaten on site.

Make Meetings and Celebrations Healthy Events

Whenever food is brought in for an event, include a healthy option such as a fruit or vegetable tray. Give workers the opportunity to make healthy choices. Nothing is worse than attending an employee luncheon and the only option is pizza and soda with no other alternatives in sight, especially for those trying to manage their weight.

If the event is being catered, request healthy, lower calorie selections from the menu. Also offer a variety of beverages besides sugary sodas. Water or unsweetened teas are always a good substitution.

Control Portion Sizes

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to waist size. For example, the size of a muffin has more than doubled since the 1950s, from three ounces to six and a half ounces (2).

Before serving breakfast pastries, cut them in half, or even quarters. This will leave more room for fruit on the plate. Speaking of plates, supply smaller plates. This will help reduce waste, and if people want seconds, they will go back.

Pot Luck

Company pot lucks can be another way to encourage healthy eating habits. Try pot luck themes based on:

  • Local foods currently in season
  • Salad bar with everyone bringing a different ingredient
  • Recipe challenges to convert favorite pot luck dishes into healthier versions
  • Taste tests, something as simple as identifying different types of apples or comparing the original recipe to the healthy version

Gluten Intolerance and Food Allergies

Have options available for those who may be gluten-intolerant or have other food allergies. The more common food allergies among adults include peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish (3).

If you bring a dish that contains these products, indicate that information on the plate. Ask if there is a location on the “buffet” table that you can put items that contain these ingredients. Sometimes only a trace amount can trigger a severe allergic reaction for someone with sensitivities to certain ingredients.

To learn more about gluten-intolerant diets, this blog post on popular diets provides a great introduction. 

Environmental Challenges: Vending Machines and Candy Jars

Work places should be an environment to enhance good nutritional habits and changing the types of foods that are easily accessible is instrumental.

Approximately 15% of workers don’t take a lunch break and may be turning to vending machines to satisfy their mid-day hunger pangs and cravings (1). Most vending machine companies can accommodate requests for healthier choices in their machines, such as pretzels, trail mixes, nuts, cereal bars, or other healthy alternatives (4).

Discourage the morning donut box in the lunchroom and try replacing it with instant oatmeal packets, fruit, or yogurt. And get rid of the candy jars and the mindless candy consumption !


Be creative to find additional ways to make healthy food choices an easy option at the worksite. Lead by example and include all staff, from the top down, to take part in these changes.

Additionally, educate employees on how to make healthy nutrition choices (5). Over time, these low cost strategies may impact the cost of health expenses and overall employee wellness.

To be the best in both Nutrition and Fitness, check out our Fitness & Nutrition course package


  1. Bray, IM. (2009) Healthy employees, healthy business: easy, affordable ways to promote workplace wellness. Washington, NOLO.
  2. Meals Matter-Meal Planning Made Simple. Portion distortion: serving sizes are growing. Retrieved March 1, 2015 from
  3. Pub Med Health. Food allergies. Retrieved May 14, 2012 from
  4. Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch, Chronic Disease and Injury Section, Division of Public Health N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Eat smart North Carolina: guidelines for healthy foods and beverages at meetings, gatherings, and events. Retrieved March 1, 2015 from

The Author

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, CNC, is the Content Strategist with NASM and AFAA. A 20+ year veteran of the fitness industry, she's worked with the top certification and continuing education groups. At NASM and AFAA she drives the content for American Fitness Magazine, blog and the social media platforms. Stacey received her degree in Athletic Training/PE from San Diego State University and an MS in Exercise Science from CalU, plus credentials in Health Promotion Management & Consulting (UCSD), Instructional Technology (SDSU), group fitness and yoga. Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she’s developed continuing education curriculum for fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, and co-coaching youth rec soccer.


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