5 Tips to Improve Your Nutrition at Work

Key Point: Don’t eat junk foods at work! Eat/drink fruits, veggies, whole grains, plant protein, water.

Many adults purchase foods and beverages at work or take advantage of freebies offered in break rooms or at meetings. But is this food helping or harming their nutrition?
Recently researchers studied the workplace food choices of over 5,000 working men and women. The results show plenty of room for improvement! The top 10 food choices at work were coffee, soft drinks (regular and diet), sandwiches, tap water, tea, cookies or brownies, lettuce salad, French fries, and potato chips. These foods made up over 40% of all foods consumed at work.
The researchers then compared the workplace food choices to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The workers’ food choices weren’t bad for veggies and greens (thanks to the lettuce salads!). But they were low in whole grains, total fruit, and plant proteins and too high in sodium and empty calories.
Previous studies have shown similar trends for all food eaten away from home, so ordering out does not automatically correct the shortfalls.
What can you do to improve your workday nutrition? Whether you are bringing food from home, organizing food for an office meeting, or ordering out, keep these tips in mind.
1. Include fruits. Fruits are naturally low sodium and loaded with vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals that support your immune system. Whole fruits that come in their own “wrappers” are convenient. (Think bananas, apples, oranges, or clementines.) Grapes, berries, or cut up melons pack well in a small plastic container or look nice on a fruit platter for a group.
2. Add a whole grain. Whole grains provide needed fiber that helps support a healthy digestive system. Try whole grain bread for sandwiches, pasta salads with whole grain pasta, brown rice as a side dish, or whole grain crackers such as Triscuits or Wheat Thins. If you eat breakfast at work, oatmeal, whole grain bagels or toast, or whole grain cereals such as shredded wheat are good options.
3. Focus on veggies. Veggies are like nutrition magic – full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and beneficial plant chemicals. There are so many ways to add veggies to your work fare! Add lettuce, baby spinach, sliced onions, tomatoes, and/or sprouts to your sandwich. (I like to pack these in a separate bag and add when I eat the sandwich so it doesn’t get soggy) Make a side dish of baby carrots, sliced or mini peppers or cucumbers, or cherry tomatoes.
4. Experiment with plant proteins. A simple peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread is a satisfying lunch entrée. You could also use baked beans, vegetarian chili, or a hearty bean or vegetable soup as an entrée.
5. Watch what you drink. Tap water, mentioned in the study, is a great option. You could also try unsweetened iced tea or one of the no calorie sparkling waters that are widely available. Coffee or tea is OK if the caffeine doesn’t bother you, but be aware that flavored coffees can have lots of added sugars and calories.

If you need a lunch makeover, contact Kathleen Searles, the Lunchbox Nutritionist, at foodfirst@kathleensearlesnutrition.com

Reference: Onufrak SJ, et al. Foods and beverages obtained at worksites in the United States. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2019.

© Kathleen Searles, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN