We’ve all been there. It’s a busy day at work, you didn’t have time to pack something before rushing out the door, your stomach is growling, and it’s time to eat. You rush to the cafeteria, if you’re lucky, or the vending machine, if you’re crunched for time. And while you may have the best of intentions on the way over, the chips and cookies and candy bars call to you. You know better, right? But with a twinge of guilt you grab a few snacks and head on your way. You’ll get that apple tomorrow.
What if it didn’t have to be this way? What if you went to the drink machine and water was as easily available as a sugar-sweetened soda? What if you could have a snack option that had a decent amount of fiber and was lower in sodium?
Unfortunately, healthy food doesn’t just happen on its own at the workplace. It takes someone who is dedicated to making it happen, buy-in from administration, vendors, and staff, and careful planning.
Any systemic change requires continuous and sustained support from all levels of a worksite. This is where the Kentucky Department for Public Health comes in. One component of a recent grant awarded to Kentucky by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is food service guidelines. Connie White, MD, deputy commissioner of the Department for Public Health, elaborates on the grant, stating, “The Kentucky Physical Activity and Nutrition Program was one of 16 states awarded the State Physical Activity and Nutrition grant (SPAN). The SPAN grant is using innovative approaches to combat statewide obesity, which is important, as Kentucky has the fifth highest obesity rate in the nation. We are excited about this opportunity for our state because this program is comprehensive, as it is a three-pronged approach focusing on food service guidelines, early childhood education, and active living. Food service guidelines make healthy eating options available and sustainable, as policy and infrastructure are main components – the healthy choice is the easy choice. Nutrition and breastfeeding components for early childhood education incorporate better nutrition and more physical activity within childcare centers. The active living component focuses on improving access to physical activity via walking or bicycling. This grant is inclusive of all Kentuckians, as health equity and social determinants of health are foundational for this grant.”
For the food service guideline component, the state health department’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Program has funded twenty-seven communities to work with local food service establishments. These communities will receive training, technical assistance, and resources to ensure that healthy food is an option.
What are healthy food service guidelines?
Healthy food service guidelines are voluntary best business practices that can be used to increase healthy and safe food options for employees. The potential benefits include:
contributing to the health and wellness of employees;
setting a positive example for the community;
increasing consumer demand for healthy food;
and strengthening local food systems.
What does that look like in practice? A menu selection that includes:
a variety of fruit and vegetable options, including seasonal and locally grown;
whole grain-rich foods, plant-based proteins, and lean protein entrees;
readily available drinking water;
and reduced sodium in meals, entrees, and sides.
The great thing about comprehensive healthy food service guidelines is that people have a choice. Unhealthy options are not eliminated; instead, healthier options are equally available, making the healthier choice an easier choice. Whether through marketing, physical positioning of healthier options for greater awareness, pricing, or improved offerings, the goal is to make healthier options more attractive to consumers. This is good news for people that manage chronic health conditions like heart disease or diabetes. In a culture where more people are eating out than ever before, meeting people where they are and offering healthier food offerings is a tangible way to improve our eating habits, a major component of chronic disease treatment.
Policies and procedures need to be updated for the organizations that are adopting the guides. Language incorporating healthy food service guidelines also needs to be included in the contracts for vendors.
All of these processes take time and collaboration and patience and persistence. Establishing a partnership and good working relationship with the food service establishment is of paramount importance.
The end result is worth it: happier, healthier and more productive staff and patrons. And a happier, healthier more productive you.
For more resources, see the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s resources page: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/strategies/food-serv-guide.html
Elizabeth Anderson-Hoagland, MPH, is health promotion section supervisor at the Kentucky Chronic Disease Program at the KY Department for Public Health. She can be reached at 502.564.9358 ext. 4018 or ElizabethA.Hoagland@ky.gov.
Lisa Arvin RD, is the food service guidelines program administrator within the Kentucky Physical Activity and Nutrition Program, housed in the Kentucky Department for Public Health. As a practitioner providing medical nutrition therapy, Lisa has extensive experience in public health as well.