Office Pantry Takeover: Why Companies Should Care More about What they Feed their Employees

This is the first in a two-part series about why and how to makeover your office pantry. This piece covers the “why.”

Your company, your health coach?

Who do you think has greater influence over your diet -- your doctor or your employer?

While doctors are able to make recommendations that people generally trust, companies have a power that doctors don’t: your company can control and change your everyday environment. Your “environment,” meaning quite literally, the world that surrounds you at work for 40+ hours a week.

Having the ability to alter your environment is something that makes companies extremely powerful. Because after a doctor, nutritionist, or self-help book makes a suggestion, you’re on your own, walking past your office kitchen and pantry 5+ times a day and eating whatever’s easiest to grab. By 3 PM, it’s dieters gone wild. You know that time of day. You’re tired, in need of a pick-me-up (or nap), and can’t stop yourself from grabbing a cookie or bag of chips. This isn’t your fault. You’re not weak. Willpower is finite for all of us. It starts out strong when your day begins and wears down as the day goes on. It’s even weaker when your energy is crashing.

The environment at work affects your everyday behavior. Your company can design the environment conscientiously by avoiding Doritos, for example. If your team doesn’t have Doritos, then your team won’t eat them. And if your pantry has apples, then guess what? Apples get eaten. Remember that people eat whatever’s most convenient for them. Ease trumps everything else. You don’t need to read a research paper to understand this. I’m sure you live this yourself every day.

This is why the collective power of companies to improve the well-being of millions -- by designing environments that improve the well-being of their employees -- shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked. It’s probably the most powerful lever we have to shift the diets and lifestyles of our working population -- and even their families.

One of the best ways to for a company to improve its team’s well-being? Stop making your team fight temptation every time they walk by your kitchen. That willpower is better spent on work-related challenges, like patiently waiting for someone to finish their “insightful” comment in a meeting. 

Also related, getting people to change their behaviors and eat healthier is really hard. One of the hardest things in the world, in fact, as evidenced by rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Today, two in three Americans is overweight or obese and one in ten Americans is diabetic. Every 83 seconds someone in America dies because of the food we eat. We constantly tell people to cook more, move more, eat less. But nothing changes. People will do what’s easiest. We need to accept this and work around it. If we really want to help people, we have to change what’s easiest for them to do. 

This starts with changing their environment. Dozens of books (check out “Mindless Eating” or “The Power of Habit”) have been written by authors way smarter than I am about how it’s nearly impossible to change the way people eat without changing their environments and habits first.

The good news is you, as a company, can change the environment in a hyper efficient way because you only have make a single decision one time to stock your kitchen thoughtfully from now on, with your team’s well-being in mind, and you’ll set every person on your team up to eat better every day. 

As a company, you hold tremendous power and responsibility when it comes to your team’s wellness. In deciding what to put in your pantry, you’re either promoting well-being or making your team sick.

This brings me to my second point. Helping your team eat well isn’t just good for your employees’ health, it’s good for the company’s productivity.


The productivity benefits of clean eating

Food isn’t purely healthy or unhealthy. Like all things in life, it’s a spectrum. The healthier your food is, the better your team will feel and perform.

Think about how you feel after you eat a burrito for lunch then head back to your desk. I’ll admit, while you’re eating it, it feels like heaven on earth. I hear angels singing when I bite into a Mission burrito. But about halfway though? Self-loathing. It’s like, where the nap pod at oh wait we don’t have one will anyone notice if I unbutton my pants for an hour...

Versus how you feel when you eat something nourishing, like roasted chicken and sweet potatoes. Eating the right foods will help you power through your day and tackle every task at your full potential.

Food matters so much more to every aspect of your health than you may realize. Specifically, the quality of each ingredient you eat matters a lot. The higher the quality, the better the tools your body has to look and feel its absolute best every day. Eat junk, feel like junk. Eat nourishing foods, feel energetic, light, and vibrant.

Food isn’t just about calories and protein and body weight. The nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants in food affect every aspect of how we feel: our energy, our positivity, our sense of peace. When we eat the wrong foods, it can cause problems like fatigue, mental fog, sluggishness, anxiety, and even depression. And when we eat the right foods -- local, whole, sustainable -- we can look and feel our absolute best.

For those of you who like numbers, according to BeWell, a provider of holistic corporate wellness solutions, every $1 you invest in corporate wellness returns $4 in company value. Not a bad ROI.

Of all the wellness initiatives you can invest in, food should be at the top of your list. Yes, even before gym memberships. Because lifting weights won’t do much for you if you’re chomping on cookies all day long. The saying is true: you can’t out-exercise a crappy diet. And we see this all the time at Methodology. Clients can achieve astounding wellness results without having to alter their workout routines at all. Cleaning up your diet really does work wonders.

If companies clean up their pantries in the workplace and companies like mine provide whole, sustainable food outside of work, it won’t be long until the food that improves wellness becomes the most convenient food and we finally see nationwide improvements in quality of life that we all deserve.

Julie Nguyen, Founder and CEO of Methodology, a wellness company focused on clean food delivery.