How to eat right in hybrid work times … plus easy workday meal ideas

Nelile Nxumalo, a Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa) outlines the basics of what corporate wellness programmes can provide to enable employees to focus on healthy eating choices.

Multiethnic business people doing lunch break outdoor from office building - Focus on african man face

Many people are either returning to the office full-time or adjusting to a new hybrid working routine. One thing is for sure, corporate health and wellness programs are now more popular than ever.

Three dietitians share some insight on how corporate wellness programmes should be adjusted in these times. Plus, tips on planning, shopping and preparing workday lunches and snacks.

Nelile Nxumalo, a Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa) outlines the basics of what Corporate Wellness programmes can provide to enable employees to focus on healthy eating choices.

“Employees need to have lunch and tea breaks, and places where they can sit and eat with their colleagues, away from their desks. This avoids a rushed meal that could potentially lead to unhealthy eating habits such as skipping meals but over-consuming calories as you’re always snacking instead of eating a nutritious meal.”

Nelile advises:

· Vending machines or tuck-shops should offer healthy snack options such as homemade popcorn, unsalted nuts, raisins, dried fruits, lean biltong and crackers as well as veggie crudites and a variety of dips like hummus and tzatziki, instead of chocolates, sweets and crisps only.

· Facilities should be available for staff to store meals or lunchboxes at appropriate temperatures to prevent spoiling.

· The Corporate Wellness programme can advocate for bringing healthy meals from home to work to avoid buying take-away meals. To support employees, it would help to provide microwaves or other kitchen equipment to warm up food. Home-cooked meals often have fewer calories and are more nutrient-dense than takeaway or convenience foods.

Registered dietitian, Raeesa Seedat, recommends that Corporate Wellness programmes include nutrition education in their promotion of healthy lifestyles for their employees.

 “Research suggests that when employees begin a wellness programme with a positive intention at the outset, they are more likely to sustain lifestyle behaviours such as healthy eating, physical activity and stress management. Regular training using relevant and validated tools can empower employees to make better choices for their health and optimize outcomes. Ideally, a dietitian should be consulted with regards to the composition of meals served at the staff cafeteria and give input on portion control. Catering for corporate events and meetings should also be focused on healthy eating principles.”

No matter what your company provides through its wellness programme, healthy eating during workdays, in the end, is about the food choices you make each day.

Registered dietitian, Jandri Barnard, says: “It’s important to avoid the pitfall of just grabbing something quick to eat for a rushed workday lunch because all too often that’s likely to be highly processed or fast foods that are calorie dense but nutrient-poor.”

Jandri’s top tips for planning, shopping and preparing workday lunches and snacks:

· Planning, planning, planning! – plan meals for the week before going shopping and shop only for the ingredients you need

· You can consider making an extra portion of your evening meal as a leftover for your work lunch the following day. Remember to keep pre-prepared meals at appropriate temperatures to prevent spoilage

· Dishes that are cooked the evening before, such as breakfast porridge, soups, grain and lentil salads, pasta salads or leftover meals need to be cooled down properly and packaged in containers that can be reheated again, if necessary

· Pre-prepare lunches, and even breakfasts, beforehand on the weekends or in the evenings

· Smoothies can be prepared in the mornings before work but get the ingredients ready the evening before

· Pre-pack snacks such as whole-wheat crackers, bran muffins, unsalted nuts, seeds, lean biltong and dried fruit to pop into your bag for work

· Vegetable crudités or fresh fruit slices can also form part of your work snack box

· Keep water bottles filled and have extra herbal or fruit tea bags ready for your workday

· Sandwiches and wraps can be prepared in the mornings – or the evenings before if you have time constraints in the morning – but rather pack fresh produce such as tomatoes and cucumbers separately and add these later, as they can make the bread or wrap soggy and unappetizing

· Use whole-wheat or low GI bread, rolls or wraps rather than refined white flour products which will result in you being hungrier sooner in the day

· Remember that avocado turns brown due to the oxidation process when it is exposed to oxygen. To prevent this, add a sprinkle of olive oil or squeeze some lemon juice over your sliced or mashed avocado. Then you still have green avocado to add to your salad or sandwich at lunchtime.

Three, dietitian-approved, easy recipes that are ideal for workday meals/snacks: 

Peanut Butter Spice Granola / Bar

As a bar, this is a spicy, fibre-rich on-the-go snack to enjoy while commuting or in-between meetings. The granola version can be combined with yoghurt or drinking yoghurt for a workday breakfast or lunchbox alternative. This snack or meal has a lower glycaemic index to prevent blood sugar spikes and feeling an afternoon slump.

Black Forest Smoothie bowl

An antioxidant morning booster, which can be used as a vegan or dairy-free breakfast option if cottage cheese is excluded. It is fibre-rich with oats and chia seeds to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. 

Moroccan Spiced Lentil Salad with dried apricots and almond flakes

An easy, nutritious salad to pre-prepare for work or have as a load shedding meal after work. This tasty salad is packed with vitamins, low-fat protein and fibre with dried fruit, nuts and spices for extra zing and comfort.

Head over to nutritionconfidence.wordpress.com for more recipe ideas.