Lunchtime meal choices have become a new source of tension in the workplace, with more than 40% of Australians admitting to feeling judged by colleagues when eating unhealthy meals.
According to the survey of 1,000 Australian workers, commissioned by healthy food retailer, SumoSalad, one in four Australians confess to judging co-workers for regularly making unhealthy decisions at lunch. When judging the overall health of a person, one in three goes as far as to base their decision purely by the type of food they see them eat.
When it comes to the reasons behind why people opt for a burger or fries at work, the strain of increased workloads and hours could be at fault. More than half of respondents (55%) believe that they are more likely to pick an unhealthy meal for lunch on stressful workdays.
Georgie Moore, SumoSalad's resident dietitian says, 'We often feel drawn to fatty foods when we are stressed, as we associate them with comfort. However, what our bodies actually need when feeling strained and over worked are highly nutritious meals that will keep us going for longer."
Moore also says that judgment in the workplace doesn't always come from a bad place. 'With the amount of information available to us about how bad certain foods are for the body, it's not surprising that people are taking note of not only the food they eat, but also the food people around them are eating. While caring is not a bad thing, Australians should be careful not to turn unhealthy eaters into the new cigarette smokers.
'Rather than make a colleague feel uncomfortable for their choice of lunch, the best way to help is to suggest going to lunch with them, as they will feel more inclined to make comparable choices."
Leading by example could prove to be an effective way to encourage colleagues to make healthier decisions, with 60% of respondents surveyed saying they are more likely to choose a nutritious meal if lunching with a healthy co–worker. Leaving colleagues to face the food court alone could be a recipe for disaster, with one in three people admitting to feeling ambushed by the amount of unhealthy food options available in a food court.
Luke Baylis, Co-Founder of SumoSalad said, 'Enticing Australians to make healthy decisions in a food court environment can be challenging. The aroma and look of indulgent food can deter even the most committed healthy eaters. As a result, it is up to us to show customers that healthy options are as delicious as they are nutritious."
To encourage Australians to eat healthy and seasonally, SumoSalad has introduced an Australian food court first, cultivating fresh produce in store through a hydroponic vertical garden wall. The installation boasts a range of fresh and seasonal vegetables, all grown and maintained in store for use in daily lunchtime meals.
The innovation, which is now on display at Sydney's premium corporate store at Darling Park and Highpoint in Melbourne, will be rolled out across select SumoSalad stores over the next three years.
'The hydroponic vegetable wall is our way of visually prompting Australians to make healthier lunchtime decisions. When choosing between a burger or salad, we hope that being able to see exactly where ingredients come from will be the clincher" said Luke Baylis.
Question: How has food judgement in offices changed over the years?
Georgina Moore: Food judgement hasn't necessarily changed; but it definitely has just become more prominent. Today, we are more aware than ever of the impact that good nutrition has on our health and wellbeing and because of this knowledge, we now judge others more openly.
Question: What surprised you about the research commissioned by SumoSalad around food judgement?
Georgina Moore: It didn't actually surprise me that people judge their colleagues food choices. What surprised me most, is that despite all the information out there on healthy eating, people are constantly making poor choices. This is especially true, on stressful working days. It seems that when we are most busy and feeling the pressure, we look to food we associate with comfort, such as burgers and chips. However, the impact of making poor food choices, directly impacts your energy levels, which in turn has a knock on effect on the quality of work you produce. Healthier lunch choices will actually lead to a more productive and energetic afternoon.
Question: How do food choices in the workplace often stress females?
Georgina Moore: We are all time poor, and when we need to make a quick lunch decision, a food court can be overwhelming with smells and counter displays of poor but tempting lunch choices. This can seem to magnify when trying to make a quick and healthy decision, which can be confusing and stressful, leading to poor food choices. It is best to, figure out what your options are, and decide what you want before you head out. This way, you can go straight there to help avoid any distraction.
Question: What advice do you have for females hoping to help others in choosing healthier options?
Georgina Moore: Try and opt for fresh and minimally processed foods, that way you are eating foods when they are at their most nutritious, with minimal additions such as fat, sugar or salt. Also, choose a meal with a variety of colours, as the colours of fruits and vegetables represent different nutrients.
Another great method to help determine what you should eat is to use the nutrition information that most fast food outlets are required to display. This will allow you to make an informed decision of how much salt, fat, sugar and kilojoules you will consume in your meal. SumoSalad are extremely transparent with this information, offering more nutritional information than required. SumoSalad has a great nutritional planner on its website, where you can filter through their wide range of lunch options, for example, you can look at options that are all low in salt, or low in fat.
Question: The survey found that 55% of Australians are more likely to choose unhealthy and indulgent meals on a stressful working day. How can we prevent turning to food when stressed?
1. Georgina Moore: Turning to less nutritious food is a result of a combination of habits and cravings. When we are stressed, our bodies crave carbs and we often associate carbs with -comfort foods', such as burgers. Next time you are feeling stressed at work, think outside the box, choose a healthy wrap, or a grain based salad to fulfil the body's cravings.
The trick to preventing poor choices when stressed, is to remember to make a conscious decision to choose better on these days. On days where you are less stressed and busy, go for a walk and check out the options within your surrounding food courts and make a quick note of some, filling and nutritious options. Knowing what healthy options are out there and having an idea of what you're going to get will help remove the distraction of junk food.
Question: As nutritionist, do you ever feel judged when eating out or in your workplace?
Georgina Moore: More often than not I am eating lunch by myself, so I seldom feel like I'm being judged. Though, I have lunch rotation of about four different options, which helps remove a lot of the 'distractions" provided by the food court.
Question: Which is your favourite salad or meal at Sumo Salad?
Georgina Moore: At the moment, I am loving SumoSalad's Asian Greens Salad! We should be getting at least five serves of vegetables a day and this salad is perfect to help fulfil that requirement on busy days. It has a mix of broccoli, asparagus, snow peas, sesame seeds and slivered almonds. The Asian Greens Salad is 97%fat free, high in protein, low kj, low gi, low salt, low cholesterol, high in fibre and low in carbs. As much as the salad looks like just a whole stack of greens, the flavour really hits the mark.
Question: What advice do you have for females in food courts?
1. Georgina Moore: When you have it, take the time out to check out the healthy options that are available.
2. Portion control - I often tell my clients if you want to be small, choose a small. If you want to be large, choose a large.
3. Use the nutrition information that some companies provide, if they don't have any information, try asking a staff member.
Question: What's a typical days diet, for you?
Georgina Moore: Breakfast
Option 1: Two wheat biscuits with added bran and no fat milk
Option 2: Oats with a tub of low fat yoghurt.
I love both these options, I am really conscious of ensuring I get enough calcium in my diet, so breakfast always contains at least one serve.
• Skim milk cappuccino with extra froth
I'm not one to snack; though I find around 11am my brain needs a short break from work. The 5 or 10 mins I'm out of the office to pick up the coffee means I get some fresh air and my brains gets a rest.
At lunch I usually have a wrap or a salad containing at least one of the below options. The bulk of my lunches are always salad and a protein source, this helps me feeling fuller for longer.
Option 1: Tuna and salad. I will have this twice a week to ensure I get my two serves of seafood per week.
Option 2: Red meat. To make sure I reach my four servings of lean red meat per week, I try and have a red meat lunch twice a week.
Option 3: For every other odd day, I choose a vegetarian option to mix it up.
I generally prepare dinner the moment I walk in the door from work. Dinner during the week is generally quick and easy and on the weekends I try and make up something with more depth in flavour. Our meals always contain at least 50% of vegetables on the plate.
Weekday: Stirfry, with lots of vegetables or meat and three vegetables
Weekends: A curry or Indian style meal, with steamed vegetables or salad.
Question: How does SumoSalad help provide healthier alternatives in Australia food courts?
Georgina Moore: SumoSalad fills a hole in the fast food industry, it provides Australians with healthy, nutritious and tasty food for people on the go. More importantly, they are very transparent about what is in each menu option, which really highlights the nutritional benefits of each item. This year, they have also introduced fresh cold pressed juices to help the 3pm afternoon sugar cravings!
Interview by Brooke Hunter