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Employers belong in the kitchen

Employers understand employees are what they eat, but are hesitant to get involved: Exclusive Canadian HR Reporter survey

By Todd Humber (

There’s a glaring disconnect in the results from the Nutrition in the Workplace Survey conducted by Canadian HR Reporter and Nutrition Naturally. (See articles 8673, 8652 and 8651  for complete survey coverage.)

The first question we asked employers was, “Do you think food choices relate to performance at work?” The answer was a resounding yes — only 3.7 per cent said no, with 85.6 per cent responding in the affirmative and 10.7 per cent unsure.

The second question we asked was, “Do you think employers have a role to play in employees’ eating habits.” In this case, only one-half of respondents — 48.2 per cent — said yes.

So if there’s no doubt what employees eat affects job performance, and employers understand this, then why the hesitation to get involved? The obvious answer is many employers don’t think it’s any of their business.

That thinking is as understandable as it is wrong. Employers are in a unique position to help employees and their families, to educate workers about nutrition and to teach them how to cook healthy meals. After all, workers spend at least one-half of their waking time on the job.

British chef Jamie Oliver spearheaded a great campaign in the United Kingdom in 2008, which was turned into a four-part series, Jamie’s Ministry of Food, that can still be caught in reruns on the Food Network. The show was based on the notion of “pass it on” — if Oliver taught eight people in the city of Rotheram, South Yorkshire, how to cook some simple recipes, and they passed that knowledge on to two people, who in turn passed it on, the entire city would be cooking in just 15 steps.

He had some of his best successes by convincing employers to teach workers how to cook during their lunch hours. It made for great television. But it’s also an idea employers across Canada should embrace. Lots of companies, after all, do “lunch and learns.” Why not, then, do a “learn and lunch” — give employees the opportunity to learn how to cook a healthy meal and then actually sit down and eat it?

This doesn’t have to be expensive. Every office has a budding amateur chef and odds are she’d be happy to take the opportunity to teach co-workers. Participants could chip in to cover the cost of groceries.

The one catch may be facilities — clearly, most employers don’t have full kitchens. Results from our survey showed only 16.2 per cent had conventional ovens and 12.4 per cent had a cooktop. But arrangements could be made with a local restaurant, or even a grocery store (many now offer cooking classes) to use their facilities.

Too many people don’t know the basics of cooking or overestimate the time it takes to cook meals from scratch. But giving employees the bare essentials of cooking can go a long way in reducing the amount of processed food they eat.

I’ll get the campaign started with one of my favourite recipes — a curried butternut squash soup. It’s as easy to make as it is delicious. The night before you want the soup, take a butternut squash, cut it in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds and discard. Then roast the two halves of squash in a 400-degree oven for about 60 to 90 minutes until it has softened. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Scoop the squash out, discarding the skin.

When you’re ready to make the soup, boil about two cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth and throw the squash pieces in. Add a teaspoon each of curry powder, cumin and onion powder. Boil for 10 minutes. Then blitz it with a blender and serve. You can top it with sour cream mixed with a couple drops of lime juice.

Have an easy, healthy recipe to pass along? I’ll be posting this editorial as a blog on on Dec. 13. Add your recipe to the mix by posting it as a comment. Bon appétit.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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