By Lindsey Kennedy, RD, Nutrition Programs Manager at Community FoodBank of New Jersey and Paul Kapner, Director/ Executive Chef at Community FoodBank of New Jersey
With snow in the forecast all too often this winter in New Jersey, we want to give our staff something to look forward to other than messy commutes. What can make people happy over the course of a gloomy winter? Food. Good food. We decided to improve our of efforts having healthy and delicious food available to those we feed, including staff. The only problem is that healthy food has a bit of a reputation for being bland, too expensive or just not fulfilling. But small changes over time can add up to big results without overwhelming people. So what do you do to encourage healthy changes?
1. Start slow
Our Food Service Training Academy (FSTA) prepares lunches for our staff four days/ week. They are taught to use healthy ingredients in their cooking to bring out bright, fresh flavors. Over the past few months, we have introduced healthier versions of specific items. Instead of serving white rice or regular pasta, we offer brown rice or whole wheat pasta. We've also tried to introduce other whole grains such as quinoa. Fresh herbs and spices are used to enhance the food instead of salt or butter.
2. Know your clientele
Since many of our employees suffer from Diabetes, the FSTA has started baking sugar-free desserts. You're not going to get people to stop taking desserts with their lunch when they have always been offered. So instead, we try to make them more appropriate for our staff. Even when celebrating birthdays for our staff every month, we have a regular cake but also sugar free desserts and fruit salad. This way, they have the ability to make a healthier choice if they desire. We also listen to staff suggestions. Grilled chicken, oil & vinegar and trail mix have all been requested for the salad bar. These ingredients were added to encourage staff to take salads as their meals or with their meals.
3. Make it fun
We often incorporate monthly themes or hot topics into staff meals as well. At the beginning of flu season, we offered a yogurt bar full of immune-boosting ingredients. Twice during American Heart Month, we offered a heart-friendly lunch menu. We kept popular items on the menu like pizza, shrimp, chili and burgers but simply offered them in an alternate way. The pizza was made with whole-wheat crust, lean meats and lots of vegetables. The chili was made with lean turkey, sweet potatoes and black beans. And a veggie burger was made with quinoa, chickpeas, peppers and mushrooms and was also a huge hit the day it was served! Nutrition facts for each heart-friendly recipe were posted above the item along with ingredients so staff could make informed decisions about the entree items they were choosing to put on their plates. Recipe cards were available along with heart-shaped stress balls and fresh fruit on tables throughout the cafeteria. On National Chili Day, chili trivia was displayed on tables in the cafeteria as well. We still offer popular items but also show how they can be made healthy and still taste great without lots of added salt, fat or sugar.
At times it is an uphill battle. There are complaints about the brown rice or whole wheat pasta or requests for bacon in the salad bar. But the goal is to give everyone the ability to make a choice. We want our staff to try new food items, just like we encourage the children of our Kids Cafe programs to do. Our message is simple: healthy foods can be easy to make and taste great.