Can Your Company Catering Create Happier Employees? How Food Affects Our Mood

Posted by on Thursday, March 13th, 2014 with 0 Comments

Imagine this scenario: You were late to the office, and were on the receiving end of some “constructive criticism” at a morning meeting. You skipped lunch to meet a deadline, and by 3 pm, you’re starving and stressed. And, if you’re like most people, you aren’t thinking about how refreshing and nourishing a nice salad sounds — you’re making a beeline for the vending machine, and ravenously trading your quarters for your favorite plastic package of chocolate-chip cookies or salty potato chips.

man with cheeseburger cut in half

Emotional eating involves more than sadness & ice cream!
Image source: Flickr user Joelk75

We all know that how we feel and what we eat are intertwined. Our collective image of emotional eating usually involves a crying person and a tub of ice cream; it’s news to no one that we tend to reach for “comfort foods” — ones that reward our sugar, fat, and salt cravings — when we’re upset. But, in truth, the interplay of foods and moods is a little more complicated than a breakup and Ben & Jerry’s. Examining a few recent studies can shed some light on how the workplace can influence our dining choices — in some cases, for the better. Whether you spend your days in a cubicle or a corner office, it’s worth paying attention to the science behind our moods and our foods: what we eat can have a drastic impact on our performance in the workplace, and these studies should probably be influencing your company catering plan. A very recent study from researchers at the University of Delaware examined the relationship between our moods and the foods we eat – specifically, what we’re thinking about or how we’re feeling when we choose to eat healthy food. Some prior studies have found that we still like junk food when we’re in a good mood (think going out for a birthday dinner and celebrating with cocktails, appetizers, and dessert). Others observed that people in a good mood, specifically those who expected to stay in a good mood for a long time, made healthier eating choices. If they felt like their good mood was fleeting, though, they’d be more likely to eat “comfort foods”, supposedly to help prolong their positive emotions.

smiling worker eating

Long-lasting good moods can help us choose healthier foods.
Image source: flickr user smallkaa

This new study plays off the concept of food and the future. Participants were divided into groups and asked to think about different chunks of time: either the present or the future. And whether people were in a good mood or a bad one, the ones who thought about the future were more likely to make healthier food choices. The study’s lead author, professor Meryl Gardner, presented her interpretation of the findings to The Atlantic: “When you’re focused on the near term, when you’re looking at what’s in front of your nose, you respond with what’s going to give you quick pleasure. And that’s triggered very much by bad moods.” So there’s one lesson to take away: when you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or in an otherwise negative mood, take a moment to contemplate your future. Picture yourself behind the boss’s desk in a few years, or the dream project you’ve been gunning for finally coming to fruition. This study suggests that this kind of long-term thinking might lead you to choose a healthy snack – one that will help you stay healthy and reach your goals – instead of the short-term comfort of cookies or chips. Another way to combat your vending-machine urges is to ask your employer to support employee health and happiness by stocking plenty of good-for-you snacks in the office break room! Nuts are one of the best snacks you could seek out, since they satisfy a salty craving while also providing protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat; another smart choice is fresh fruit, which delivers a bit of sweetness along with plenty of fiber to keep you full.

coworkers around a catering table

Does your company catering plan support eating for a good mood?
Image source: flickr user sociomantic

Another relevant finding comes from two studies over the last few years, one from Penn State and one from New Zealand’s University of Otago. Both tracked the positive impact eating healthy has on our moods, and specifically pointed to evidence that eating healthy  foods makes us happier – rather than happy people eat healthier foods. Tracking detailed food consumption and mood fluctuations from hundreds of participants, both studies found that eating healthy foods — specifically, fruits and vegetables — made people happier. Not only were they happier on the day they ate the fruits and vegetables, but also on the following days. Given that happier employees make for more productive employees, employers should take note. The evidence is mounting: from reducing risk of disease (and thus health care costs) to increasing productivity to our very moods, what we eat really makes a difference in the work environment. How does your company catering plan help — or hinder — employee mood? If your lunch table is often full of pizza delivery boxes, consider choosing a more vegetable-focused cuisine for takeout lunches, like sushi or healthy sandwiches. And if you regularly host breakfast meetings in the office, consider healthy options like omelette bars from a catering company, or even a continental-style spread from a nearby deli, with fruit, yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs taking the place of sugary doughnuts or calorie-dense bagels with cream cheese. Take a step to move your office in the right direction! Show your staff some appreciation and give them a potential happiness boost by serving wholesome office meals. From healthy takeout options to fully catered meals, the food delivery team at Waiter.com can help put lunch on the table, and smiles on your employees’ faces.

When it comes to feeding employees and coworkers, make your company's food program really count! If your workplace dining plan needs to take it up a notch — or if you don't have one at all — Waiter.com is here to help. From Virtual Cafeteria Service to diverse menus to local takeout & deliveryWaiter.com offers customizable dining solutions for every business and budget. Contact us today to get started!

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