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Junk Food & Office Productivity

My otherwise enjoyable work environment is marred by a few Chow-related things. First, the closing of the Drift Inn on Bryant has done terrible things to morale, and the Utah and the Gallery Lounge are poor substitutes.

More importantly, our 60 person office is generously furnished with snacks. I've never had this experience at work. It's nice, but weird. There are some nominal attempts at healthy things, but the shopping is understandably done at Costco, so there is a wealth of Pop Tarts, cookies, Coke, etc. I've gained ten pounds in a year and can't imagine I'm generally healthier after eating mini Oreos.

I'm wondering if there are

a) any studies about junk food affecting productivity in an adverse way

b) alternative ideas for bulk office snacks, and where to buy them. Preferably things that taste good and won't result in me being derided as a hippie.

Any suggestions would be awesome, thanks.

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  1. Maybe you can convince your company to sign up for a fruit CSA as a health benefit for your workers. Here's a piece on Chow.com that discusses Capay's program, delivered to your door,

    One way to help get your five-a-day in.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      My answer above is specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, where the OP works, and the board where this was originally posted asking for local sources.

    2. Costco has healthy options. Just ask them to bring in the fruits and/or veggie platters.

      12 Replies
      1. re: Luthien

        We get apples and grapes and juice from Costco, but it only lasts two days, and then we have only Diet Coke left.

        My inclination, really, is to suggest that we do away with the food altogether. What's the purpose? To keep people from taking lunch breaks?

        1. re: isaac1972

          There have been studies that show that eating small meals throughout the day is better than large ones with greater spacing. There's people who skip breakfast also, which is shown to be very beneficial.

          So a first morning snack and an afternoon snack seem like they'd aid productivity to me.

          I like that my work has cold water (for a fee) because that means that there is less for me to have to lug in and it's already cold (and the water from the faucets just makes me feel ill). I like that I can get an afternoon boost or even something to stop my stomach from producing acid on those nights where I have to work later than normal.

          1. re: Luthien

            Skipping breakfast is beneficial??? That's contrary to everything I've ever heard.

            I've also never heard of offices charging employees for cold water. Does the 'ol water cooler have a coin slot now?

            1. re: Gary Soup

              I used to work for a government agency in DC and we had to pay 15$ a month to join the water club. only those who joined could drink the water from the cooler. everyone else had to have tap, but in such an ancient building no one wanted to drink it.

              1. re: Gary Soup

                I suspect Luthien meant that breakfast is important, so a morning snack makes up for those who don't eat breakfast before they go to work.

                1. re: mordacity

                  Yep.. sorry about the lack of clarity.. breakfast is beneficial.. lots of people skip it and so could use something at the office.

                2. re: Gary Soup

                  me = not clear. breakfast beneficial. people skip so it would be good to have "office breakfast" available.

                  My work has vending machines. They dispense various drinks, one of which is bottled water, which, while it is no more than filtered tap water, is a lot better than the plumbing.

              2. re: isaac1972

                Well, there's your answer. Get more fresh fruit & juice! Personally, I would like bananas as well as plums & cherries.

                Please don't suggest that they do away with the food altogether. My husband's largest client sounds much like your company. Some of the ladies in the office rotate going to Sam's Club (like Costco) to get the stuff. One of the ladies, in her 60's, felt like it was just too much for her to do - loading up the carts, her car, etc. Rather than telling others it had become a problem for her, she told her boss let's stop getting the snacks! Guess what! He said okay!

                So now everyone suffers & really misses the snacks that were kept on hand.
                Even for those who don't want to eat them, they come in handy on rainy days, late work nights and pre late afternoon meetings.

                As far as the purpose, I see more & more people in blood sugar slumps and that is probably what everyone is trying to avoid. I agree a healthier list of items would be good.

                At school, we get a huge can of tuna or someone cooks a turkey and we make tuna or turkey salad.

                We keep it in a several, clear tupperware containers that are labeled & dated & keep it in the fridge. We don't do it every week, but the weeks that we do it - everyone is happier, gets along better & is less cranky!

                We keep crackers & whole grain bread around for a quick snack or for lunch if we don't feel like going out (we get 30 min).

                Bags of Salad are a good accompaniment also if you have a big enough fridge. We did just fine with our dorm fridge tho!

                I would also like to add V8 & a variety of dried fruit & nuts to the list!

                1. re: Isabella

                  Costco delivers to business with a minimum order so that would have been an option for your husband's company. And it's mostly junky, non-perishable items.

                2. re: isaac1972

                  well, there's your solution. Fruit is so popular it gets eaten in a couple of days. All you need to do is buy more fruit. (and a fridge to store it)

                  CSAs are available in most cities if you want to go that route. you get plenty of local, in season, possibly organic fruit for everyone to enjoy.

                  1. re: isaac1972

                    Snacking at the office is the totally kiss of death. The combination of low physical activity and boredom and abundance of snack food means that even "healthy" snacks will lead to weight gain. I think you are right in wanting to end the program.

                    1. re: isaac1972

                      Costco also has pretty good dried fruit, nuts, and trail mix, all of which keep well and are healthier. If there's some sort of list, you could add those on.

                  2. It's not so unusual for an office to pay for some snacks to have around for those who have the munchies. Unless they chain you to your desk and make you eat what they provide for lunch, I don't see what's the big deal. Maybe you just need a little more will power.

                    It wouldn't hurt to casually suggest some snacks that are a bit healthier, there probably are a number of people who would support your request in an office that size.

                    1. I can hardly believe that your office will do away with the foods altogether, so here are some ideas for some more healthy things that hopefully can be found at Costco, if that's the only option...

                      100 calorie snack packs!!!
                      Instant Miso soups
                      Boxed Tofu (that could be added to soups)
                      White Canned Chicken Breast (pure protein and moist) or Canned Tuna
                      Canned veggies (I know, but I like some) and drizzled with a low cal dressing
                      Canned beans
                      Dole Fruit Cups
                      Instant plain oatmeal or steel cut oats
                      High Fiber cereals (to munch)
                      Sugar Free Jello snacks or non-fat pudding cups
                      Unsweetened apple sauce
                      Frozen Boca Burgers/Gardenburgers/Morningstar Farm products
                      Wasa Crispbreads
                      Low-cal sugar free hot chocolate
                      Veggie soups; Annie's Veggie Chili or Lentil Stew
                      Non-fat yogurt
                      String Cheese
                      Honey Smoked Turkey
                      Jarred low-fat Bean Dip w/ any sort of high fiber pita or tortilla dipper
                      Mini bags of sliced apples
                      Rice Cakes w/ Apple Butter or low sugar jam
                      Protein bars (Pure Protein, Zone, Body-for-Life, Think Thin)
                      G'day Gourmet Tuna/Salmon and mixins like salsa, curry, etc. (a canned combo... do all Costco sell these?) http://www.gdaygourmet.com

                      1. Everyone likes free stuff, esp. food, it's human nature...and thus you must resist or say something. It's a pretty reasonable request unless the buyers is a junk food junkie.

                        I use to work at a place that always had free junk food (oreos, chips ahoy, chips, etc.) and I made up rules like I could only take one at a time and go back to the desk...and I'd have to leave my desk for each on...and I'd still get a little sick of it. I also kept telling myself, "chips ahoy", you going to eat that?

                        P.S. there was a news report about 6 months ago about a medium-sized corporation that provided free fruit and veggies to all the employees, all the time. They told their health care insurance they should get a discount. The insurer said - prove it - so they did. The company got a 10-15% discount. Sorry, no link...but there's a bunch of stuff/studies about free fruit for school kids being very, very benefical.

                        1. Do workplaces in other countries have snacks like this? Food in the office all the time?
                          Someone mentioned the studies showing that small meals more often are better for you, but it seems like American eat and drink the whole day long. You can get fat on too much fruit juice.
                          Even breakfast in most countries seems to be much lighter than in the US? Coffee and bread. They seem healthy and obesity isn't a problem.
                          Are we doing something wrong here?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MakingSense

                            I am currently working for an international NGO in Africa and we have a healthy supply of soda and cookies. Also at places I have worked in the UK similar practices exist.

                          2. I don't know about studies showing junk food affects productivity in an adverse way -- if that were true, I would think Google wouldn't have an express policy that no employee is more than X distance (75 feet?) away from food. The snacks available at Google are impressive: everything from yogurt and fruit juice to bulk bins full of candy.

                            Those 100-calorie packs are good. A couple of things I bought recently for "healthy" snacks to keep in the desk at work are beef jerky and Nature Valley baked apple chips, both in single-serving packages. Pretzels are good -- at least, they're not high in fat.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Well there's two views on Google's free food. 1) it's a nice gesture and it's taking care of employees (there is healthy stuff around), and 2) if no ever has to leave, they get more work done as opposed to an 1 hr lunch that kills productivity.

                              1. re: ML8000

                                Interesting points from ML8000. The demographic of google's staff skews young and they grew up with frequent snacks, that they now expect. They can't be more than "75 feet from food" at all times according to google policy.
                                Even healthy snacks like yogurt, fruit juice, jerky, pretzels, and energy bars have a lot of calories that aren't burned off when you don't take breaks from the computer screen.
                                How much of this is hunger or low energy level? How much is just munching?

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Right. Thus, as I said, that practice argues against the original poster's suggestion that junk food snacks adversely affect productivity. Everyone knows that programmers run on Doritos and Coke. <vbg>

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Frankly I have to leave any office/work place to go outside at least once during the day so I'm sort of opposed to the "keep them here" mentality. Free lunch is nice and it's hard argue against it. Given a choice however I'd buy my own lunch and go outside. I think you live longer that way.

                                    re: programmers...I thought Kit Kats were part of the diet too.

                              2. With respect to b) in the original post, I do not have a suggestion for healthy bulk office snacks, but my personal solution is to bring healthy and /or delicious snacks for myself. When I know I have a homemade salsa in the fridge or some hummus with pita, or homemade trail mix (with only the things I like mixed in), or one delicious cookie from a favorite bakery or chocolate from a shop I like, I am not tempted to eat the stuff provided by the office. On days that I don't pack a snack that I"m really looking forward to eating, I find myself grazing on whatever is available in the office. It never really satisfies my craving, and (mini oreos aside) some of it just isn't that tasty. If I have something I love waiting for me, when I get tempted to eat the other stuff I think "oh but that snack you packed is so much tastier or heathier or whatever" and I find I"m able to wait and really enjoy it. I'm not sure if this would work for everyone but seems to for me!

                                1. My office provides snacks as well as lunches (in return for us agreeing to work through lunch). We recently changed who orders the food and we are getting a healthier selection (while still maintaining some of the less healthy options). Everyone is much happier and there is less ordering in lunch once a week. We have food delivered by Simon Delivers and some picked up at Sam's Club.

                                  One interesting note: When the person in charge of ordering food is a mom, we tend to have better selections, enough food for the week and much less spoilage!

                                  1. I worked as a temp in a lot of places for a few years in my twenties, including an architectural firm that offered sparkling water and bowls of fresh fruit, a trading floor that provided full and reasonably healthy breakfast and lunch buffets, and a huge food co. that kept its biggest selling cookies and candies in bowls in the kitchen. The folks that worked at that last one were huge. Huge. Now I work at a school of public health that keeps M&Ms at the front desk. I understand that my willpower is the problem, but I still kind of wish the M&Ms weren't there. I wouldn't have to spend my already dull and unhappy workday actively resisting temptation.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: curiousbaker

                                      I don't eat any of the chocolate my company provides for political reasons. I keep a small stash of expensive chocolate in my drawer. Given how strong I feel about my reasons for not eating certains brands of chocolate, it was surprisingly easy to resist the temptation-something I wasn't expecting. Granted, I don't know how successful I'd be if I didn't have my own stash!

                                    2. Why would anyone recommend they do away with the program? Because you don't have will power, keep snacking and have gained ten pounds? I guarrantee your entire office will be upset without the free food.

                                      There are plenty of food items you can request from costco that will be better for you and aren't terribly perishable. Yogurt, fruit cups, protein bars, some yogurt bars, even baked chips/triscuits, rice cakes, nuts, etc.

                                      Since your company gets fruit, but it is eaten with a matter of days, you can always ask them to get it more frequently or ask for a larger quantity each time. Apples and bananas last a long time without turning. Worst case scenario, bring in your own food if you find yourself grazing on crap. But do not ruin it for everyone else but suggesting they stop giving free food away.

                                      1. maybe its my own work ethic, but I find snacking(junk food, or "healthy" items) at a desk all day pretty unprofessional. I have found co-workers/employees who snacked all day got less done than the workers/employees who were there to do their jobs, not eat.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: swsidejim

                                          The secret is to keep it in your drawer and not on your desk.

                                          As far as getting stuff done...I think the work world is changing. It's hard to argue against the success of places like Google &/or Pixar, both food on the desk type places. I'm not saying it's right or wrong but if you look at the bottom line they do very well.

                                        2. We formed a breakfast club at my previous office to counter the mid day roaming that resulted in candy bars, chips, cookies, etc. etc. We rotated weekly and somebody on the list would bring in fresh fruit/veggies/instant oatmeal/etc. on Monday. Things like apples/oranges/bananas tend to keep through the week and having granola bars and whatnot was a better choice than a candy bar. What was brought in was to the discretion of who's day it was, and I tended to lean towards organic and whole grains when it was my turn. Otherwise you could have everyone chip in a set fee and have a list that's shopped from. Overall it was a positive experience.

                                          1. I work in a firm and we have drinks and some snacks. They are for us and clients and often if a meeting is running later than expected or you are stuck on a conference call these are essential so our people aren't grumpy. I wouldn't recommend asking them to stop that is really selfish.

                                            I agree with above posters about suggesting them to order fruit or dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, etc. If they won't bring your own in. If I eat a healthy lunch or a piece or pieces of fruit when I am hungry I don't want that junk. But the more often you eat I think the more often you want it. Once you stop eating it and eat other things (I suggest fruit for this) then you won't feel the need to have it so often. Maybe even ask them to just have a trial for ordering healthy things and if they don't get eaten they can stop. But it is more about you not eating it and figuring out you like healthier things more and choosing to eat them.

                                            Perhaps you could even offer to do a survey where you asked people if they would like healthier snacks and ask for suggestions.

                                            1. What a great topic to bring up! My office generally has its share of snacks too...most of which are unhealthy! It's really interesting to read about others having the same problem. Anyone know of the study the OP is looking for?

                                              1. I get the big container of cashews from costco, and they are good. Nuts do have a lot of calories, but they also have a lot of nutritional value. A much better choice than cookies and coke, and they keep longer than fruit.

                                                I don't know the research in this area, but I would guess that snacking increases productivity, because 1) calories are essentially a unit of energy, and 2) if you are getting your snacks in the office you aren't spending as much time out of the office getting food. However, I would suspect that eating simply carbohydrates (cookies, coke) would cause productivity to first increase then decrease, as you first get a burst of energy, then a lethargic low when blood sugar rapidly decreased after eating these kinds of snacks. That's why nuts are such a good choice--they are a protein not a carb, so they don't cause the rapid increase and decrease in blood sugar.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: Nicole

                                                  Oh and to add an economic side of the conversation it is normally much cheaper for a business to buy like coke, fruit juice, water in bulk and they can probably (not sure about this) write it off an a ordinary and necessary business expense on their taxes and then employees don't have to pay $1.25 or whatever a coke costs in a vending machine where the company normally has to pay for the vending machine, or doesn't make a tax deduction. So employees and employers would benefit.

                                                  1. re: Nicole

                                                    You are quite right about the effects of carbs and proteins on blood sugar level. With almost 10% of Americans suffering from diabetes or elevated blood sugar, the ready availability of (only) high-carb snacks is a health crisis in the making. My biggest complaint with nuts is they usually come loaded with salt. I really have to search around to find unsalted nuts.

                                                    I also like to make my own trail mix of cashews, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and just a few raisins or Ocean Spray's "Craisins" (the fruits have a lot of sugar, but if you eat them with lots of proteins, the blood sugar rise isn't so dramatic.) I'd like to throw in some peanuts as well, but my work place is "peanut free", so I can only do that at home. If I can find hazelnuts or brazil nuts at reasonable prices, I'll add those too, but they generally are only sold in salted mix nuts packages in my area.

                                                    1. re: KevinB

                                                      My husband and I own an engineering/construction company. On our last big project, rather than have a steady supply of snacks, we would have donuts every Monday morning (Krispy Kreme---not my fave, but local), on Tuesday I would bring in homemade chili and chips, Wednesday everyone was on their own and Thursday the boss (hubs) would take everyone offsite for lunch (and turn it into a safety meeting). Cold water was always available and very important due to the nature of the work. Our employees really enjoyed and counted on these perks, and they used them to foster goodwill with other onsite groups. It was a sign of being appreciated to snag an invite to "Chili Tuesday". At times these expenses seemed high, but it served to bond our team and make our company the envy of the site. p.s. at project end, we had a HUGE barbeque and invited everyone and anyone who had ever helped us as a thank you. Very well worth it in my opinion.

                                                      1. re: KevinB

                                                        Why does your office outlaw only peanuts? According to the FDA, it's only one of the eight most common food allergies in the US: milk, eggs, fish, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans and crustaceans (such as shrimp and crabs). Proteins in these eight major foods are estimated to cause 90 percent of the allergic reactions in the United States.
                                                        Some of these can be extremely severe, even life-threatening, but adults should know what to avoid if the snacks are clearly marked. I'm sure those in your office allergic to tree-nuts, eggs, or soy avoid the products that contain those.

                                                      2. re: Nicole

                                                        Watch out for the container just being open. There are studies out there that people don't pay attention to how much they eat if food is in front of them.

                                                        I became a lot more aware when I'd close up the container after taking a handful, and see exactly how fast I'd go through that handful.

                                                      3. One other idea... if you're really adamant about changing what's available for you to munch on (or not available), why don't you volunteer to do the Costco shopping? You get ultimate control. Yes, others may create a list of what they want, but you also control what combination gets purchased and can up the amount of health food options purchased.

                                                        This might sound odd too, but do you think your higher-ups would go for a CSA type of thing, or a monthly fruit delivery? That would be great to keep fresh produce around.

                                                        1. I think more workplaces should realize what the airlines have (reluctantly) discovered - that a hungy passenger is a cranky passenger. If keeping snacks around keeps everyone's blood sugar level on an even keel, then workers will be more productive, and (wishful thinking here) a little nicer to each other.

                                                          Of course there will be those who abuse the privilege, eat more than others, etc. As it has alredy been pointed out, that is basic human nature. I am shocked (but not surprised) that in a US Government office, people are actually having to PAY for cold water.

                                                          All of the employees at my business center are "blue collar" and proud of it. This means their lunch is always "brown food/white food" (fried carbs, pizza, burgers and soda) I would bring in my own snacks and drinks, stash them in the community fridge, only to have it all consumed by whoever while I was gone (Im outside sales and dont spend much time in the office, but it was nice to have a cold drink waiting for me at the end of a hot day). I finally solved the missing snack/drink problem by keeping apples and Enviga (green tea) in the fridge.... NO ONE bothers that stuff!

                                                          1. We get a fruit and nut CSA box from Capay (http://www.farmfreshtoyou.com/) once a week and it's usually empty (except for the grapes) within a few days.

                                                            I've been to your in-office parties and frankly I'm usually appalled at the food selection. I know Safeway deli trays are convenient and everyone just wants a ton of beer, but really. Heading out to a restaurant shouldn't be a necessity after a party. Tasty eats don't seem to be the priority.

                                                            Anyhow, as many people below have mentioned, Costco should have a bunch of healthy options. Yogurt, jerky, fruit, etc. My guess is that people assume everyone wants junk food to munch on throughout the day - that's mostly what we have in our vending machines here at HQ.

                                                            Maybe you could suggest moving to a CSA box for two week and see how that goes then take a poll at the company? Order four boxes a week to start.

                                                            Perhaps people are eating the crap snacks because they are there and when something healthy shows up instead (oh, an apple!) they might be just as pleased.

                                                            Capay Organic - consolidated in Ferry Bldg #9
                                                            1 Ferry, Bldg San Francisco, CA

                                                            1. Pretzels are a great snack that aren't as bad for you as many of the other things. Sesame sticks, one of my favourites, are also fantastic and have a lot more nutritional value than, say, chips or cookies, but I suspect they're very high in fat due to the sesame. Most bulk stores have them at pretty reasonable prices. How about things like banana / plantain chips, nuts, or fruit?

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: vorpal

                                                                Some people would disagree with the "bad for you" due to carb and sodium avoidance.