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Food Habits at Work

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When you think about the culinary atmosphere at your job, what comes to mind? Is it the office gossip who hangs out in the kitchen at lunch telling her favorite stories? Or perhaps the upscale lunch meeting that was paid for with a company credit card? Whether your job comes with pleasant meal perks, you typically have three options for chowing down during your break: have food delivered, order takeout, or bring food from home.

If you’re trying to lose weight or adhere to a certain diet, you might try preparing meals and snacks at home. But if you work an erratic schedule and hardly have time for a sprint to the copier, ordering in may be the most feasible option. We surveyed 1,024 American employees who clocked in at least 40 hours a week and asked them how their food habits at work affected their professional experiences.

On the Go

 

Our Food Habits at Work

Ordering food is convenient and common. Over 90% of the employees surveyed said they purchased meals at least once in the past month. What’s more, the average number of meals ordered was three per week, with nearly 16% saying they did not regularly prepare food at home.

Conversely, over 84% of respondents reported preparing meals at home, and those employees brought an average of 4.9 meals to work each week. While making food can be time-consuming, the financial savings of doing so are much more than people realize.

Pinching Pennies

Buying or Bringing Lunch

According to the most recent study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend around $3,000 per year on takeout food. With many lunches starting around $8, that’s more than twice the price of food typically brought from home. On average, our survey respondents spent almost $9 per meal on takeout or delivery, with the majority purchasing one to two times a week.

On the flip side, those who brought food from home spent half the money on average and were more likely to sustain that practice throughout the week. Employees in pursuit of financial flexibility said avoiding premade food options was key.

Lower Your Stress

Workplace Food Habits

The food you consume does affect your quality of life. When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, you may be more likely to choose quick meals and processed foods because of hormones like ghrelin and cortisol. But giving into these tempting foods decreases your body’s ability to cope with stress effectively.

The people surveyed reported both lower stress levels and higher life satisfaction when they brought meals from home by more than 6 percentage points each. This might be because those who prepare food feel more in control of what they consume. Almost 40% of respondents said the decisions they make when eating out negatively affect their health. Higher levels of satisfaction might also mean eating in more often results in healthier food choices. And good health correlates with lower stress levels.

Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions Report points to increasing stress and anxiety. You can help control some of those negative experiences by what you put on your plate.

Pros and Cons

By far, the greatest benefit of bringing meals from home was saving money, but the second and third reasons revolved around food choices and health. However, there’s science here too. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says these benefits include saving money, measuring appropriate portion sizes, and meeting nutritional requirements.

Making home-cooked meals can be time-consuming but results in happier decisions. Of the employees who ordered out, 21% said they were unsatisfied with their culinary choices. But they also reported simply not having the time to spend in the kitchen.

Harvard says that to begin meal planning, people need to figure out what day works best with their schedules and what foods they prefer to eat. For more help, see this list of tips.

Skipping Meals Isn’t the Answer

Skipping Meals

Depending on how stressful your job is, you may be tempted to skip meals at work to save money or time. In fact, 53% of the employees surveyed said they had done so in the past month. Entry-level and senior positions said they did this more often, and those who skipped meals usually associated their job with higher levels of stress.

But more employees reported skipping meals for financial reasons rather than overwhelming workload, especially those who earned $35,000 or less. On average, they skipped three meals per month. Preparing meals can help make budgeting and saving money easier, both in the short and long term.

What We’ve Learned

Eating out or ordering food to the office seems like a great idea when you’re in the thick of a huge project deadline or behind in client meetings, but is it really the most beneficial option? Our survey concludes people who made food at home were more inclined to report higher levels of work and life satisfaction, as well as financial stability and better health. There is plenty of meal planning and home cooking tips and hints out there. When it comes to eating at work, remember that you do have options.

Sources

https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/consumer-expenditures/2015/pdf/home.pdf

https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/united-states-of-stress/ultimate-diet-guide-stress-management/

https://www.gallup.com/analytics/248909/gallup-2019-global-emotions-report-pdf.aspx

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2017/03/20/meal-prep-planning/

Methodology

For this project, we surveyed 1,024 full-time employees who worked 40+ hours a week about their workplace food habits. 46% of respondents identified as women, and 54% identified as men. Our respondents ranged in age from 19 to 71 with an average age of 36.6 years and a standard deviation of 10.3.

863 respondents brought food to work, and 953 ordered food at work in the past month. Respondents who did both in the past month answered questions about each food habit. 503 respondents reported skipping meals at work in the past month. 218 respondents earned $35,000 or less annually.

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