Make it Easy: Solutions for Healthy Diets

By: Nebeyou Abebe
Oct 24, 2016 11:45 AM ET

As the American diet has gotten more convenient, it has also gotten less healthy. The fast food, prepared food and easy-to-grab snacks that make up many of our meals have contributed to an obesity crisis and to the rise of chronic illnesses like diabetes.

In response to the obesity epidemic, health-conscious people are choosing slow food over fast and getting back into their kitchens to cook healthy food from whole ingredients. That’s a great thing to do, but it’s not going to be practical in all situations. Modern life still requires us to grab a snack or a sandwich on the go. That’s why one major strategy of fighting obesity must be to make healthy foods just as convenient—if not more convenient than alternative options.

Food service operations all over the world are working on ways to encourage customers to make healthy choices.  The challenge is that just offering a few healthy dishes often isn’t enough to change behavior. To see meaningful behavior change, healthy choices must be easy to make. That means they have to be easy to find in the cafe, and they have to look just as appetizing as their less healthy counterparts. When healthy choices are easier to make, they soon become second nature.

One way that Sodexo is doing this is through Mindful by Sodexo. The program is made up of dishes created by dieticians working alongside chefs, so the entrees, sides, snacks and deserts are healthier but just as appealing. The focus is on creating filling dishes, while at the same time meeting nutritional requirements. For example, Mindful entrees have no more than 600 calories, while deserts have no more than 200, and all items have to have less than a 35 percent of calories come from fat. Communication with customers regarding any change is essential to success. Dining options are clearly identified as Mindful, with labeled ingredients.

A key part of this project is promoting a plant-based diet, which can improve health and can also be better for the environment. When it comes to plant-based diets, having enough options is important. In doing so we also ensure that vegetable soups aren’t made with chicken broth, or that adding meat to a salad may be an option but it’s not the default choice.  All Sodexo cafés offer plant-based food choices, and 49 percent of menu items are typically vegan or vegetarian.

Finally, making healthy choices easier is especially important in schools. With rates of childhood obesity finally plateauing after years of increases, it’s important to continue the push to get kids to eat well. Two years ago, Sodexo implemented Smarter Lunchroom tactics, which nudge kids toward healthier habits. By giving healthy foods age-appropriate names or moving them closer to the register, kids will be more likely to take them. Other ways we’re making nutrition easier for kids is by adding healthy choices to the vending machines, so kids have healthy options for school snacks.

A recently published infographic details more of the ways we’re promoting healthy options for the millions of people we serve. Do you have other ideas for making healthy food options easy? Please share them in the comments section on Sodexo Insights.