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Cafeteria Food Trim Down

Simple substitutions and small portions make a big difference.

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Woman eating cafeteria food

The environments in which we live and work influence the types of food and drink we consume. Live with people who favor fast food, and it’s more likely you’ll be eating greasy pizza and fries. Sit down to lunch with workmates who forgo the salad for the creamy spaghetti, and your diet may suffer as well. That’s why a “cafeteria food intervention” can improve diet and health. After all, the workplace is the most common place where adults eat outside of the home.

A team of investigators from the University of Cambridge tested the impact on calories purchased after changing both portion sizes and the availability of some higher-calorie food and drinks in 19 workplace cafeterias over a 6-month period. The results of their study are now published in PLOS Medicine.

The researchers worked with caterers to replace some higher-calorie cafeteria food and drink products with lower-calorie ones; for example, swapping bacon cheeseburgers with grilled chicken burgers. They also trimmed the portion size of some higher-calorie products by about 14% (such as serving smaller slice of lasagne). These two interventions led workers to buy food and drinks with fewer calories. In fact, they reduced the number of calories they purchased each workday by an average of 11.5%.

These types of changes could make an important contribution in reducing excess calorie consumption, helping to tackle obesity in the workforce and its related health ramifications. Similar relatively simple changes to menus could also work in other cafeteria settings like universities and public schools. Don’t take away the fries—just serve them in sizes that are less of a calorie bomb.

See also: Poor Food Choices at Work Can Impact Overall Diet


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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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