How to encourage healthy practices at your next meeting

My colleagues are scattered across the state, so a few times a year we meet up in person to plan upcoming projects. Whenever we gather, we feel compelled to bring food to share — it’s the local style of eating together and sharing.

But as food and nutrition educators, we walk the talk (most of the time) by eating healthfully.

At a recent meeting, we had trail mix, apples, pears, oranges, cookies, coffee and water. I brought strawberry mochi (made with fresh strawberries!) from Hilo.

Many of us find ourselves in a variety of meetings, workshops, and conferences where we do a lot of sitting and eating.


Instead of offering high-calorie treats at your meeting, why not feature fruits and veggies? Healthy foods will boost productivity and send a healthful message.

There are ways to weave healthful practices into meetings, though.

One of the training opportunities we offer at the Nutrition Education for Wellness Program at the University of Hawaii is “healthy meetings for wellness.”

We encourage organizers and planners of meetings (and workshops and conferences) to offer a variety of foods, healthy food choices and options, and opportunities for physical activity.

A simple way to make your meeting healthy is to serve fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned or dried), whole grain breads, low fat dips, unsalted nuts and seeds.

You can include pastries and foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar, but serve them in smaller portions. Beverages should also be low calorie, low fat, and low sugar, like water, unsweetened iced tea, and coffee with low-fat milk instead of cream.

Meals should include lean protein that’s been broiled, baked, grilled, poached, sautéed or roasted. Offer vegetarian choices for those who don’t eat meat or just want a lighter meal. Avoid fried foods and cream sauces that contain a lot of fat, and feature whole grains in your meals, like brown rice and whole wheat bread.

Most meeting venues that offer a food service will work with organizers to plan healthier fare and accommodate specific requests. If you’re the one purchasing the food, there are many low fat, low sugar and low salt options.

In addition to offering healthier food at meetings, you can work movement into your gathering. During breaks, encourage attendees to take a short walk. Play music and hold an impromptu dance session. Have small breakout groups do walk-and-talk meetings.

Allowing people to move around and not eat too much food or too many calories will keep them more alert and engaged.

During our work group meeting, we decided not to drive to lunch but walked down the street for some Indian food. It felt good to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. And the mini-plates we chose, instead of full plate lunches, didn’t leave us overfilled.

So keep your meetings productive. Offer healthy foods and beverages, give attendees a choice of foods, and get people moving. Check out this healthy meetings checklist for more tips.


Julia Zee, MPH, RDN, is an extension educator in Nutrition and Health for the University of Hawaii’s Cooperative Extension Service. One of the projects she works on — the Nutrition Education for Wellness Program — offers programs and training statewide in consumer foods and nutrition education. NEW promotes healthy food choices, skills building, and access to a healthy diet.


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