Survey Details Employees' Struggles to Eat a Healthy Lunch; Aramark's Health and Wellness VP Explains Why

Survey from the American Heart Association and Aramark highlights employed Americans' desire to eat more healthfully and reveals impact of workplace environment on nutrition choices
Sep 16, 2019 12:15 PM ET

More than half (56%) of employed Americans who typically eat lunch during work hours struggle to eat a healthy lunch at work, and more than three quarters (77%) of all employed Americans say they’re more likely to make healthier decisions at other times of the day if they eat healthy at lunch, according to a new survey from the American Heart Association, the leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives, and Aramark, the largest U.S.-based food service company.

The survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Heart Association and Aramark as part of their joint initiative, Healthy for Life® 20 By 20, among 1,062 employed U.S. adults aged 18 or older, 907 who say they typically eat lunch during work hours.

Aramark's Dan Wainfan, Vice President Brand - Health, Wellness and Nutrition, discusses the survey in this Q & A.  Wainfan leads a center-of-excellence within Aramark's Brand Management and Marketing function. His team focuses on creation and activation of industry-leading consumer health, wellness and nutrition strategies, programs and partnerships.

1. Why is it a struggle to eat healthy at the workplace?

More than half (56%) of employees who typically eat lunch during work hours said that they struggle to eat a healthy lunch at work. Eating healthy can be such a challenge because for many, it represents a significant change, compared to how they normally eat, and that fact is—behavior change is hard!

Changing how we eat is always difficult, but lunch at work can be particularly challenging. The research Aramark commissioned with the American Heart Association helped to demonstrate why: Employees who find themselves eating an unhealthy lunch at work are heavily influenced by convenience (60%) and taste (54%).

Even when healthy choices are readily available, it’s clear that in workplaces across America, the healthy choice still isn’t rising to the top for some employees.

It feels easier and quicker (and a little less risky) to go for an indulgent favorite that you know will be enjoyable and satisfying (a quick burger and fries feels like such a ‘sure thing’).

The good news is that, according to the study, more than 9 in 10 employees who typically eat lunch during work hours (91%) are interested in improving the healthfulness of their typical workday lunch. By helping people discover new, healthier favorites we see the opportunity to help make the healthier choice the first choice—not every day, but frequently enough so that less healthy options start to become more of a special occasion treat, instead of an everyday habit.

2. Is stress a contributing factor to making unhealthy dietary choices?

Workday stress definitely plays a role in food choices. Our survey indicated that on a stressful day more than 1 in 3 (35%) employees across the country who typically eat lunch during work hours have a less healthy lunch than they would have had on a typical day.

Since stress in the workplace isn’t going away anytime soon, understanding the impact of stress on food choices gives us additional insights as we create healthier workplace solutions.  A variety of solutions from healthier grab-and-go offerings, to workplace health engagement and education programs can help. These programs encourage stressed employees to stop and think, and make their choices mindfully, armed with knowledge that helps them make the healthier choices that best fit their lives.

3. What can people do to tackle the issue and eat healthier meals at work?

The first and most important thing for those looking to adopt a healthier workday lunch routine is to realize that healthy food can be (and should be!) delicious and satisfying. No one wants to deprive themselves, and lunch at work is no exception. The trick to making healthy choices a habit at work, and throughout your life, is finding options you love.

Our research with the AHA clearly showed that the vast majority of employees (80%) say that having healthy food options at work is important to them. However, from our experience in workplace cafés around the country, it’s clear that these positive intentions don’t always result in healthy choices. Good intentions only result in healthy choices when employees visiting their workplace café discover that the choices are delicious and satisfying.

That’s one of the main reasons why Aramark chefs and dietitians have focused almost obsessively on assuring that the many healthier choices on our menus deliver on being delicious. While the healthier choices being developed in our kitchens do have less calories, saturated fat and sodium, and more vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, their success on our menus has been driven by the fact that they’re delicious choices first and foremost—with the added benefit that they also happen to be better for you.

One recent example of Aramark’s health inspired culinary development in the workplace, as well as in in colleges and universities and hospital cafés has been our major plant-forward initiative.

Aramark launched our plant-forward initiative to elevate the role of healthy ingredients on our menus in support of our work with the American Heart Association. Our focus is on introducing innovative recipes that appeal to everyone, whether they are following a traditional, vegetarian or vegan diet. With a plant-forward approach, our chefs employ a style of cooking that emphasizes healthy plants at the center of the plate, but that also includes selections with a proportionately smaller amount of meat, fish or poultry.

As part of our plant-forward initiative we have:

  • Introduced more than 200 new plant-based recipes
  • Reached a 30 percent share of menu offerings that are vegan or vegetarian
  • Reduced the amount of red meat on average in Aramark recipes by 5 percent

4. What is Healthy for Life 20 by 20?

Aramark and the American Heart Association want to empower Americans to make better food choices. Since 2015, Aramark and the American Heart Association have been working together to improve Americans’ diets and health 20 percent by the end of 2020 through an initiative called Healthy for Life 20 by 20

Healthy for Life 20 by 20 introduced industry leading menu commitments by establishing the bold goal of reducing calories, saturated fat and sodium levels 20 percent, and increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains 20 percent. Changes are impacting the meals Aramark serves annually, at thousands of colleges and universities, businesses, hospitals and other destinations. Healthy menu innovation is being combined with consumer education and engagement programs, as well as community health and employee health initiatives with the goal of improving the health of all Americans.

5. What happens in the next phase? Is there more research warranted?

Looking ahead, Aramark and the American Heart Association will be working closely together to build on the success of our Healthy for Life 20 By 20 health impact initiatives.

In support of our work together with the AHA, we believe it is essential to continue to build on our deep understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviors relating to the role health and wellness plays in away-from-home dining. Building on the findings of our recent workplace lunch study with additional research is part of our plan.

We will use this research to further our commitment to health and wellness and also continue to share our research with our non-profit and community thought leaders to contribute to the dialogue about improving the state of health, wellness and nutrition. 

To read the full press release about the survey and for additional resources, click on the links below.


Survey Method:

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Heart Association and Aramark from May 14-16, 2019 among 1,062 employed U.S. adults ages 18 and older, 907 of whom say they typically eat lunch during work hours. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact

About Aramark

Aramark (NYSE: ARMK) proudly serves Fortune 500 companies, world champion sports teams, state-of-the-art healthcare providers, the world’s leading educational institutions, iconic destinations and cultural attractions, and numerous municipalities in 19 countries around the world. Our 270,000 team members deliver experiences that enrich and nourish millions of lives every day through innovative services in food, facilities management and uniforms. We work to put our sustainability goals into action by focusing on initiatives that engage our employees, empower healthy living, preserve our planet and build local communities. Aramark is recognized as one of the World’s Most Admired Companies by FORTUNE, as well as an employer of choice by the Human Rights Campaign and DiversityInc. Learn more at or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Healthy for Life® 20 By 20

In 2015 the American Heart Association, the leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives, and Aramark, the largest U.S. based food service company established a multi-year collaboration called Healthy for Life 20 By 20 to improve the health of all Americans through better nutrition and lifestyle habits. For more information on Healthy for Life 20 By 20, visit: