Boost Productivity with the Right Food to Fight Fatigue

Higher-ups across all kinds of organizations are tasked with driving operational excellence to accelerate growth. When looking at ways for teams to reach their professional potential—and for companies to exceed revenue targets or other growth goals—it’s necessary to look for lost productivity in unexpected places.

Enter the “afternoon slump.” Many are familiar with the idea. Right around early afternoon the coffee, energy drinks, donuts, or baked goods we consumed earlier in the day catch up to us. The quick energy from caffeine or simple carbohydrates (aka sugar) is long gone, leaving a tired lack of focus in its wake. Luckily the right food at the right time might give your teams the edge they need to push through the end of the day!

From cafeterias to self-checkout markets, there are plenty of ways you can help your employees (or, for schools, students and staff) defeat afternoon fatigue and boost productivity at the end of the day. Here are some recommendations from Creative Dining chefs to help keep the 3PM sleepiness at bay.

Lunch the Mediterranean Way

Often the meals that can make people sleepy mid-afternoon are heavy, hearty comfort foods. Rosialee Cunningham looks toward the Mediterranean for inspiration that’s a bit lighter. As executive chef at Ent Credit Union, Rosialee makes sure their menuing includes a week of Mediterranean-inspired cuisine each month.

“We’ve seen a huge change in employee attitude,” Rosialee said. “A Mediterranean diet offers a ton of benefits. It helps with heart disease, has been shown to reduce certain cancers. It can kickstart your metabolism, strengthen bones, reduce body fat, and so much more. The response has been amazing, and our diners absolutely love it!”

The possibilities are truly endless with something for everyone. They offered mixtures of grilled skewers with meat and vegetables, hummus, cucumber salad, falafel, turmeric rice, and so much more. Rosialee chooses ingredients intentionally, focusing on the health benefits. Red peppers provide collagen and vitamin C. Kalamata olives offer plenty of oleic acid, which has been linked to better heart health.

Each week is different, using a different mix of marinades that often include lemon and vinegars instead of relying on salt for flavor. They often use tzatziki sauce for dipping as a marinade. Rosialee also makes sure to use fresh herbs and spices to keep the food interesting without driving up sodium content. While most of the food they serve is unprocessed, dishes also include processed ingredients like pasta or pita pockets.

“People are happier when they have healthy, tasty options,” she said. “It tastes better and makes them feel better, and you can literally see the positive impact it has.”

Nutrient-packed Grab-n-Go Options

If you have a micro market already or plan to offer grab-and-go food on-site, variety is the name of the game. While it’s fine to offer the coffee, soda, candy, or snacks your people already reach for, it also presents an opportunity to expand their dietary horizons.

“Sabra makes these great little containers with hummus and pretzels. People especially reach for the flavored hummus, like roasted red pepper,” Rosialee said. “Hummus is good for controlling blood sugar, so they don’t have that huge sugar crash in the afternoon!”

Seth Lapsy, the chef manager at Stryker Medical North, operates one of the biggest micro markets on the company’s campus. They stock up on protein-packed smoothie pouches, which keep diners feeling fuller for longer while providing healthy natural sugars for more immediate energy. They also offer packages of pecans, dried fruits (apricots, apple chips, and banana chips, to name a few), salami and cheese cups, fresh salads, and fresh wraps.

Rosialee offers similar snacks for her diners. “Offering dried fruit and nuts gives our diners plenty of healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Together, those three things provide sustainable energy,” she said. “Lots of good vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Our diners seem to love it!”

Take the Tasty Road to Health

If you ask 100 people to define what “healthy” food is, you’ll likely get 100 different answers. In reality, it’s all about balance. In some cases, that means offering a healthier alternative to a favorite, like executive chef John Trolli does in his corporate cafeteria.

Initially they had an incredible soft serve ice cream station for employees, complete with chocolate and caramel sauce, sprinkles, candy toppings, and more. While delicious and tasty, our team knew there was a healthier option for satiating employee sweet tooths: non-dairy Dole Whip soft serve!

“Honestly, people were mad at first. Then they tried it and they loved it so much the complaints completely dropped off!” John said. “It’s important to recognize what diners want and where we can improve without putting them off. We have to ask ourselves, ‘How do we offer healthier options without completely eliminating the stuff they like?’ That’s the sweet spot.”

As another example, John and his team started offering infused water next to the free drip coffee and fountain soda machines. Each day they offer two flavor options—like cucumber mint, or mango strawberry—often repurposing still-ripe fruit unused the day before in the cafeteria. While the change is more recent, the impact on diners was immediate.

“It took about three days before people started coming up and asking, ‘Is this gonna be every day? This is really good!’” John said. “We have more people drinking water throughout the day than before, and we’re expecting to see fewer people drinking soda.”

What to Watch Out For

While these are all great things for your diners to add to their diets, it’s also important to understand what to skip to avoid afternoon fatigue. Refined sugar found in candy, sodas, some granola bars, and cereals can lead to a “sugar crash” after the initial energy boost.

If you start your day with a couple cups of coffee, think about spreading them out throughout the day instead. Drinking too much caffeine all at once can lead to tiredness and lack of focus a few hours later. With any caffeinated beverage, including both coffee and energy drinks, moderation is key to avoiding the afternoon slump.

Education is Key to Success

What your teams don’t know can’t benefit them. Humans are creatures of habit, and we’re far more comfortable reaching for our tried-and-true favorites, even if they’re less healthy. When buying a lunch, reaching for a classic cheeseburger may seem like less of a gamble than a wrap with flaked salmon, spinach, feta, peppers, and garbanzo beans. The risk of not liking something might dissuade someone from trying something new.

By making healthy “brain food” accessible and educating on the pros and cons of different foods or beverages, you can help your employees, staff or students set themselves on a path to greater health. If you’re curious what that could look like for your organization, we’d love to discuss your options with you. Reach out to us!

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