The Impact of Healthier Food Choices in Corporate Environments – Barbara Baron

The Impact of Healthier Food Choices in Corporate Environments – Barbara Baron

You may not make the connection between food and productivity, but the link is important.  Food is our body’s fuel and making the right choices has a HUGE impact on your energy and concentration throughout the day.  Understanding how to make good food choices sets up your energy and maximum productivity and enables you to focus on getting important things done.

Barbara Baron is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist who works with organizations to help educate employees on the benefits of healthier food choices.

Barbara is a former president of the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

If you are anything like me, sometimes making healthier food choices can be challenging, but Barbara shares her MVP strategy to help us make healthier choices and as a result experience increased energy and productivity in our everyday lives.

In this episode, Barbara and I walk through what her MVP strategy and shares ideas to make healthier food choices easy for us all! 


Donna Hanson: Hello and welcome to this Expert Insights episode. I’m Donna. Hanson. In this episode, we speak with Barbara Baron. Now let me tell you a little bit about Barbara

Donna Hanson: Known as the family meals dietitian Barbara is a registered dietitian nutritionist. That’s a bit of a mouthful.

Donna Hanson: She puts in 30 years of food and nutrition expert expertise into action, whether working with employer’s health professional groups or busy moms one on one.

Donna Hanson: Barbara dispels nutrition misinformation. She educates, informs and inspires people to unlock the benefits of healthier food choices, while enjoying the foods they love without guilt.

Donna Hanson: She’s the founder of the be your own MVP program through moderation variety and planning and individualize nutrition program based on moderation variety and a good plan. Sounds good.

Donna Hanson: She’s the past president of the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Diet tactics. She’s a Brooklyn native and Barbara is also a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and dietetic I always have trouble with that word.

Donna Hanson: works with organizations in a team’s empowering them to create balance nutritious meal plans to live a healthier and happier life one meal at a time. And who doesn’t want that. Hi, Barbara and welcome.

Barbara Baron: Hi, Donna. So great to be here. I know on the other side of the world. It’s just amazing technology.

Donna Hanson: It is, it is absolutely dietetics is an interesting one. And, you know, we have got lots and lots of questions and probably not enough time. But let’s just see how much we can get through that before we start, I’m curious to know how you came about.

Donna Hanson: Oh, how you came to be a dietitian. Were you always interested in it?

Barbara Baron: You know what I always was a science buff, or I love science and I, when I was back in seventh grade, you know, I won’t take it that far back, but I really enjoyed the digestive system and speeding up to when I was 15 in high school, you know, a little packet on a few pounds and high school dances coming around. And this was before the internet. So, I decided to go to my doctor and asked him for some advice. So, I got this nice little piece of paper from him, and it was a little tri fold piece of paper and it was 1200 calorie diet for an adult woman. What do you think is wrong with that picture?

Donna Hanson: And is he trying to tell you’re overweight,

Barbara Baron: Actually I’m 15 and this is for an adult woman.  I’m still growing. I’m still growing bones and muscle and everything, but I’m not faulting him. That’s what he had at the time. And then, you know, that was before all this fancy stuff anyway. Now we have more science and I took Advanced Placement biology because I was the science nerd and so I really just decided it, or not decided I learned that food is more than just calories. Because when I got this piece of paper. I really thought that this was the holy grail of diet. It was traveling to college, I had the food. It had the calories, but that’s it. The food and the calories and food is more than just calories.

Donna Hanson: Wow. So, it sounds like it just created a real curiosity about how all this works and how the body processes and so forth.

Barbara Baron: You know, always amazed me. It’s amazing. You know, you take something you the body breaks it down and it goes to all the places that it needs to go to whether it’s for building muscle or for your heart of your hormones. It’s just amazing.

Donna Hanson: Yeah, I think sometimes we just take it for granted. Don’t we?

Barbara Baron: Yes, and I do appreciate that not everyone has my appreciation for science. So

I will stop at that point.

Donna Hanson: So, I know this seems like a fairly obvious sort of question because, you know, we hear it a lot in the media, etc. But why do we need to eat better. And what exactly does eat better and really mean.

Barbara Baron: Well, all right, let’s start here. Do you want more energy, do you want to be clear, more clarity and food gives us that. It’s kind of like energizing your battery like recharging your battery or putting gas in your fuel tank at the car, you got to feed your body so you feel better. And so, it’s really important to do that with food and good food, healthy food. Sometimes we know we don’t always make the best of choices. But you can do it with just some really basic information and I teach three pillars. I kind of call it the three legs of a kitchen stool, because I love family meals. And so, it’s moderation variety and planning and that is to become your own MVP so humoral me a little bit with the MVP. However, I really do believe in this. I’ve always taught students too as nutrition and I say, if you take nothing else for me. But those three words, those three pillars, you will be set for life in a sense because moderation is the right sized portion. If we eat just what our body needs. We will be fine. We don’t need any more because anything excess will get turned into fat. And then it’ll also give us the energy that we need the importance of variety.

Barbara Baron: You know foods, we have all these food groups and all these foods for a reason, there is no one food that will give has the magic. Answer or the magic bullet. You know, everybody wants to lose weight they want more, better health got health but it all works together. And so, varieties important. Grains will give us B vitamins fruits and vegetables, give us vitamin A and C. And then we have our protein foods. So, it all works. And then, of course, a good plan you have we plan our finances, we plan our vacations, we plan our careers. But do we plan our eating.?

Donna Hanson: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I know, I know for me and I’m vegetarian and I find if I don’t have pre-prepared stuffing the fridge. It just makes it really challenging and I get frustrated and I guess when you’re frustrated you make maybe not so good food choices that can end up you know making you feel really sleepy in an afternoon for meetings.

Barbara Baron: Yes. Very true.

Barbara Baron: So now. May I ask what type of vegetarian because they’re very varying levels of vegetarianism.

Donna Hanson: So yeah, I’m vegetarian, but I still eat eggs and dairy, although I minimize my dairy, but I don’t eat any product that is part of an animal. So, I don’t eat fish, because that would be a pescatarian but yeah so like for me.

Barbara Baron: Don’t tell

Barbara Baron: You don’t harm the animal that for so that’s a lacto-ovo vegetarian

Barbara Baron: Yet desert area that you are

Donna Hanson: Yes, I don’t know the menu options with the animal and

Barbara Baron: By science nerd coming for

Barbara Baron: Yes.

Donna Hanson: So, you know, for me, like to plan ahead. You know, on Sunday. I had some mixture of vegetables so I had broccoli. I had cauliflower. I had zucchini and I had carrots and I just chopped them all up and I put them in a pot of boiling water and just put them to be nice and tender, put them in a big container and and I just follow them up and you know that might be my breakfast or a snack or whatever. And sometimes they’ll have leftover salad sitting in the fridge so

Barbara Baron: Anything goes for breakfast.

Barbara Baron: That’s true.

Barbara Baron: In fact, I always do encourage more and more vegetables and fruits and we don’t get enough fruits and vegetables. So, I always tell all of my clients, wherever you can get in more vegetables. The non-starchy vegetables, especially do, go for it. Like, you can make an omelette with spinach, broccoli, or any of those what lovely vegetables that you’ve mentioned and they are so many plant compounds nutrient compounds. And that’s why I say food first. Always because there’s things in food that are that nature has packaged that we can’t replicate.And I know it’s tough to replicate. 

Donna Hanson: I tried it, it just makes it easier for your body to process the less processed is means it’s easier to process. Yeah, that’s sort of that sort of the thinking that I’ve always had. So one. Great. Okay. So, okay, that’s good. I’ve got permission on not a weirdo for eating vegetables in them.

Barbara Baron: No, no. I love it. In fact, I am always if I don’t have vegetables, I always make sure I have some type of fruit in the morning. And today I had berries because I love berries and they’re so and if you’re if someone’s watching calories. They’re low in calories if someone’s watching their heart health, strawberries, have been known to help with heart health.

Donna Hanson: Awesome, that’s even just adding in little bits and pieces because somebody might have, you know, had issues in the family and the more you can do to help. You know support your body. Now, I sort of figure what I am, what I do to my buddy now will impact on my quality of life. When I’m in my 70s or 80s. You know what I mean.

Barbara Baron: It’s very true. Yeah, now. And so on.

Donna Hanson: So, Barbara, what sort of work to corporate clients seem guide you fall

Barbara Baron: But they want their employees to be happier healthy live longer to and they kind of think of themselves, most often it’s their work, family that their kins concerned about. So, when we’re looking at what I do is I’ll talk to employees their staff and it’s helping them. Either lower their blood cholesterol levels, their blood sugar or weight management, I will give talks primarily on these issues or concerns. And it’s not talking just the numbers. It’s how to do it healthfully and how to do it tastefully because food and taste. I mean, food should be taste, taste good for it to be effective in our body, right.

Donna Hanson: Yeah, until that if something doesn’t taste nice. It’s teeny the process, isn’t it?

Barbara Baron: Yes. Very true. So, I’m really, I’ll focus on how to power up with breakfast or reclaim your power breakfast, make it healthier so maybe I don’t. It’s not the thing you want to go for in the morning or a Danish but maybe a nice segue with some vegetables or an egg burrito would be nice.

Barbara Baron: And then it might be healthy holiday eating or it could be instead of dining out these days. It might be more like dining in how to order and eat at home.

Donna Hanson: Yeah why I know that certainly become a growth industry in Australia with the government lockdown etc. you know, not being locked down for an extended period of time and not being able to dine out, although it we’re starting to open up a bit more. But you know a lot more people dining in and it’s great to see just the changing offerings that are coming out which is which is good.

So, I, I imagine that you know clients are looking to have their programs available for staff or having someone like you are available and why. Why do you think there’s such an interest? I know we talked about what home when work, family.

Barbara Baron: Home and work, family, and there are so many benefits. So, you can our employee players will really see a significant return on the investment for a health and wellness program.

Usually it’s for every dollar spent is an average between two to four dollars saved by having that program and then the average sick leave the health plan costs workers compensation can be decreased by like about 25% in cost savings. So, there is a you know, kind of a drive to incorporate corporate wellness into the, into an employee and employer situation or corporation.

And the other I focus on family meals and so family meals. I’ll talk about failing family meals. How to we’re in a time of being rushed. Whether it’s time that we’re spending at home working from home nowadays time was a factor time is a factor before with hectic family schedules.

The benefits of each of having family home a home cooked family meal. has shown that their children also have better self-esteem better grades less absenteeism, same as parents, I’ve looked up to the absenteeism, when they, when they eat more healthfully.

So, there are just so many benefits to eating more healthfully corporate wellness programs also have shown that employees. Also have kind of book are more focused either, whether it’s through physical activity or better eating. They’re eating more fruits and vegetables and those are there are

so many wonderful nutrients and fruits and vegetables that we, you know, that benefit not only our gut health but also our brain health.

Donna Hanson: I’m just going off on a slight tangent here. And with that, a lot of organizations around the world. They’re starting to rethink about bringing everybody back into the workplace and there’s some big-name companies that are going to be choosing to have a more hybrid model where people maybe work from home for part of the week and are in the office part of the week, or they may work from home forever more. Or, you know, derivations of that, um, do you think, do you see that as an opportunity for organizations to add value.

Doing something like you do so that they can support the people who are at home that maybe

you know, feel like they’ve got less ability to make those food choices because you know they’re stuck inside their house during the workday, whereas in the office. You know, it’s pretty easy to pop out and go and grab some fast food and whilst it makes you feel good in the moment. It can make you feel pretty sluggish afterwards.

Barbara Baron: Yes. And what I think is important is the I’ll go back to even just the concept of variety. We need diversity, diversity in or diversifying our work day to break things up. So, if being at home if it’s in front of a computer in front of your iPad or your device, whatever, mobile, mobile device. Maybe it’s just your phone. You need to break it up and there are different venues and giving presentations even virtually so you can view, something you can listen to something while you’re exercising or while you’re going for a walk, taking a mini break or walk break from working stepping away, you can still listen to some helpful tips like from Barbara Baron

So just things like that to help break up the monotony or the not even the money that the you feel like you’re constantly on the go and you’re constantly, constantly on call. We work longer or more hours when working from home and I love, I love my job. I love what I do. So sometimes I just be here for it for anyone who needs. And sometimes I even must take a break. So, I make sure I go for my walk in the morning and I take a walk, get up and do a stretch, break, break, like at lunchtime or right in the afternoon, and sometimes you get a little tired and even standing rather than do to do your work. So, these factors come into play. I’m not a physical and our exercise expert but I do know the benefit of healthy eating on your body.

Donna Hanson: So yeah, obviously it’s a combination of multiple things you know your environment, the things you put in the things you expand it etc.…. so

Barbara Baron: I know Donna we’re none of us. Well, I don’t know, maybe some people but none of us are perfect. So, every day is a new start and we just have to start from where we are and one step at a time. And it’s okay.

Donna Hanson: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m Father, I’d be hard to change sort of cold turkey, so to speak. So, if an organization was considering say a wellness or a nutritional program for their staff, where should they stand.

Barbara Baron: Very I say take small steps and the first step is to ask or understand what your employees need, what do they, what do they struggle with, what are their health concerns. Now you can do some I want to say not screenings, but you can do some evaluations that are HIPPA compliant or anonymous to understand where the health risks lie within your company.

Is there a higher incidence of heart disease or diabetes or whatever it may be. There’s other issues that you know no one really knows about gut health is really important irritable bowel syndrome is another very popular condition that all those things. First, take an assessment, where people struggle and then it might be just, oh, I don’t want to eat healthy, you know, as you mentioned, reaching out through the fast food.

Place and get something quick and easy. It takes 20 minutes sometimes to just really put together a healthy dish and a little bit of planning doesn’t hurt. And plus, I’ll also can tell you that you can order and I’ve worked with clients who are not cooks. They don’t like to cook. So, I will guide them through some of the menu options at some of these fast food places. What can they do to eat more healthfully make better choices and what are the portion sizes? When we tend to eat out the portions are usually we have like a there overgrown like three times what we should be eating sometimes not all the time.

Donna Hanson: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I know that a lot of the fast food chains here in Australia. Very health conscious and have their you know their derivation of a healthy choice meal so that they speak to the masses, you know, they might have a plant based burger or they might have a rack that it has salad items in it, but I still think there’s a little bit of a ways to go.

Barbara Baron: There is. And just because something might be plant based doesn’t necessarily it’s oh it’s only one ingredient is so some of your plant based items can be more processed and something that isn’t plant based, it’s just to be a little bit more aware as a consumer, and as an eater to know the difference and I’m not saying that any of its bad because i don’t i don’t believe in good food bad food. I don’t believe in diets, I believe. I don’t believe in fad diets, I call them false effects of dieting.

So, it’s really striking that balance. And again, none of us are perfect, but you do have to be aware of what you what choices we’re making I’ve known many many people who have just gone all plant based, and if they’re not, you know,

As there’s a commercial, you know, the beer is here being vegan. Yeah. Dad out there about that, but I’m not promoting that I’m just saying, we just need to be a little bit more cautious and wise and to the choices we make.

Donna Hanson: Need to be mindful. I know. My dad wanted to go with me to a fast food chain to get a burger. And what would you wait. And I know that they have a vegan or plant based burger and I had a look and it had something like 680 calories and I’m thinking, you know, I don’t know, like that would be a night out for me to consume maybe 680 calories in dinner but you know I’m a little more conscious of what I’m putting into my body and sometimes it’s just a matter of the knowing, isn’t it?

Barbara Baron: That’s all knowledge is knowledge is power. Right. And the, you may want that 680-calorie burger, which is fine as long as you know, excuse me.

As long as you know what you’re you’re eating and then you can adjust maybe at the next meal or the next day, because it’s cumulative effect it’s over like there’s over three of our week three day, week one week period that we kind of want to strike that balance. As I said, we’re not perfect, but we try and make strive for better choices.

Donna Hanson: Mm hmm. So now as individuals. What are one or two simple things we can do to give us more energy or stamina during the day.

Barbara Baron: Well, there are two check system or actually three. check plate check snack check hydration enough water, so your plate checks half your plate. One advice is, we don’t get enough fruits and vegetables at least like if it’s half fruits and vegetables are healthy vegetables fill that plate up with your especially non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens butternut squash roasted cauliflower. Oh, I you know I can go on and on with carrots.

There’s so much good nutrition there and it fills you up and you’re satisfied, you do need a little bit of protein, you do need a little bit of greens or something to give you a little bit more substance. But again, that will give you half the plate fruits and vegetables. If nothing else, and then snack a good snack, depending on the time of day, but I always kind of Pears, do a little snack pairing. So, say a fruit or vegetable once again with a protein source. So, like, let’s say, Apple and peanut butter. What a great snack. It’s almost tastes like caramel apples.

You slice it up. You put a little like a tablespoon throughout for the whole apple tablespoon of peanut butter is delicious. Another night snack. You can do Peanut Butter and Banana. Sure, you maybe have heard of that. Bell pepper and Hummus is a nice combo.

So, and a nice snack to sustain you to the next meal. Now if you’re eating dinner in an hour, you may not want that snack. But if it’s going to be two hours or three hours stretch between, say, lunch, and dinner. Go for it.

And again, I’m going to berries in yogurt is a wonderful thing. I love doing that maybe adding a little bit of either chia seeds or flax seeds.

For some omega three fatty acids are at fibre go on for that. Anyway, all those wonderful things and everyone’s an individual so calories will and portion sizes will be adjusted for individual needs.

Donna Hanson: And here I am numbers of years ago I went and saw a dietitian. I went for about

 I think I went six or seven times and what it really did for me was gave me clarity around something that had been commercialized a lot by, you know, the media how women in particular being female and we’re supposed to love can and the issues that that developed in my head and I found that a liberating and empowering experience. 

So, it’s not just something that people will do. It’s going to see a dietitian, because you have a problem. It’s about understanding because as you said before, when we understand the impact that the things we ate have on our body and how much better we can feel simply by modifying our diet in some way. So is that something you know obviously being a dietitian, you want to help as many people as you can. That is that something that you think’s beneficial. 

Barbara Baron: Think it’s very beneficial. We put too much focus on the scale and not enough focus on how we feel. And I always work in mindful eating and a focus on health, not the number on the scale with any of my clients and so important. And there’s, there are movements its health at every size movement. There are books that have written intuitive eating mindful eating and it is about being, you know, are you hungry stopping pausing taking a little bit longer with your food savouring your food. So definitely that’s important.

And you do we do need some, some of us. Or some may need to develop a new relationship with food. Because of that, you know, or we’ve been part of the clean. Clean Plate Club.

Or maybe it’s been the other way around food has been your pacifying you know to con you and you got to kind of rethink of, you know, that relationship that you have with food.

Donna Hanson: So fast running out of time. I’ve got one more sort of question. Um, any foods that we should or shouldn’t eat at certain types of the day.

Barbara Baron: I’ll just end with this moderation, not deprivation, because I any part of the day you want if you’re hungry, really think about whether you’re hungry or not. I don’t believe in restrictive eating.

There are there are fasting regimens that people may consider and you would want to do that with the guidance of a health professional like a dietitian.

And then you must ask yourself why they’re like, so everyone is an individual it’s may not be what is good for you because if food has been such a focus. It may not be the right thing. If there are individuals out there that are really have had eating disorders. It’s not a good approach to go with an intermittent fasting.

And then there are others that may it may there’s some science and it’s evolving that it may be beneficial for some, but not all. And again, I would really work with an individual on an individualized basis basis. And it’s, again, I’m thinking more mindfully about eating.

Donna Hanson: Hmm. Absolutely. And I think you’ve you’ve bought us to that that place. It’s a nice little circle MVP moderation variety and

Barbara Baron: Good plan

Donna Hanson: Plan. That’s right. Excellent. Good. I’m just embedding that now. And so, if our viewers listeners etc wanted to get in touch. What types of resources or programs do you have or can people explore a conversation with you.

Barbara Baron: Oh, definitely. There’s, I have a website and I also have a free Facebook group called better meals with Barbara and I’m in the middle of a I just started a five-day challenge on, guess what.

Donna Hanson: Healthy eating.

Barbara Baron: Healthy eating, but healthy serving sizes. So, we’re focusing on moderation, the right size portion. So that if you go there you can see a little picture of us serving or a bowl of cereal. And it’s like, guess how many cups in that bowl of cereal.

That’s what we’re doing now and then. Anyone who participates. The most will get some free time with me 30 minutes of nutrition assessment of their food in intake. I do a three days food journal that we can look at and then okay, can do it can schedule a free strategy call with me and we can go from there. I have some online resources online on my website. I have a newsletter, and I also have a handout on handy serving size chips and its hand gestures at the table that are PG Rated I’ll leave it there.

Donna Hanson: Awesome. Well, that’s what help you guide you to certain sizes.

That should be really helpful for people who haven’t been exposed to this sort of stuff. Or maybe you’ve never actually thought you know, in much detail about the impact of it. So, if you’re looking for feeling better, more energy, etc. You know, maybe it’s time to just consider having a one to one with a dietitian to talk about you know what’s right for you. So, Barbara. Thanks so much for your time today and for your insights on health and wellness in life and in the workplace.

Donna Hanson: And everyone. Thank you for joining us for this expert insight episode. Until next time, this is Australian productivity and technology Donna Hanson have an amazing week

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