Healthy Living in the North

Planning and hosting healthy meetings, events and conferences

health foods in the candy dish

Celebrate good food together and take the war out of your workplace by sharing food that is a healthy choice for everyone.

One of the biggest themes that has come up in this challenge is the foods we eat in the workplace. To learn more about the ‘science’ of food in the workplace, I talked to a few of those who help us decide what to eat when food is provided in meetings. Ardelle Bernardo and Roxane Griffith provide administrative support in Public Health at Northern Health. In this, they plan most of the meetings for leadership, including day-long meetings, events and conferences. I had the chance to ask them about how they plan the food part of such events.

What is it like to order food for a whole group?

Ordering food for a group of people can be very intimidating. Before, I would order whatever the group wanted (e.g., lasagna, Caesar salad, pizza). I noticed that the pop and juice were taken before the water. By the middle of the afternoon – everyone seemed to be very tired and not really into finishing the meeting. Even for myself, I was less alert for taking the minutes.

Working with Public Health, I now take the catering part of my job more seriously and with more thought so that – by the end of the day – everyone is still awake, aware, and going home feeling a lot better.

Where did you learn about ordering smarter food choices for meetings?

The Eat Smart, Meet Smart guidelines provide lots of helpful suggestions to help you plan your menu so that participants will remain alert, productive, and engaged throughout the day. Menu planning tools are also available on the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Eating Resources site.

Based on your experiences, what are your top tips for ordering smarter food choices?

Ask participants about any food allergies before you order, and provide options for those participants.

Ask the caterer or chef to:

  • Prepare all foods with as little added fat, salt and sugar as possible; avoid fried foods.
  • Provide smaller portions.
  • Avoid processed foods – ask for “real” cheeses and meats rather than processed alternatives.

When choosing food for your meeting, consider ordering:

  • Water, coffee and tea, rather than pop and fruit juices (which are high in sugars).
  • Whole grain, low fat, low sugar muffins – they are still yummy but much healthier!
  • Clear broth soups (rather than cream-based) – include beans and chopped vegetables.
  • High-protein foods – include low fat meats, yogurts and cheeses.
  • Bean-based dips like hummus with whole grain crackers for snacks.
  • Individual cups of trail mix or healthy wrapped snack bars for snacks.

When putting the food out:

  • Offer more healthy choices than unhealthy choices.
  • Serve protein with carbohydrates – e.g. order a small cheese tray or low-fat yogurt with the fruit or muffins.
  • Do not put bowls of candy or mints on the meeting tables.
  • Reducing portion sizes can sometimes make those yummy foods and treats do-able – provide small, healthy cookies, or cut pastries in half, and never offer more than two dessert options.

Remember – everything is okay in moderation! 

What about the fact that people sit so much in meetings?

Include walking breaks or activity breaks in your meeting agenda – bring along a prop or two to promote physical activity in the meeting room on breaks (e.g., a Fit Deck).

Your turn: What do you do to promote health during work meetings and events?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.



  1. Awesome post Chelan! Day long meetings can be draining and eating strategically can help the post lunch fall downs. Since I suffer from low volition, I always appreciate it when an event planner doesn’t give me the choice of eating those $3 cookies & lays out a veggie platter instead.