Google’s Corporate Eating – A Brilliant Model

October 31, 2017 in Foodland, Psychology of Food by Joyce Bunderson

As so often happens to me, two things bump together and that gives me an idea of what I want to write about. This week was not an exception. The two events were: (1) talking with a friend with a little four-year-old super picky eater; and (2) reading a great article published in Food Management; Google gets healthy, written by Marygrace Taylor.

First, let me start with Taylor’s article about Google. Some of the things that Google is doing for their employees are the very same things that can be done at home. So I thought I’d share what is so exciting about what Google has done; and continues to do and improve upon; and how some of the techniques might be applicable to an individual or a family. Since Google gets over 2 million applications per year and only hires a few thousand, they clearly know the value of effective and healthy employees. It is my hope is that maybe other companies will also take a hint of what works for the valuable employees of this corporate behemoth; and apply some of the techniques themselves for their own valuable employees.

Sometime not long after Google was born, even before they established an HR department, they hired their first chef. In 1998, they were way ahead of the other tech companies. In the beginning, Google was trying to bring great chefs and their people together. About 2013, Google began changing the focus from just giving their employees unlimited free access to delicious, gourmet food; to making it easier for their employees to make smarter food choices. The 2013 goal has continued to grow to trying to guide “people to make great food choices;” says Michiel Bakker, Google’s Food Director.

Besides offering a wide array of healthy options, Google has several ways that they try to help employees shift the way they think about food – improving their own health and helping them do their best work. Some of their methods are:

  • Teach them why it’s so important; build food literacy skills.
    • Google offers cooking classes.
    • They offer talks with chefs, cookbook authors and other food experts; and trips to local farmers’ markets. Their philosophy is that learning about different cuisines and food philosophies may lead to more informed choices.
  • Google’s food choice architecture makes the healthiest choices the easiest choice to move onto the tray. They still offer pizza, soda and sugary drinks and French fries, but they make them a little less visible. For example chocolate bars are in a drawer; sugary drinks are behind frosted glass; and fresh greens are one of the first foods on the line – before the employees are tempted by other options. Bakker says; “Clearly, people who work in our environment understand how it works. But even when you know, it still works.”

Google does a biannual survey and the surveys show that; “The longer you work at Google, the more you eat a healthier diet,” Bakker says. I don’t want to take anything away from Google, because I think this is a fabulous program; but I will say that it doesn’t hurt the behemoth a bit to have healthy employees. In the short term, their employees eat healthier meals and snacks and that boosts performance. In the long term – it improves their overall health. I can’t resist the over-used cliché; it’s definitely a win-win.

Now how does that relate to my friend’s struggles with her picky four-year-old? It seems pretty obvious to me that Google’s methods can be used in many different situations. Certainly, if it’s your four-year-old, it has the potential for notching up to an emotional battle. But as Natalie Digate Muth says; (whose book I’ve recommended before) cooking/food preparation/menu design is one of the ways to get buy-in from a young child. Learning why eating healthy is important; without forcing is another technique advised by Muth (and embraced by Google).

I’ve often written about controlling the environment. I like what Google has done in this regard. If healthier options are in prominent and favored locations, and unhealthy choices less visible and less convenient, it doesn’t start the whole decision-making struggle. Many of us have been making it easier on ourselves for years; by putting unhealthy items out of sight or in a more difficult to reach location. We often go all the way in this environmental control program – the unhealthy items are removed completely from our home.

It warms my dietitian’s heart to learn about Google’s successes. It’s a brilliant model; and there’s plenty to stir our creativity, if we just give it a chance and see where it may take us in our own homes.