Wellness Mandate

FoodService Director - What I've Learned - Larry Melton - GSA - healthy eating templateAfter a presential mandate from President Obama to imporve wellness among federal employees, Larry Melton of the General Services Administration (GSA) developed a healthy eating template for all GSA facilities.

FoodService Director - What I've Learned - Larry Melton - GSA - healthy eating templateWhen President Obama issued a four-part presidential mandate to improve wellness among federal employees, the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages and supports the basic functioning of federal facilities, sprang into action. Larry Melton, assistant commissioner of facilities management and service programs for the GSA, spoke about developing a healthy eating template for all of GSA’s facilities.

“The four parts of the mandate included: creating a culture of wellness within federal agencies; evaluating the prototypes for on-site health and wellness programs; enhancing food and fitness options within the federal workplace; and modernizing federal health benefits program. The mandate was issued in the spring of 2009.

GSA is responsible for managing foodservice contracts at all federal facilities. We’re responsible for negotiating contracts for wellness amenities that are located in that federal space. We have a large role in fulfilling the presidential mandate by providing the healthier choice options.

We wanted to deal with the core components of healthy and sustainable food options. We had to incorporate that into our concessions contracts, knowing it could be supported by industry trends. We knew from looking at studies in the private sector what has been a successful model in other private-sector organizations, so partnering with the industry to garner support was critical to reshaping the requirements of healthy choices in our contracts. What we didn’t want to do is reinvent the wheel or create something that was not going to be successful. We worked with the USDA to determine ‘what is healthy nutrition?’

Right now we have a phase-in plan approach for our 350 operations. The first step was to build the healthy choice language into our contract template by including a wellness section. Just getting the language right was critical to us. A lot of folks think we’re only offering healthier food but what this is really about is healthier options—not just shoving healthy foods down our patrons’ throats with no room for choice. It includes things that promote a balanced diet; things like portion control and no trans fats. What we want to do is drive the right behavior, but folks can still get a hamburger and french fries, but we’ve made healthier versions of them.

We’re implementing this first in the State Department, so the chef there will present options, and in the case of the State Department they’ll be offering healthier taste testing to find out what works and doesn’t work. So the chefs will be creative, but they have to see what works and what promotes consumer demand. We are developing a scorecard so all operations can work off the same page for determining how the sales are going.

One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that folks really want healthy choices. When we’ve done surveys and seen what some of the commercial entities are doing, we’ve seen that everyone cares about calorie counts and employees are actually going to places that have promotions for healthy eating. We’ve also learned that you can’t offer only healthy foods. Educating the consumer that making healthy choices leads to a better workplace and a long-term stability for your employees is the most critical piece, and we hope it will drive the behavior we’re looking for.”

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