A nutrition colleague described an email which was sent after Thanksgiving to everyone in her office: “There are three types of pie and a can of whipped cream in the fridge! Pumpkin, apple and pecan — please help me get rid of them!!”
This is what’s being called “food dumping.” Like most people, I’ve been guilty of food dumping, and I’ve also been the victim.
Food dumping is when you bring party leftovers, unwanted food gifts or holiday treats into the office break room. No matter why it’s there, it seems most office break rooms are filled with food this time of year.
First, I guess we should congratulate my friend’s co-worker and all “food dumpers” for realizing they really don’t need all that extra food sitting around their house. But this doesn’t encourage or help anyone in the office to eat more healthy.
OK, I don’t want to be a real humbug about this and say that no one should have special holiday goodies. Being realistic, I know it’s going to happen. What can you do if you really are trying to be more healthy this time of year?
Here are a couple of thoughts to help you take control of the situation:
• Encourage a “no dumping” policy at the office. If people do want to share special recipes or treats, perhaps set up a schedule or calendar of when each person or department is welcomed to bring something. This might eliminate the overflowing trays and possible waste.
• Out of sight and out of mind. If co-workers must bring candies and cookies, ask that they be covered in an opaque container.
• If the snacks and goodies sitting around the break room are just too tempting for you, control your own behavior by trying to avoid that room altogether.
• If your co-workers aren’t on board, at least you can control your office and your desk. Have healthy snacks in your desk so you won’t be starved and tempted when you see a large plate of treats hanging out by the copier.
• Start your day off right with a healthy breakfast so you won’t be as tempted as you might be when you head for the second cup of coffee. Keep the breakfast light and healthy so if you do want to snack, there will be a place for it in your healthy diet.
• Keep a pair of exercise shoes in the office to take walking breaks.
One more thing, I couldn’t let the idea of food sitting around go without mentioning some food safety issues:
• Perishable foods should be kept at room temperature for no more than two hours. If it’s out longer than that, the food should be pitched.
• Label foods with ingredients — especially nuts and gluten — for those with allergies and intolerances.
• Label foods with dates, too. This will eliminate “mystery foods” in a couple of days. Most perishable items, even when kept properly refrigerated, should be tossed after four days.
There might be other options instead of food dumping. Could you share food gifts with charitable institutions, senior centers or assistance centers that might not have any treats? Unfortunately, due to food safety issues, many might not be able to accept homemade or opened food items.
If all else fails, spread the cheer throughout the year. Consider which break room foods would freeze well for later when they can be appreciated and enjoyed.
Linda K. Beech is Cottonwood District Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.