Workers Struggle to Make Lunches Healthy

A new study offers insight into preferences and purchasing habits.


More than half (56 percent) of employed Americans who typically eat lunch during work hours struggle to eat a healthy lunch at work, and more than three quarters (77 percent) say they’re more likely to make healthier decisions at other times of the day if they eat healthy at lunch, according to a new survey from the American Heart Association.

“Understanding what employees are eating for lunch on a typical workday and what factors influence their choices helps us develop strategies to improve dietary intake with multi-level approaches through food systems, communities and individuals,” said Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, vice chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. 

The survey of employed U.S. adults who typically eat lunch during work hours found that:

  • 91 percent are interested in improving the healthfulness of their typical workday lunch, with employees under 40 more likely to be extremely/very interested compared to employees aged 40+ (65 percent vs. 55  percent).
  • 82 percent agree that having healthy food options at work is important to them and 68 percent value help from their employer in becoming healthier.
  • 79 percent whose workplace has on-site cafeteria, food service or vending machines get food there at least some of the time.
  • 86 percent prepare work lunches at home at least some of the time, with women more likely to do so than men (91 percent vs. 82 percent).
  • When eating an unhealthy lunch, employees under age 40 are more likely to be impacted at least a little bit by cost (91 percent vs. 79 percent) and choices of their peers or coworkers (75 percent vs. 50 percent).
  • On a stressful day at work, about 35 percent say their lunch is less healthy than a typical day, with women more likely to say so than men (40 percent vs. 32 percent).

While employees who typically eat lunch during work hours cite limited availability of healthy foods (43 percent) as having a great deal/quite a bit of impact on eating an unhealthy lunch, more of these employees cite convenience (60 percent) and taste preference (54 percent) as having a great deal/quite a bit of impact on choosing an unhealthy lunch.