The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has long worked to help Americans make healthier food choices as part of its efforts to fight obesity. And now, the organization is turning its focus towards its own employees.
In an effort to put the organization’s healthy workplace foodservice guidelines into action, the CDC spent two years making over one of the cafeterias on its Atlanta-based Roybal campus. On January 20, the Market 16 café opened with the goals of providing healthy food choices to its customers, as well as enabling sustainable practices. “It was a major breakthrough to be able to have this in government,” says Tina Lankford, MPH, director of the CDC’s WorkLife Wellness Office. “By having healthy defaults, this foodservice operation lets us impact a big part of our environment and how it affects our health.”
Employee demand for lighter fare at Roybal has been growing for a while. While balanced meals and snacks are available at eateries across campus, Market 16 is the first space where virtually all of the offerings are guilt-free. “Some people still want traditional dishes and deli options, and for them, Market 16 offers healthier versions of these favorites. But Market 16 is also the answer for employees with special dietary concerns or those who want to go for more of the clean-eating style,” Lankford says. The café features grab-and-go items, a hot entrée station, a cook-to-order grill, a specialty bar with rotating global items and a self-serve salad bar.
Partnering with management company Unidine, the CDC looked toward the U.S. dietary guidelines to develop menu items that were both nutritious and delicious. Fried, fatty foods were swapped for ones that were baked or grilled. Fresh fruits and vegetables took center stage, while whole grains became the norm instead of their refined counterparts. Highly processed, sodium-laden products were out, and scratch-made, low-salt ones took their place. “This is a different experience. It isn’t the bacon double cheeseburger with onion rings, its freshly sliced sweet potatoes that are baked with a dash of salt and pepper,” says Victoria Vega, Unidine division vice president of corporate and education culinary group operations.
Still, the menu is anything but spartan. Typical breakfast offerings include blueberry buckwheat pancakes with turkey sausage; kale and roasted carrot eggs benedict on a whole-wheat English muffin; and roasted tomato strata. For lunch, there’s orecchiette with grilled chicken, broccoli and pine nuts; vegetable quesadillas with homemade salsa; and honey mustard glazed pork loin with carrots and smashed Yukon gold potatoes. Vegetable-heavy soups—like broccoli cauliflower; butternut and Granny apple; and carrot and sweet potato—are available daily.
The biggest change of all may have come from the beverage area. Knowing that sugary drinks are one of the most significant sources of added sweeteners in American diets, the CDC opted to keep soda (including diet soda) out of Market 16. Instead, guests can fill up on zero-calorie fruit-infused waters at the café’s hydration stations. And so far, people seem perfectly fine with skip the bubbly stuff. “Sweet tea and soda are probably the most challenging things for people to minimize. Having our beverages forces them to explore that horizon, and people can carry that back to their homes and their families,” Lankford says.
Market 16’s offerings aren’t just healthy—they also strive to be sustainable. Roughly 50 percent of ingredients come from sources within 300 miles of Atlanta, and at least a quarter of them are organic. The café also slashed the need for raw materials by incorporating more than $80,000 worth of existing kitchen equipment. The walls are lined with reclaimed wooden pallet planks, the doors are made from salvaged wood and the chairs are made from recycled plastic soda bottles. Reusable plates, cups and flatware are used instead of disposable.
The concept of sustainability extends beyond the menu and café design. While Market 16 offers grab-and-go options, dine-in customers can place their orders when they walk in and have food brought to their table. “We want that work-life balance,” Lankford says. With Wi-Fi and collaborative dining areas and workspaces, the café was designed as a space where CDC employees could network and get something healthy to eat at the same time.
The café has only been open for a few short weeks, but hopes are high that Market 16 can help more CDC employees make food choices that can better their health. “We work hard trying to serve others in the public, but we have to take care of ourselves, too,” Lankford says.