Behind the Scenes at Google’s Cafeteria

At Google’s cafeteria, junk food is out of sight, and pizza is (almost) out of reach.

Though the cafeterias feature their share of decadent offerings (like crispy pork carnitas and butterscotch-pecan-cookie pie), they’re also strategically designed to “make it really easy for people to make healthy choices,” says Scott Giambastiani, Google’s head chef. Borrowing from the field of behavioral economics, Google’s tactics specifically encourage healthy eating. And you can do the same at home. Here’s how


. Display healthy foods front and center
When you walk into many Google cafeterias, the first thing you pass is the vibrant salad bar. The idea is that if you fill your plate with produce, you’ll go lighter on everything else. In the company’s snack-filled micro-kitchens, bottled water and grab-and-go fruits take center stage in clear refrigerators. Nuts and dried fruits are displayed in glass containers at eye level, so you see the good stuff before the Cheetos craving takes hold. It’s just as easy to give produce prominence at home: Keep a stocked fruit bowl on your kitchen table, and liberate vegetables from the crisper (ever notice how you magically forget about the green beans until they’ve gone bad?). Instead, give them prime placement in your fridge or on your counter.

2. Hide the bad stuff
On the flip side, keep indulgences where you can’t see them. At Google, that means relegating soda to the lowest shelf of the refrigerator behind frosted glass, and storing candy in covered, opaque containers and bags of potato chips in drawers. Once Google stashed away the unhealthy snacks, employees’ fat consumption from candy dropped an impressive 11 percent.

3. Scale down your servingware
Research has shown that smaller plates promote decreased food intake. So Google cafeterias now offer nine-inch plates in addition to their traditional 10 1/2-inch versions. They also replaced giant serving spoons with more modest ones. At home, try using salad plates for main courses, swapping in smaller bowls for cereal or pasta, and downsizing serving utensils. Choose the smallest possible packages or bottles of chips, candies, and soda–we all know how easy it is to polish off whatever’s in front of you.

4. Create food categories
Every dish in the cafeterias is identified with a color-coded label that indicates the food’s healthful-ness. Taking cues from a traffic light, “green” options such as minimally processed fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be eaten in large quantities; “yellow” foods like lean proteins should be eaten in moderation; and “red” foods– heavily processed or high in fat or sugar–should be eaten sparingly. Color-coding at home is unrealistic, but organizing your pantry to create similar categories is a visual reminder of smart food choices. For instance, keep quinoa and barley in one cabinet and white pasta in another.

The technique has proved effective: When researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital used a similar labeling approach in their cafeteria, employees ate 11 percent fewer “red” foods and nearly 7 percent more “green” dishes almost immediately.

5. Compromise on comfort foods
Even beautiful greens at the salad bar won’t forever curb a passion for pizza. So the Google chefs make simple swaps in some of their crowd-pleasers, offering turkey burritos instead of beef and thickening gravies with pureed vegetables rather than roux.

6. Weigh In
Technically Google’s cafeterias also qualify as all-you-can-eat buffets, and as anyone who’s ever grabbed six slices of bacon knows, it can be nearly impossible to gauge how much you’re really eating. To address this, Google installed kitchen scales within the New York cafeterias so employees can keep track of what they’re piling on. Use the scale at the check- out counter at your cafeteria, or get one for your home. (It comes in handy for baking, too.) Everyone’s different, but you need less than you probably think: A three-ounce portion of protein is a good guideline.