Office eating etiquette

When you were little, your parents probably told you about:

  • not putting your elbows on the table
  • excusing yourself if you burp
  • not slurping your soup
  • other rules of eating etiquette.

Now though, many meals aren’t eaten at a table; we eat in the car en route to activities and at our desks at work. As much as our dining culture has become much more casual, there are still a few points to remember to ensure you aren’t the subject of ridicule at the water cooler.

We can all do our part in retaining some semblance of a civilized society.

If you are a supervisor or manager, it’s important to set a good example for your troops. If you often eat at your desk, never taking time out to properly “refuel," then, you’re likely to have a department full of overworked and underproductive folks.

If your work space has a never-ending collection of mugs, wrappers and muffin or chip crumbs, you’re encouraging a lack of focus for and the consumption of empty calories.

There are companies that have proven teams that enjoy lunch together communicate better and collaborate more easily; but even just encouraging a simple break improves productivity, and keeps desk space much cleaner.

Most people work at offices with open work space, and even if you have your own office, you likely spend time in a communal lunchroom or have people in your office for meetings or discussions.

Therefore, the first thing to consider in office eating etiquette is other people’s sensibilities. We can’t please everyone all the time, but choosing to leave the strongly scented garlicky stew or leftover fish at home is smarter than warming it up in the office microwave and then breathing it on everyone nearby.

Leave your odorous dishes at home and everyone will thank you.

Sharing at meal time is a gesture of hospitality that goes back to the earliest meals of history. You don’t have to bake cookies on a regular basis and take them around the office, but occasionally it can be a lovely gesture.

When I worked at a big office, I used to have a candy dish on the meeting table in our work pod. It got to be a destination, a bit of respite for anyone flagging in energy and an easy conversation starter that spawned more than a couple of brilliant ideas.

It seems to follow that Mary Poppins “spoonful of sugar” principle, helping people think positive when they might otherwise be less than enthusiastic.

Even if food is not something shared at your place of work, you can show old-fashioned good manners by offering to do a coffee run or fill your neighbour’s water bottle when you go to the cooler.

It can help you learn about your colleagues and open the doors of communication – even if you discover they don’t appreciate you stopping by.

Remember that good manners include being gracious; if a co-worker is put off by your spending work time to socialize with a simple coffee request, just consider it a lesson learned. Knowing they have a more conservative view may help working more easily with them on a later group project.

The business of eating “al desko,” as it’s officially been labelled, is not only bad form, but also generally bad for your health. When we don’t focus on what we’re eating, we eat more calories.

Trying to multi-task by continuing to type, or to read or take notes while snacking works best with unhealthy options like junk food and sweets. You owe it to yourself as well as your work mates to value your body and its capacity for good work.

Did you know that eating at your desk can even lead to lower back pain and bad general posture? (It’s what comes of an overly sedentary work lifestyle).

Whether you subscribe to the idea of valuing a meal break at work or you want to continue dining al desko, please do try to follow the basics of table manners:

  • don’t talk with your mouth full
  • have a napkin handy to wipe your mouth
  • eat slowly and chew with your mouth closed
  • leave your utensils in your plate or bowl when you’re done eating.

Once you’re finished, be courteous enough to use a toothpick or dental floss and reapply your makeup away from your eating place. You can then carry on with your day, and rest easy knowing your mom would be proud of you.


Are you a trendy eater?

In our never-ending quest to belong, we are constantly checking our status to see where we sit in popularity charts.

  • How many friends do you have on Facebook?
  • Are you wearing the right kind of shoes, or make-up
  • are your skirts or pants in the most popular pattern or colour?
  • Do you eat the kind of food that pundits say will keep you healthy and let you live longer?

With the start of a new year and a plethora of statistics on what was popular last year and what should be a hit this year, it’s easy to score your progress – or lack thereof.

I thought I’d offer you both sides of the story; this week I’m going to include the forecast food trends for 2019, but I’m also going to include some tips for those who want to be rebels. That way no one needs to feel left out.

After all, in a democratic world you can’t be popular unless there is a group against which you can offer a contrast.

Here’s to standing your ground, wherever that may be.


Chicken – if you want a more traditional meal that pleases a crowd, this is the meat of choice. No one is asking where the beef is any more; it’s all about lean meat. You might still be eating potatoes, but if you’re making an effort at being trendy, you also switched those up for quinoa or kashi.

Avocado – you are living in a cave if you haven’t eaten avocado toast in the last few months. This hip Australian snack has taken our continent by storm, especially since this spreadable vegetable is also a healthy fat (see below for more on how good fat is so much better than sliced bread). Get ready to eat avocados in all kinds of ways – as “fries,” in chocolate mousse, and spread on lots more than just toast.

Legumes – chick peas lead the way, either whole or crushed into hummus or tahini, but so many other legumes are heading into the mainstream as well. Lentils, white beans, kidney beans… you can’t go wrong with plant-based proteins in your meals. Chick pea flour is gaining popularity in baking as well, as is tahini. Have you had chocolate tahini mousse yet?

Keto diets – a diet program that was first introduced in the 1920s as a treatment to prevent epileptic seizures has now become a popular weight loss diet. It works by putting the ratio of food elements in a different combination, with up to 80 per cent fats, 15 per cent protein and only five per cent carbohydrates. (The recommended ratio from government agencies has 20-30 per cent protein with 45-65 per cent carbohydrates and 10-30 per cent fat.)

Such a change in nutrient consumption puts the body into a state of ketosis, where it uses stored fats as fuel instead of stored carbohydrates.

As such, the rise of recipes and ready-made dishes with “good fats” such as avocado and coconut has been volcanic. Just try searching #keto on social media and you’ll have no lack of inspiration.

To strictly follow this regime, one needs to greatly reduce or even give up grains, dairy, beans and fruit. The results can be dramatic, the evidence of which is seen by the profiles of many bodybuilders sculpting their forms for competition.

A word to the wise: changing one’s diet to a large degree can be hazardous if not done properly, so be sure you have proper support if you embark on this journey.

Pseudo-meat – Remember tofurkey? Now everything from vegan jerky made from soy, coconut or mushrooms to fake bacon is now widely available. New developments including ground meat substitutes from a plant-based source, some of which are made in laboratories.

Many of the folks enjoying these items are not vegetarian or vegan; they want to try something new. They may also be concerned with the environmental pressure that results from the large scale farming of meat animals that is now the norm.

New frozen treats – in conjunction with all the diets that restrict dairy consumption, this category is getting much more creative. Can you wrap your tongue around “ice cream” using tahini, coconut, banana and/or avocado? (The good news is, many of them still involve chocolate of some sort.)

Cannabis/hemp food products – well, this is no surprise, is it? We will have to see how this trend develops in Canada, but it’s going a long way past brownies and gummi bears, that’s for sure. Infused water, peanut butter, pretzels and even fish crackers are available in some places.

“Big picture” food – more transparency with eco-friendly farming, processing and packaging and fairness in company practices is more important to many consumers.

Both younger generations and baby boomers say they want restaurants to offer less packaging; the demise of the plastic straw is well underway, and more paper and plastic items are compostable.

Does it affect your buying or choice of places to visit, whether they make an environmental effort? Do you support companies with fair trade or fair hiring policies? It’s something to think about whether we buy local or international foods.


Perhaps you’re one of those people who likes to buck the trends. You are not into fast food, you don’t care what the most popular pizza topping is right now. If you want to stand out as a rebel, here are some counter-culture trends that have popped up:

Stick to the grain – heritage breads and resistant starches have a following with those who don’t want to go the carb-free route. Ancient grains with less processing or sprouted grain flours can offer more nutrients, and freshly milled flour is like freshly ground coffee, giving more flavour and a higher ratio of vitamins.

For other high-carb foods, think beans and potatoes (regular and sweet) and rice – all of them offer a chance to keep blood glucose levels low, which means feeling full for longer and staying heart and gut-healthy.

Support small – there is a loyal following of folks who support their local farmers and producers as well as local businesses. That can also mean supporting your local Walmart, which does help local jobs but possibly not local items.

If you want to keep those traditional specialities alive, you need to speak out and encourage local bigger stores to buy from local suppliers. There are often options for them to list these items in a smaller area.

We just need to be prepared to pay to support local wages and rent rates that make up the costs of these items, as opposed to ones that come from places where the cost of living is much lower.

Resist supporting celebrity sponsorship – David Chang’s Spotify list, KFC-scented fire logs, Neil Patrick Harris telling us to drink Heineken Light... Let’s face it, running shoes with the Dunkin’ Donuts logo won’t help you run faster or lose weight. Just go for a donut if you want one.

Avoid using labels to be trendy – pegan (a combination of paleo and vegan), keto, organic… Sometimes these words are thrown around without much thought. Be sure you are aware of what’s in your food and where your ingredients come from. Apply a bit of moderation. Then take it from there.

Grow some food, cook some ingredients – grow your own lettuce in a pot and quit worrying about E. coli in the romaine. Instead of warming up a ready-made meal, look at quick “sheet pan suppers”, where you can cook protein and veggies on one pan in the oven, timing the elements to finish all together.

Trying just one of these ideas won’t turn you into a hippie, unless you want to become one.

We all make our own choices. I’d like to offer a revised version of an old saying… “We represent what we eat.” Let’s just chew on that for a while, shall we?

A not-so-instant pot

I wonder what you got up to as the New Year approached.

Did you catch up on some reading, or binge-watch a new favourite TV show? Perhaps you were energetic and got outside for some skiing or hiking.

I did have some extra quality time with my four-legged pal, but my favourite activity in the quiet time of winter is slow cooking.

There is a wonderful satisfaction that comes from mucking about in the kitchen for hours. It’s hard to do in today’s world, with all the other goings-on in almost any given day.

When you have real down time, you can make some delicious food in a simmering pot on the stove and have time to whip up a few nibbles along the way.

I don’t mean Instant Pot or crock pot cooking. I mean working on a dish that requires a bit of attention over time, adding ingredients as they are needed so that everything is perfectly cooked when the pot comes off the stove.

If you don’t know what I mean, try reading this recipe I translated from the original French while living in France. It was in an 18th century cookbook – a time when cooking a good meal was much more of a time-consuming activity.

This example offers a perspective from what we would now call a foodie.

Take one kilogram of good honest beef and tie it lovingly with an untreated string.

Place this generous parcel of meat in a paunchy clay stock pot. Add six litres of cold, clear water. From your antique wooden salt box, take a large handful of coarse crunchy salt. Let this salt also fall into your stock pot.

In the company of the beef, place a cute morsel of lamb breast or a nice pork spleen. This will give the juice in which the meats cook a better flavour.

Put your clay pot on Mr. Fire. Make sure the latter is good and hot. A whitish foam will appear on the surface of the stock. Skim it off without pity, as soon as it forms, continuing until only half of the original volume of stock is left.

Then, put carefully beside the beef three tender leeks which you have cut into pieces the length of tour finger, or thereabouts. Bind them; vagabonds that they are, wandering left and right in the tonic that encircles the cooking beef.

Add two healthy carrots, a small morsel of parsnip, an unsuspecting turnip, a glorious bay leaf and a pot-bellied onion. On the rounded surface of the onion, just like three assassinated flies, should be stuck three black cloves.

As soon as all these delectable vegetables are in your stock pot, stir up the fire so it awakens the bouillon.

You must let six hours of the clock pass by with the pot on the fire. The whole pot should boil gently, grumbling satisfactorily.

Sacrifice a few small onions, burning them shamelessly and throwing them into the pot. They will act as painters, endearing the stock with a lovely brown colour.

Skim the fat from the stock and then purée said stock as smoothly as possible.

Serve the beautiful and tender beef on a sturdy platter, surrounded by the loyal vegetables which cooked in its company. There should be a proud steam and delicious odour escaping from all.

Mustard from Burgundy may aid in the digestion of these foods. For the wine, a red wine will do nicely, not noble but strong – rather thick, full-bodied, and having spent at least six months in a secure cellar.

Condiments for the meal:

Rustic flowers on the table, around which should be the bright and happy faces of women, the familiar face of an old friend, the attentive eyes of a loving dog (who undoubtedly also loves human food), the triangular muzzle (deceivingly indifferent and disdainful) of the cat – who asks for nothing but watches nevertheless; a hearty stomach, happiness and good health; and the absence of thought for anything which is not part of the dinner.

Outside, the fairy scene of sparkling Parisian lights or the touching charm of a country garden.

Without these essential condiments, alas, the most exquisite meal will seem bland.

You might not want to attempt duplicating the recipe verbatim, but doesn’t it sound like something you’d love to savour one evening with friends?

Here is my adapted modern version.

I wish you more down time as the New Year begins – a chance to savour a delectable meal, to sit back and enjoy thinking of only the moment at hand.


What's on your Yule table?

Christmas is my favourite time of year, and Christmas dinner seems to epitomize the whole festive season: the food and drink all wrapped in tradition, and best of all, the company.

Just think; at what other time of year can you laugh later about so much silliness? Arguing about whether the dressing should have nuts, agonizing over which tablecloth would look nicer, or remembering which serving pieces to put out to make sure Aunt So-and-so sees the gifts you never use.

Maybe in the closest families that happens every Sunday, but it seems most of the other days of the year we are far too busy to spend that much time on dinner.

That’s another reason I love Christmas: it reminds us to be grateful we have people we care about enough to argue with. So, let’s toast their good health before we dive into that sumptuous dinner.

As far as the menu goes at my house, I have always been one who liked to “upset the apple cart” by trying to suggest some new (or old) twist on our Christmas dinner.

I wanted to try goose after having read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. I always wondered what Brussels sprouts tasted like and figured they couldn’t really be as bad as my Dad said. And who wouldn’t marvel at the idea of marshmallows at the dinner table, all toasted over a dish of sweet potatoes.

Then, there is the turkey stuffing. This was a topic that was hotly discussed by my parents, as my Mom read more cooking magazines and my Dad pined for the “good old days” when celery and sage were all it needed.

(Years later, he would be the one saying why hadn’t we added walnuts or used cornbread earlier.)

But if you ask me what I remember about Christmas dinner, it is not the specific menu items but rather that warm and fuzzy feeling that followed sampling them all.

There was the one exciting year my Mom tried to light the Christmas pudding after pouring brandy on it, but that’s for another column.

I don’t think it was merely the tryptophan that made me groggy and light-headed at Christmas; it was more that sense of euphoria that comes over you when you immerse yourself in the spirit of the season.

I am a firm believer that the weight you gain has far less guilt attached to it if you share a positive vibe with those around you. Indulging can be about giving time or donating to causes; those things don’t just benefit the recipients.

Children know about the joy of Christmas before they learn about what toy is popular on the internet. They love the excitement of the experience, of sharing. Have you seen the smile on the kid who unwraps a banana in the latest viral video?

Christmas is not for children, but for the child that lies within us all. That child hopes for a chance to believe in something pure and good, and listens for that magic signal which shows such a thing exists.

If you need a dose of A Wonderful Life or The Polar Express before Christmas dinner to get you in full gear, go right ahead. When you sit down to dinner, cherish the meal, and those around you, and of course the cooks and farmers who made it possible.

It is of great importance to take Christmas to heart, for if you do it right, it just might stay with you until next year. Wouldn’t that make the world a wonderful place?

As Tiny Tim said so long ago, “God Bless us, every one.” Merry Christmas from our table to yours.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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