Healthy Living in the North

Men, this week’s for you!

Where are the men?

The NH men’s health program launched in 2011 with this report, “Where are the Men?”, which focused on the health status of northern B.C. men.

On June 3, the new Canadian Men’s Health Foundation was officially launched on Parliament Hill, with the mission to inspire Canadian men to live healthier lives. Along with that, their “Don’t Change Much” campaign was released, and June 9 – 15 has been declared as the first ever Canadian Men’s Health Week. This is another step in bringing much needed attention to the health issues affecting men and the challenges we face in accessing men with our current health services.

Men’s health isn’t a new topic in northern B.C. In fact, we’ve been working to support better health for our northern men since 2010, using new and innovative ways to find and connect with them about health where they live, work, learn, play and are cared for. Our northern reality is that many of our men here live and work in more rural and remote locations, hold jobs related to industry (forestry, oil and natural gas), and work long hours and shift work – often away from the family home base.

Northern Health’s men’s health program, unique for a Canadian health authority and launched in 2011, was born out of the recognition that northern B.C. men not only die sooner than northern women by almost 5 years, they also die more frequently of all causes including cancer, heart disease, alcohol, tobacco, injuries and suicides. B.C. men are twice as likely as women to be non-users of the health services and although northern B.C. makes up only 7% of the province’s population, we account for over a third of the workplace deaths, where 94% of those were men.

MANual: Men's health survival guide

Northern Health developed the MANual: A Men’s Health Survival Guide in 2012.

In the last three years, the men’s health program has done a lot of work consulting with men in communities across the north and creating resources and services to meet their needs. Most notably, we have brought men’s health screening to community events and gatherings where the men are; engaged with research partners around men’s health in the workplace; run a number of promotional campaigns (the “MAN challenge”, MOvember, MANuary, FeBROary); provided grants for injury prevention/men’s health champions to do work in the community; created an interactive men’s health website (men.northernhealth.ca); developed the very popular  MANual: a Men’s Health Survival Guide; and filmed a documentary called “Where are the Men?”.

Looking forward, our work in men’s health has only just begun! We continue to grow and improve upon the services we offer to men in northern B.C., while sharing the importance of men’s health within the health care system, as well as in communities. We’re working to improve the health of men, because men matter! Let’s celebrate the great work being done and the efforts across Canada to bring men’s health issues to the forefront. Let’s get men talking about their health!

Happy Men’s Health Week!

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is the NH Men's Health Coordinator. Previous to this, she worked as the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!

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Back to school… to the kitchen?!

Salad bar

Chetwynd Secondary School students with their salad bar.

When I was in high school, cafeteria food was a lot different than it is today! We didn’t have nutrition guidelines that I knew of, our pop machines were well stocked with what is now contraband pop and every Friday was (deep fried) fish and chips day. Nowadays we recognize that having healthy food in schools is important for students’ growth, learning and their health later in life. Some may argue that it’s too complicated or expensive to feed kids healthy choices in schools, but there are schools that are making it work and they are glimmers of hope across the north!

This week I went back to school, to Chetwynd Secondary School, to see how they’re making food skills a priority and getting the students involved in their cafeteria. Vice Principal and Foods Teacher Helen Toppin filled me in on some of their offerings, which includes a daily breakfast program (free to all students), daily hot lunch service, and a twice weekly salad bar. They also have vending machines that are filled with water, milk, juice, sandwiches, yogurt and granola bars. The best part? The students prepare all of the food daily in a credited cafeteria class led by Diane Mallia. As well, Ms. Toppin’s foods classes are mandatory for Grades 8 and 9, and her three optional senior foods classes are well attended.

Salad bar prep

Prepping for the salad bar at Chetwynd Secondary School.

I was never even encouraged to take a foods class (or home economics, as we called it) in elementary or high school. At the time I didn’t miss it, but I was also fortunate to learn those food skills in my home, from my parents and grandparents who knew how to cook and bake. If today’s parents are like me and didn’t get that educational opportunity, then it is even more important to ensure that their children are taught these skills at school! I’m happy to see that across B.C., foods courses are making a comeback and that schools are again recognizing the value of food skills for life.

When asked what they thought of the cafeteria class, the students had a lot to say. Some admitted that they only took the course because they needed the credit, but others shared that they now cook more at home with their families and enjoy eating the foods that they help prepare. It brought a smile to my face when one male student marvelled that making pizza is actually really easy and cheaper than buying it!  Another student told me that the food tastes better because it is homemade and she feels better knowing who has touched it.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say! Ms. Mallia informed me that they usually sell out of everything they make and the students know to get there early so that they don’t miss out. On the day I visited, the salad bar was offering Greek ribbon salad, Caesar salad, and white bean and vegetable soup. And yes, believe it or not there was a student excited about white bean soup, but I was told that “he’ll eat anything.” J

Did you take foods classes in school? Are your kids taking foods classes now? Do you live in northern B.C.? We’d love to hear your experiences!

[Editor's note:  This is a great example of what the key message "Healthy eating supports healthy individuals, families and communities" means to Holly. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is the NH Men's Health Coordinator. Previous to this, she worked as the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!

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Preparation is the key to healthy lunches (and September Healthy Living Challenge #3!)

Lunch bag

Preparation is key to making healthy lunches!

Be prepared – It’s a sentiment that many of us remember well from our Boy Scout/Girl Guide days. Back then, we were learning the importance of organization and preparation in being of service to others, but it’s also key in simplifying our own daily lives today. Now that school is back in session, the best way that parents can make sure their kids are getting healthy lunches is to be prepared.

Many parents work outside of the home and are also busy shuttling kids to their after school activities, helping with homework, and keeping the house clean and the family fed. Add to that the responsibility of providing healthy lunches (that kids will eat) and it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed. With a bit of planning and advanced preparation, lunches can better become a part of the daily routine and less of a chore.

Equipment: I’ve personally found that having a few tools on hand means more options in what I can pack. A lunch bag, utensils, some sturdy reusable containers  in assorted sizes, a reusable water bottle, a thermos and a cold pack make packing hot or cold food convenient and safe. Sauces or dressings can be packed separately to keep things from getting soggy (like salad or homework), and spills or messes are better contained.

Menu: I used to scoff at people who made menu plans for their families, but now I wonder how I got along without them! When I lay out a menu, put together a list, and do one shopping trip for the week, it means that everyone knows what to expect for lunch and supper (so they can pitch in), there are fewer trips to the store/drive-thru, and we can make larger batches for supper and use the leftovers for lunches! I’ve also gotten in the habit of packing the lunches when I’m cleaning up from dinner so there’s less of a scramble in the morning!

Ingredients:  Having the right ingredients on hand also cuts down on packing time. Vegetables and fruit require a bit of prep, so when I get back from grocery shopping I usually wash and chop my produce right away. That way, when I’m making lunches during the week, everything is grab-and-go ready. I also like to portion out things like yogurt or crackers, and boil a few eggs to have on hand for snacks or sandwich filling. I do buy prepackaged snack foods on occasion, but I check with the Brand Name Food List to ensure I’m making a healthier choice.

If we make the time to plan and prep a bit, healthy homemade lunches can be convenient, cost-effective, and rewarding.  Try to include enough food for at least one meal and two snacks (2-3 vegetable or fruit servings, as well as food from each food group) to meet Canada’s Food Guide recommendations. And don’t forget to pack a healthy lunch for yourself while you’re at it!

Now for your Week 3 Challenge! We want you to send in your tips for making a healthy lunch – along with a photo of it! Be creative – do you have kids that like to help? Why not put them in the picture too! Do you have a favorite lunch box? Show us! It can be a lunch you made for yourself, or for your kids, your friends or anyone! This challenge will be judged by our nutritionists to make sure entrants qualify though, so make sure you use the above recommendations to make a real healthy meal! Then visit our contest page, enter your tips and picture of your lunch, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a selection of great cookbooks! Deadline is Tuesday, September 25 at noon.

What things does your family do to make packing healthy lunches more convenient? (Tell us below and on the contest form!)

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is the NH Men's Health Coordinator. Previous to this, she worked as the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!

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What’s for lunch?

Cutting vegetables for lunch.

Including vegetables in your child’s lunch is important to their overall health!

When I think back to my elementary school days, lunches were certainly a highlight. The entire school would file down to the lunchroom/gymnasium with our lunch pails for 30 minutes of socializing, and of course, eating. The food was brought from home (no hot lunch programs in our town) and consisted of the usual lunch pail fare of the eighties: squashed peanut butter and jam sandwiches, tetra pack fruit punches, a bruised apple (that would end up coming back home usually) and leftover Halloween candy (which would not).

I packed my own lunches and distinctly remember being jealous of the kids whose parents took the time and creativity to make their lunches special. Thermoses of warm leftover soup and spaghetti, veggies and dip, homemade banana bread and salads were uncommon sights in my lunches and enviable! My single dad who worked shift work would take us grocery shopping, buy us the convenience foods we saw on TV, and then the rest was up to us. In fact, I wonder if my dad has any idea what we really ate back then?

What made me reminisce about this was hearing about 9 year- old Martha Payne from Scotland, who started her own blog about lunch, called Never Seconds. In order to bring attention to the quality of food served in Scottish school cafeterias, she started taking a picture of her lunch daily and then critiquing it. She has caught the attention of the international media, created a platform for discussion about food in schools and receives an influx of photos daily from around the world of what people (and kids in particular) are eating for lunch.

Luckily in B.C., we have guidelines around what types of healthy food and beverages can be sold to children in schools. We have wonderful programs like the Farm to School Salad Bar and the School Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Program, where kids are exposed to new foods and encouraged to eat more produce. However, not all schools have cafeterias or hot lunch programs. Not all schools have salad bars. Some kids are still packing their lunches from home (albeit without the pb&j), or in the case of secondary schools, heading off campus to local fast food establishments.

The times have changed, and our understanding of the importance of feeding children well has grown. We lead busy lives and convenience is key, but are we sacrificing quality and health for a little more time? I’ll take a page from Martha Payne then and ask, what are you (and more importantly, your children) eating for lunch today?

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is the NH Men's Health Coordinator. Previous to this, she worked as the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!

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