Healthy Living in the North

Making Christmas food hampers healthier: You can make a difference!

Cans of non-perishable food items

Are you donating food to an organization in your community this season? Choosing healthier food options is very important for households living with food insecurity as they have a greater risk of poorer health and increased chronic conditions.

December is a month we look forward to for all the wonderful holiday celebrations, sharing with our families and friends, and for giving. Sadly, not all families are financially stable enough to have the basic necessities they need, such as food. In communities across northern B.C., hard-working organizations are gearing up for food drives. This year, I want to challenge you to make an even bigger difference in the lives of families across our region by donating healthier foods to these initiatives.

If you, your family or an organization you belong to are donating to food banks this year, I encourage you to focus your donations on healthier foods for families. Food banks really need healthier food donations so they can make healthier Christmas food hampers for the groups they serve.

What do I suggest? Use Canada’s Food Guide! Here’s the shopping list I came up with:

  • Non-perishable and nutritious food suggestions for meat and alternatives (which provide essential protein, vitamins, and minerals) include: canned salmon, tuna, sardines, chicken, beef chillies, ham, corned beef, a variety of beans (brown beans in tomato sauce, kidney, garbanzo, mixed beans), and peanut butter.
  • Non-perishable and nutritious food suggestions for vegetables and fruit (which provide essential vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates as well as fiber) include: canned tomatoes, mixed veggies, peas, green or yellow beans, corn, beets, and fruit such as peaches, pears, mixed fruits (with no added syrup or pear juice) and apple sauce.

Highly processed foods are often high in fat, salt, and sugar so choose the more nutritious items if you can.

Why are healthier food donations so important?

Choosing healthier food options is very important for households living with food insecurity as they have a greater risk of poorer health and increased chronic conditions. This concept – food insecurity – is an important one to think about this holiday season.

For many of us, financial stability is something we enjoy and may even take for granted. This is not the case for many families and they can become food insecure. Food insecurity exists:

Whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain.” (Hamelin, A., et. al., 2002)

This is the case for 1 in 8 households in Canada. This rate is even higher in homes that receive their income from minimum wages, part-time jobs, workers compensation, employment insurance or social assistance; are First Nation, Métis or Inuit; have children (especially with a lone mother); are homeless; are new immigrants; or have chronic health problems. Food insecurity is caused by financial constraints when income is too low or unsteady and there is not enough money left over to pay for enough healthy food after paying for necessities such as housing, utilities, transportation, and health expenses.

Look up your local food bank to find out where and when to drop off your healthy food donations for this season of giving. The Prince George Citizen recently profiled four local Christmas Food Hamper programs in Prince George.

Loraina Stephen

About Loraina Stephen

Loraina is a population health dietitian working in a regional lead role for external food policy, which supports initiatives to develop healthy eating, community food security and food policy for the north. Loraina was born and raised in the north, and has a busy lifestyle. Having grown up enjoying food grown from family gardens, hunting, and gathering, and enjoying northern outdoor activities, she draws on those experiences to keep traditions strong for her family, in her work and at play.

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NH employees team up and earn $500 for the Spirit of the North Foundation

Claire and Angela

NH team members, Claire Radcliffe and Angela Wheeler.

On Sunday, July 15, 2012, Northern Health staff Claire Radcliffe and Angela Wheeler, both from Vanderhoof, participated in the Pomeroy Inn and Suites Inc. Prince George Triathlon held at West Lake Provincial Park. Entered as a two person team in the Olympic-distance triathlon which involved a 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run, Radcliffe churned up a froth in the calm West Lake waters, then wound her way up and down a very challenging bike course while Wheeler warmed up to bring it all home on the hilly run portion.

Before the Prince George event, Radcliffe had participated in five previous triathlon events, but recently has been suffering from a running-related injury in the backside which officially announced itself as a problem not be ignored in a Terrace triathlon she completed just the previous weekend. Prior to the injury in the Terrace tri, Radcliffe had already signed up for the Prince George event and would face losing out on the race fees and all the fun. As Radcliffe felt she could still swim and bike, a solution was found: teaming up with Angela Wheeler, who, for several years, has been a willing and eager runner who participates in several races each year, ranging from trail runs to half-marathon road races.

For Radcliffe, the Olympic-distance event meant racing a distance twice as far as she had ever done before. For Wheeler, it was another run but in a fresh context of a triathlon.

The team woke up to freshly rained upon highways under black clouds to drive the hour into West Lake. Just over three hours after the 9 a.m. race start, a pleasantly tired and smiling Radcliffe and Wheeler were walking up to the post-race BBQ when the race organizer called them over. To their surprise, it turned out Radcliffe and Wheeler, who on a whim chose to enter the corporate challenge category as a Northern Health team, ended up earning the sole prize of a $500 dollar donation towards a charity of their choice.

And so, because Radcliffe didn’t let one of life’s “pains in the butt” prevent her from participating in an active life, and because Angela Wheeler was doing what a friend and coworker does, helping out in any way she can, the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation will receive the definitely not-insignificant cash donation.

How did Radcliffe feel about winning the donation opportunity?  She said she’s “excited and very pleased…tickled pink in fact!” And Wheeler said, “Take part in some good fun and great exercise and win money for a good cause while doing it? Sign me up for next year!

Greg Tone

About Greg Tone

Greg began working for the former version of Northern Health in 1999 in the field of environmental health where he continues to work today, except for a three year gap doing the same job in the Yukon. His favourite activity in the summer is to swim in the local lakes and rivers with the kids, and in the winter to go tobogganing and cross-country skiing – especially now that the kids (now 10 and 7) are old enough that they cannot convince him that they need to be pulled back up! Greg is always willing to try a new sport, such as biathlon or triathlon, and when relaxing he likes to read an old discarded paperback picked up for a quarter from the local library, particularly when he knows he should be doing the dishes.

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