Healthy Living in the North

Just stop and play

Mother and child walking in forest

“Outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience, and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.”

With our busy lives and commitments to our children to be sure their everyday needs are met, we often forget to just stop and play with our children.

Today is a chance for us to look at the benefits of outdoor play. I want to encourage all caregivers to connect with their children outside, no matter what the weather forecast says! If it’s raining, put on your rubber boots and play in the rain and splash in the puddles. If the sun is poking through, slap on the sunscreen and go outside and play.

Encourage fun, self-directed, free-range play!

Today, children are often scheduled with structured activities such as hockey and soccer practices and piano lessons. Equally important to these scheduled opportunities is the free time for children to dream and explore their own limits. This outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.

Play – how much is the right amount?

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 180 minutes (3 hours) of daily physical activity for children ages 3-4 at any level of intensity. The guidelines then change for children ages 5 and up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous play per day.

Unfortunately, only 14% of children are meeting these guidelines. This drops to only 5% who are meeting the guidelines for children aged 12-17.

How to play?

Reduce screen time. Unplug and play. Make playing and exploring our neighbourhoods the reward rather than more screen time. Let’s embrace the beauty of living in the north! Everything is so accessible and nature is all around us. And it’s free! This may mean letting the child take the lead. You may get a glimpse into what the world looks like through your child’s eyes: spending time bent over exploring the colour in the rocks or examining pussy willows that you revisit later as they become leaves throughout the spring.

The benefits of play are across the board

The most obvious is that it is fun, but play also helps release tension, develops imagination, and allows for problem-solving and mastering new concepts. Play builds self-esteem, leadership skills, and reduces anxiety. Playing socially builds on co-operation and sharing as well as increases our children’s ability to resolve conflict. Outdoor play helps with gross motor skills, which build strong hearts, muscles and bones. Being active everyday as a child helps develop a lifelong habit of daily exercise as an adult.

Finally, be a good role model. Live an active life and rediscover the fun and freedom of outside play. While encouraging the whole family to “wear the gear,” wear your helmet when biking or skateboarding together. Turn your cell off. Make play a priority. Set aside time every day for free play and a chance to connect and have fun with your child today.

Reflect back to your own childhood playtime. I want to encourage everyone to build those same quality experiences for our children today! Let’s get everyone outside and active, having fun while promoting safe, active outdoor play.

Sandra Sasaki

About Sandra Sasaki

Sandra is the Children’s First Manager. In this role, she supports local committees and groups in Prince George, Quesnel, the Robson Valley and Mackenzie to work together to assess, identify and plan for the unique needs of young children. Sandra has lived and worked most of her life in Prince George where she and her husband are active members of the community. She enjoys weightlifting and working out at the gym, painting, skiing, camping, and fishing. Most of all, she enjoys spending time with her family as she is the proud mother of three daughters and a grandmother of seven. (Sandra no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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Foodie Friday: Families cooking together (featuring Lila’s Apricot Almond Granola Bars!)

Two young girls putting vegetables into a soup pot

Children and youth who spend time in the kitchen with their families develop important cooking skills! How do you involve your kids in the kitchen?

I was recently involved with teaching some after-school cooking classes with youth in Gitsegukla, a Gitxsan First Nation community approximately 40 km southwest of Hazelton. While I was initially a bit nervous about teaching a classroom full of rambunctious sixth graders, it ended up being one of my most rewarding experiences working as a dietitian! As the kids arrived to the first class, I could tell there were a few skeptics in the group— they thought it would be “too healthy.” Luckily, curiosity and hungry tummies were on my side! After a lesson on food safety and knife skills, the room was buzzing with excitement as the kids chopped, grated, and prepped the food. The cooking classes were a hit!

As a dietitian, I am always encouraging families to make meals together. Why? Well, kids who spend time in the kitchen with their families develop cooking skills that support them in becoming independent, healthy eaters. Cooking is also a great way to expose kids to a variety of different foods and it helps them learn where food comes from. Making a meal to enjoy with others also provides a sense of accomplishment, pride, and builds self-esteem. And those are just some of the many reasons I encourage cooking together!

So the next time you find yourself preparing a meal or snack, why not involve the whole family? To get started, assign each family member with task that suits their abilities.

Apricot almond bars on a plate.

These apricot almond bars are a great way for families to spend time together in the kitchen! Younger kids can measure and scoop, more experienced kids can chop, parents can supervise, and everyone can learn and enjoy!

Things younger kids can do:

  • Washing fruits and vegetables
  • Peeling with a vegetable peeler
  • Measuring and pouring cold liquids
  • Kneading, punching, rolling, or cutting out dough
  • Stirring, tossing, or whisking
  • Sprinkling, spreading, and greasing

Things older kids can do:

  • Threading on wooden skewers
  • Cutting soft fruits and vegetables
  • Grating
  • Cracking eggs

Things more experienced kids can do:

  • Roasting or sautéing vegetables
  • Baking, broiling, or boiling meats and alternatives

For more tips from an online community dedicated to helping families cook and eat together, visit the Better Together BC website. Be sure to check out the recipe demonstration videos posted by families across B.C.! Here is one of my favourites: Lila’s Apricot Almond Bars.

Is there a recipe that your family enjoys making together? Please share in the comments below!

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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