Healthy Living in the North

What have I learned in the garden? 10 tips from an amateur northern gardener

Garden with a rainbow in the background.

Before any seedlings emerged, a rainbow (with hints of a double rainbow) touched down in the garden! It’s going to be a good year!

Since moving to northern B.C. from the Lower Mainland, a hobby of mine that has ramped up considerably is gardening.

What used to be one tomato plant and a few pots of herbs on a small apartment patio has grown into a full patch of dirt about the size of that same Vancouver apartment! My crop has expanded from tomatoes and herbs to zucchini, peppers, kale, potatoes, spinach, green onion, lettuce, carrots, beets, peas, beans, corn, pumpkins, cucumber, six different herbs, raspberries, and some flowers thrown in for good measure.

For me, gardening is a great way to stay active, get outside, enjoy the sun, and eat healthy, super local food!

I am most definitely an amateur in the garden, but figure there are more than a few folks like me out there, so I thought I’d share my own top ten list of things I’ve learned over the last two years of gardening. I’m not talking pro tips – chat to an experienced local or check out the most recent issue of A Healthier You for those! – I’m talking about the realizations that I’ve had while fumbling around in the garden.

Ten things I learned in the garden

Frog on zucchini plant.

Perhaps the garden’s newest protector will keep the deer at bay?

1. Deer aren’t easy to fool. My first attempt at a deer repellent was to plant a wall of sunflowers in front of my veggies. If the deer can’t see the veggies, I figured, then they won’t eat them. This hypothesis was proven to be false.

2. Get organized! Visitors may poke fun at the spreadsheet that I’ve mounted in the greenhouse telling me when to thin seedlings, how far apart to space my plants, and how to harvest and prune, but I love my spreadsheet and you should, too!

3. Speaking of thinning plants, for me, this is undeniably the hardest part of gardening. When you grow something from seed, it just feels wrong to pluck it out of the ground simply to make room for other seedlings. I feel your pain.

4. Freeze raspberries on a baking sheet before putting them in a bag or container. My raspberry crop last year was amazing. And then I thought: “Hey, I should freeze these for loaves, muffins, and smoothies all winter long.” And then I thought: “Hey, I’ll just throw this bucket of raspberries in the freezer.” This worked very well until I went to grab a raspberry or two and found a massive frozen block instead. This year, to avoid having to chisel raspberries, I’m freezing the berries on a cookie sheet first. So far, so good!

Raspberries in a colander

How to properly freeze raspberries (and which Instagram filters make raspberry pictures pop) are just two things that took a full season of fun, first-time, error-filled gardening to learn.

5. Salads rock! My summer diet consists mostly of some variation on Carly’s full-meal-deal salad. A quick trip from the kitchen to the garden to snip some lettuce, grab some tomatoes and cucumbers, and cut some herbs is about all the dinner prep time I needed.

6. Deer and gardeners can co-exist. My neighbours have suggested fences, hanging soap, motion-activated sprinklers, and sprays to keep the deer at bay. My preferred approach (after the sunflower barrier failed): plant 10 times more than I could possibly eat and let the deer eat to their hearts’ content – being sure to snap pictures, of course, since the novelty of wildlife in the garden has yet to wear off for this new northerner.

7. Gardening can be great physical activity! Often when I’m in the garden, I lose track of time. Also, as an amateur, I probably do things a bit slower than the seasoned pros. It’s usually the setting sun that snaps me back into focus and reminds me that I’ve been outside for 2-3 hours bending, lifting, walking, shovelling, and just generally moving around!

Gardening information on a wall

The first year garden saw a handwritten spreadsheet (pictured). This year’s upgrade is a computer printout and has more information on pruning, harvesting, and fertilizing. No word yet on what next year’s version will look like.

8. Seniors are undeniably the best go-to source for local gardening information. Why were my cucumbers bitter? Why did the pumpkin leaves turn black? How should I prune my raspberries? I could spend some time Googling the answers and find some information that may or may not be applicable to Vanderhoof or, as I’ve done a few times now, I could draw on the wisdom of a seasoned local gardening veteran and get the right answer every time!

9. Gardening makes for colourful, jealousy-inducing pictures. Take many and share widely!

10. If I can do it, so can you!

Whether you try a single pot of herbs on a windowsill or dozens of rows and beds, give gardening a shot this year! It’s not too late (I was out planting some new seeds just yesterday!) and the healthy rewards are amazing!

Do you have any tips from your gardening experiences?

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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Simple and tasty lunches for your workday

A balanced lunch of a salad, a small container of nuts, and two oranges.

Look outside of plastic wrap and disposable sandwich bags! Keep a variety of glass or plastic containers on-hand to fit larger meals like salads, sandwiches and entrees as well as medium-sized items like fruit and cut-up vegetables and smaller items like nuts, dips, and salad dressings. Mason jars and recycled jam or pickle jars are also perfect for storing salads or beverages.

Do you find packing a lunch challenging? Time-consuming? Turns out you aren’t alone!

According to a recent Ipsos-Reid survey conducted for Dietitians of Canada, 45% of Canadians feel that eating healthy meals and snacks at work is challenging. The Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research found that only 37% of Canadians say they prepare lunch at home and over one third (36%) of Canadians skip lunch altogether.

Lunch is an important meal in your workday that shouldn’t be missed! As part of a balanced diet, a healthy lunch helps give your body and mind important nutrition to keep you awake and productive for the rest of your day.

What to put in your lunch bag: simple strategies

Keep variety in mind when you are planning your lunch. Choose foods low in salt, sugar and fat from 3 out of 4 food groups from Canada’s Food Guide: meat and alternatives, milk and alternatives, grain products, and vegetables or fruit (being sure to strive for at least 1-2 servings of vegetables or fruit). Here are a few ideas to help you build your lunch:

Meat and alternatives: Choose 1 option

  • 2-3 oz lean meat like chicken breast, turkey, pork or extra lean ground beef, fish like tuna, salmon, or tilapia, or seafood.
  • Meat alternatives like 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons nut butter, ¼ cup nuts or seeds, or ¾ cup beans, lentils or tofu.

Milk and alternatives: Choose 1 option

  • Dairy products like 1 cup milk, ¾ cup yogurt, or 1.5 oz hard cheese.
  • Milk alternatives like 1 cup fortified soy milk or non-dairy yogurt or cheese.

Grain products: Choose 2 whole grain options

  • 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 small bun, ½ tortilla, naan or pita, ½ bagel, 1 small homemade muffin, 4-6 crackers, or ½ cup pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, farro, or spelt.

Vegetables and fruit: Choose 1-2 colourful vegetables and fruit, aiming to eat a rainbow!

  • 1 cup raw leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale or bok choy, ½ cup raw or cooked vegetables like cucumber, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, squash, beets, cauliflower, mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes or yams on their own or in soups, stews, or stir-fry.
  • ½ cup fresh, frozen, or unsweetened canned fruits like grapes, melon, oranges, apples, bananas, kiwi, or berries, or ¼ cup dried fruit like apricots, raisins, or apples.
  • ½ cup 100% fruit juice, but choosing the whole fruit and vegetable options above more often.

Putting it together: Mix & match for simple and tasty lunch ideas

  1. Dinner leftovers are a quick go-to that don’t require extra prep.
  2. Pack hard-boiled eggs, cheese, fresh vegetables, a few olives and whole grain crackers for a snack-like lunch.
  3. Layer black bean dip, sliced chicken, avocado and arugula on a whole grain baguette for a simple sandwich with big flavour.
  4. Toss light tuna, snow peas and grape tomatoes with leftover whole grain pasta, basil pesto and a pinch of chili flakes – this dish is great cold or heated.
  5. Mix lentils, roasted red peppers, sweet potato, quinoa and a drizzle of lemony dressing for a delicious salad bowl.

Looking for more tasty lunch ideas? Check out this Foodie Friday post about freezer-friendly meals for food preparation tips that fit with your busy schedule!


Northern Health’s nutrition team has created these blog posts to promote healthy eating, celebrate Nutrition Month, and give you the tools you need to complete the Eating 9 to 5 challenge! Visit the contest page and complete weekly themed challenges for great prizes including cookbooks, lunch bags, and a Vitamix blender!

Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

Erin is a dietitian with Northern Health's clinical nutrition team at UHNBC. Erin has a passion for growing and cooking food as well as teaching patients, clients and families about incorporating a balanced, wholesome diet into a healthy lifestyle. In her spare time, you can find her cooking up a storm, writing about food and nutrition, and growing vegetables at her community garden. During her dietetics internship, Erin explored the north from Fort St. John to Haida Gwaii, learning about clinical and public health dietetics with many adventures along the way.

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Grab-and-go breakfasts make mornings a breeze

Bircher museli in a jar

Have an apple on-hand and mix together some muesli ingredients for a great grab & go breakfast! Waiting until the last minute to get out of bed doesn’t have to mean skipping out on healthy fuel for your body!

For some people, mornings are their favourite time of day. They love to wake up early – maybe to leisurely enjoy their breakfast, coffee, and morning paper or perhaps to kick off their day with an energy-boosting workout. Fitting in a delicious and nutritious breakfast when you’re a morning person doesn’t seem too daunting. So what about the rest of us? If you are anything like me, you’ll time your alarm to the last possible minute you can get out of bed, make yourself presentable, and be out the door on the way to work. This doesn’t mean that I skip out on fuelling myself with something healthy, though – no one wants to meet that hangry, sleepy monster! In fact, I would consider myself a master of the grab & go breakfast!

Putting together nutritious and delicious grab & go breakfasts is easy! It just requires a little bit of planning so that you can hit that snooze button one extra time in the morning! Keep your kitchen stocked with easy-to-grab fruits like apples, oranges, or bananas. Hard boil some eggs on the weekend and they will keep in the fridge for a week. Bake some whole grain muffins and freeze them individually so they are ready to go. You can even chop up veggies for a quick breakfast wrap or pita the night before.

Raspberries, a travel mug, and a muffin on a cutting board.

A whole grain muffin (bake a batch once, freeze, and enjoy for weeks!), some fresh fruit, and a latte is a delicious grab & go breakfast option. What are your grab & go breakfast tricks?

Try some of these great grab & go breakfast ideas to get you out the door and on your way in a snap!

  • Grab a whole grain muffin, an apple or orange, and a latte in your favourite travel mug.
  • Try a classic peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread.
  • Layer Greek yogurt, fresh or frozen berries, and some homemade granola in a reusable container. Don’t forget to grab a spoon!
  • Slice a hardboiled egg, tomato, and lettuce (or any other favourite veggies) in a whole wheat pita.
  • Blend up frozen fruit, yogurt, and milk to make a smoothie. My favourite combination is frozen cherries, vanilla yogurt, milk, and cocoa powder. Yum!
  • Make a wrap with hummus, avocado, and cucumber in a whole wheat tortilla.
  • Get in your morning oats by prepping some overnight oatmeal or muesli the night before.
  • Not into “breakfast foods”? Then grab those dinner leftovers and head on out the door!

Do you have a favourite grab & go breakfast? Share it in the comments below!


Northern Health’s nutrition team has created these blog posts to promote healthy eating, celebrate Nutrition Month, and give you the tools you need to complete the Eating 9 to 5 challenge! Visit the contest page and complete weekly themed challenges for great prizes including cookbooks, lunch bags, and a Vitamix blender!

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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Breakfast > snooze button

Oats in a bowl, yogurt, apple, and almonds

A little bit of prep work the night before can make a healthy, balanced breakfast a breeze, even on those rushed mornings! With a bit of chopping and mixing in the evening, bircher muesli (or overnight oats) are a great way to enjoy a balanced breakfast without any morning preparations other than grabbing a spoon!

Breakfast is one of my favourite things! On weekends, I enjoy getting up to put on some coffee and then trying out one of the many recipes I have yet to enjoy, like Tomato and Feta Baked Eggs.

Another favourite thing of mine? Sleep! So during the weekdays when I’d rather stay in bed a few more minutes, I have to push my dreams of homemade hollandaise out the window. But waking up to a rushed morning (how many times did I push snooze again?) does not mean I have to miss my favourite meal or settle for a bowl of cereal.

Here’s what I do to enjoy a healthy, balanced breakfast even if I’ve hit snooze once or twice:

  • Prepare or cook the night before. There are so many ideas for breakfasts that can be made the night before (many without a stove!) so that all you have to do in the morning is plate and enjoy. Some of my favourites are: hardboiled eggs, smoothies, baked oatmeal, bircher muesli and what I consider to be its modern cousin, overnight oats.
  • Prepare or cook more the night before. It’s important to me to pack a lunch each day. However, I know if I feel rushed in the morning, this won’t be happening. So I pack my lunch the night before. That way, all I have to do in the morning is throw it in my lunch box on the way out the door! Be sure to check the Northern Health Matters blog next week for lunch tips as part of Nutrition Month!

    Bircher muesli in a bowl beside lunch box.

    Lunch box packed and bircher muesli ready to be eaten, rushed mornings don’t have to mean missing breakfast or settling for unhealthy options!

  • Do anything you can the night before! I think my mom realized at a young age that I wasn’t a morning person and so she taught me some great skills to get to places on time. Thanks, Mom! During the evening, I’ll write a to-do list for the next day, pack all of the stuff that I can, and sometimes when I’m extra motivated, I’ll even sort out which clothes I’ll wear. This not only saves me time in the morning to enjoy my breakfast, but it eases my mind before I fall asleep.
  • Don’t hit snooze for the third time. I know, I know – probably not what you want to hear! But sometimes I find that my day is that much better if instead of sleeping, I just get up and get going. I use this extra time to just enjoy my cup of coffee and breakfast and breathe, instead of rushing around getting organized.

From experience, I think the most important thing when I’m trying to change my routine is to start small. It took time for me to accept that I may not be up at the crack of dawn. But since I’ve started to do what I can the night before, I can enjoy those few minutes in the morning dedicated to breakfast before my workday begins.


Northern Health’s nutrition team has created these blog posts to promote healthy eating, celebrate Nutrition Month, and give you the tools you need to complete the Eating 9 to 5 challenge! Visit the contest page and complete weekly themed challenges for great prizes including cookbooks, lunch bags, and a Vitamix blender!

Chloë Curtis

About Chloë Curtis

Chloë is a health promotion intern doing a 3.5 month internship to complete her BSc in Health Promotion from Dalhousie University. Her areas of interest include food security, early childhood development, the social determinants of health, community development, and the impacts of resource development on health. Chloë grew up in Terrace and her love of the north has brought her home. She loves being active outside: skiing in the winter, hiking and running in the summer, and fly-fishing all year round!

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Think outside of the cereal box

Frittata in a skillet

Frittatas are a great make-ahead breakfast that can be eaten for any meal!

This blog post is one in a series of posts giving you the tools you need to complete the month-long Eating 9 to 5 challenge! Visit the contest page for your chance to win great weekly prizes and the grand prize of a Vitamix blender!


We’ve all heard it before: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you’re anything like me, you think that this is a cruel joke because you find mornings the most challenging time of the day! On these cold winter mornings in particular, I find it hard to leave myself enough time to make something substantial for breakfast. Thankfully, I’ve come up with a way to work around this!

What comes to mind when you think of “breakfast” foods?

If you’re an average Canadian, you’re probably thinking of one of the four most common breakfast foods:

  • Ready-to-eat cereals
  • Toast
  • Fruit
  • Hot cereal

Around 80% of breakfasts are thrown together in five minutes or less, so it isn’t surprising that the food items above are the most common as they take very little time to prepare. But let it be known: these items don’t have to be your default for a quick breakfast (unless you want them to be)!

The trick to having healthy, delicious breakfasts in a snap is preparing on your days off or the night before. I am a huge fan of versatile meals and will often cook something for supper that I can easily eat for breakfast or lunch. Cook once and eat 3, 4, or more times!

Here are some meals that you can make for supper that can easily be turned into breakfast

  • Frittatas: You can dress them up and take them to breakfast, lunch, or supper! Serve them with toast and you have breakfast. Serve them with quinoa and some greens and you have lunch or supper. This is my favorite versatile meal! It can be disguised into whatever you need it for. Try this easy recipe to get you started!
  • Baked beans: Throw these onto an English muffin or corn tortilla with salsa and avocado. Add an egg and you could have your own version of huevos rancheros!
  • Whole grain pancakes or french toast: Top with peanut butter and banana! These are traditionally breakfast foods but they can be made for supper and saved for breakfast! Make extras, freeze them, and pop them in the toaster!
  • Roasted potatoes and veggies: Toss on a soft or hardboiled egg or onto a small amount of cheese, throw it all into a container and hit the road. You’ve made yourself a breakfast skillet!
  • Burritos and enchiladas: Switch out the bean or meat filling for fried eggs, add some peppers, mushrooms, and a small amount of cheese, and there you have it: a breakfast burrito! Make it the night before, wrap it in tinfoil, and pack it with you.

If you make these meals in advance, it only takes about 2 minutes to heat up and enjoy!

Your challenge for this week: think about how you might turn some of your common suppers into breakfast the next day! If you’re looking for other ways to jazz up your breakfast (or just need a laugh) check out the video below about breakfasts from around the world!


Northern Health’s nutrition team has created these blog posts to promote healthy eating, celebrate Nutrition Month, and give you the tools you need to complete the Eating 9 to 5 challenge! Visit the contest page and complete weekly themed challenges for great prizes including cookbooks, lunch bags, and a Vitamix blender!

Lindsay Kraitberg

About Lindsay Kraitberg

Lindsay is a registered dietitian working regionally with the CBORD (a food and nutrition database used in food services) team as well as in complex care. Originally from Vancouver Island, she grew up in the small town of Duncan then lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for four years before relocating to the north. Lindsay thoroughly enjoys her position with Northern Health as she works with many different health care teams and learns something new every day. When Lindsay isn't at work, you can find her snowboarding in the winter and hiking, biking or camping in the warmer weather.

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Foodie Friday: Refresh your winter eating with vegetables and fruit

Bag of frozen cherry tomatoes

Meeting the daily vegetable and fruit requirements of Canada’s Food Guide in northern B.C.’s long winters can be a challenge, but frozen, canned, and dried produce can help!

I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t know that eating vegetables and fruit is good for you. However, it may not seem possible to meet the daily vegetable and fruit requirements of Canada’s Food Guide during our cold northern winters when nothing grows and most produce is shipped from far away and is quite costly.

But don’t despair! Just remember that vegetables and fruit come in many forms, including frozen, dried and canned, and these, too, have benefits:

  • Convenience: Since the washing, peeling and chopping is already done, food and meal preparation time is shortened by using canned, dried or frozen produce.
  • Freshness: If you are lucky enough to grow your own food or support a local farmer, you can preserve food at the height of its freshness and quality. I’ve also been known to buy seasonal produce and preserve it. Last year, I transformed blueberries from the grocery store into a home canned blueberry sauce to use on my waffles instead of maple syrup.
  • Nutritious: Especially in the winter when growing and shipping conditions can increase the time it takes for fresh produce to reach you, preserved produce will have less nutrient loss.
Tomato plant

When you are picking your tomatoes this year (or buying seasonal produce), consider freezing a few batches for healthy options in the winter months!

The larger nutrition goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables – and using canned, dried and frozen versions makes that easier! Here are a few ways to include these products in your diet:

  • Make fruit salad or smoothies using frozen or canned fruit.
  • Top cereal with dried fruit like raisins, diced apricots or dates.
  • Mix dried fruit with cereal and/or nuts for an on-the-go snack.
  • Add canned or frozen fruit to plain yogurt to add sweetness and nutrition.
  • Top wholegrain pancakes or waffles with canned fruit like peach slices, frozen fruit or fruit sauce like applesauce or pear sauce.
  • Add frozen, canned or dried fruit or vegetables to wholegrain muffin and quick bread recipes — I like grating all that summer zucchini into 1 cup batches that I freeze and add to my muffins later in the year.
  • Add frozen vegetables to rice, soup or pasta sauce.
  • Mix chopped frozen spinach or kale into yogurt-based dips.
  • Add canned or frozen applesauce or pear sauce or frozen ground cherries into your meatball or meatloaf recipe to add sweetness and fibre and lower the fat slightly.
  • Make homemade milk-based soups using frozen vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes or asparagus.
Tomato soup on a stove

Healthy soups are a breeze with frozen vegetables! Flo’s simple winter soup involves roasting some tomatoes, blending them up, adding a couple extras based on your preference, and then enjoying!

When selecting canned, dried or frozen produce, choose fruit processed in water or juice rather than syrup and choose vegetables processed with little or no salt.

One of my favourite winter meals is tomato-based soups. I grow and pick tomatoes in the summer and store them in the freezer. In the winter, I pull these tomatoes out and roast them in the oven with a little bit of vegetable oil and seasoning. Once cooked, I blend them until they’re smooth and either mix with milk to make a “creamy” tomato soup or add to a pot of chick peas and other vegetables to make a vegetarian soup. After a day of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, a bowl of hot soup hits the spot!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!

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Foodie Friday: Cooking for one

Omelette with toppings on a plate.

Cooking for one can be easy, healthy, and fun! Registered dietitian Rebecca suggests batch cooking, using convenience foods (like frozen veggies), sharing a potluck, and expanding your horizons!

I see quite a few people in my office who, for various reasons, live alone. Many say that they either don’t have enough time to cook or that it’s not worth it to cook for one person. I always tell my clients that they are worth it!

As the number of single-person households increases, this becomes an even more important issue. Here are a few tips to make it easier when cooking for one:

  • Batch cook. Many foods can be cooked in big batches and then frozen for those days when you are rushed for time or don’t feel like cooking. Foods that freeze well include lasagna, chili, soup, and stews.
  • Use convenience foods to make simple meals. For example, frozen vegetables can be used to make a stir fry and fresh, pre-cut vegetables can be used to make a soup.
  • Find companions. Bulk cook or share a potluck dinner with friends. We tend to eat better when eating with family or friends.
  • Expand your horizons. Think outside of the box for supper. Sandwiches, beans with toast and fruit, or an omelette can be a healthy, quick meal.

Are you cooking for one? Try the easy omelette recipe below, which has lots of room to customize and add food groups!

Cutting board with onions, cheese, and tomatoes.

Who says omelettes are just a breakfast food? With limitless topping options, omelettes can be part of an easy, balanced, and nutritious dinner!

Omelette

Ingredients:

  •  2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt & pepper
  • Toppings (e.g., vegetables, meat, cheese, etc.), cut into small pieces
  • Oil

Instructions:

  1. Crack two eggs into a small bowl and add a sprinkle of pepper and salt to taste. Beat eggs until well mixed.
  2. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat until warm. If frying pan is not non-stick, add a small amount of oil to pan. When warm, add eggs to pan. When eggs have begun to solidify around the edges, flip over and remove from heat.
  3. If using cheese, cover entire surface of omelette with cheese. Place the rest of your toppings on half of the omelette and then fold the other side over the toppings and remove from pan.
  4. Serve with salsa and toast, if desired. Enjoy.
Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Cooking with kids

Grilled cheese sandwich with vegetables and nuts as toppings.

Cooking with kids is a great way to spend time together and teach them invaluable skills! Kids as young as two years old can help wash vegetables and choose ingredients like the toppings for their own grilled cheese sandwich!

While it may seem more like work than fun, cooking with kids at any age is a great way to spend quality family time together while teaching important life skills.

Cooking with kids can be a gift that keeps on giving, now and in the future. When kids cook at home they are:

  • Exposed to healthy foods, which may positively shape their lifelong food preferences.
  • Given opportunities to build reading, math, chemistry and problem solving skills.
  • Provided opportunities to develop self-confidence and creativity.

Here are a few things to remember:

Provide age-appropriate opportunities to grow cooking skills.

  • Kids as young as two years of age can help in the kitchen with simple tasks like washing fruits and vegetables and adding ingredients to a bowl. By age 12, kids can have the skills to do independent meal planning and preparation. Check out the Nutrition Tools for Schools guide for more information on age-appropriate food skills
  • Supervise kitchen time and demonstrate safe food handling practices, including hand washing and keeping cooked and raw foods separate, as well as safe practices like working with knives and what to do in the case of a fire.
Ingredients for a grilled cheese sandwich

When cooking with kids, be sure to provide age-appropriate tasks, supervise for safety, keep it simple, and make it interactive. The skills kids learn will last a lifetime!

Keep it simple.

  • Choose recipes that have fewer steps and ingredients and/or take a portion of a recipe and let your child help. For example, your child may be able to whisk and scramble the eggs while you complete the other pieces to make breakfast burritos. Check your local library or online for cookbooks with simple recipes.

Make it interactive.

  • Especially in the beginning, cooking may mean letting kids choose from a variety of prepared ingredients to make their own version of the meal. In my home, “build your own meal” recipes have always been winners with all ages – our favourite being build your own pizza where everyone chooses from bowls of diced veggies, fruit and meat, grated cheeses and sauces like pizza sauce, pesto and hummus to top whole grain pita, tortilla or pizza dough.
Grilled cheese sandwich with lots of toppings.

Building your own grilled cheese sandwich is a great way to involve kids in cooking and along with a salad or soup, makes a delicious and balanced meal!

To get you started, try this recipe for “build your own grilled cheese sandwich”:

  • Bread (any kind you like)
  • Cheese (try mozzarella, cheddar, brie, gouda, or another favourite)
  • Toppings (sliced pears, apples, avocado or tomatoes; caramelized onions, cooked sliced potatoes, grilled vegetables like peppers or zucchini, spinach leaves, sliced meats, etc.)
  • Condiments (pesto, honey, mustard, jalapeno jelly, jam, etc.)

Lay the ingredients out and let your family pile all their favourite cheeses and toppings on the bread. Brush each side of the bread with a little vegetable oil and then bake, broil or grill until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted. To make a balanced meal, serve with a green salad or a bowl of tomato soup!

For more healthy eating ideas and recipes like this, visit the recipes section on the Northern Health Matters blog!


 

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!

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