Healthy Living in the North

Mother Nature’s wonderful benefits

Woman with hunting rifle standing on ridge overlooking fall scenery.

For Laurel, there’s nothing better than disconnecting from the everyday world and heading out to hunt, fish, camp, or explore northern B.C.’s beautiful wilderness. There are so many health benefits!

Growing up in a family that camped, hunted and fished, the outdoor lifestyle has very much become a part of who I am. For me, I cannot think of anything more therapeutic than disconnecting from the everyday world and taking in the wonderful benefits that Mother Nature has to offer.

On any given weekend when I’m free, you will most likely find me in the bush hunting or on a river or lake fishing. There is nothing better than eating organic foods and it is even more satisfying when you harvest that food yourself! Spending the day in the bush not only has the potential to provide food for the freezer but has many health benefits that go along with it. It is not unusual to spend hours hiking or walking when you’re hunting (and that’s just the easy part! The real work doesn’t begin until you have shot your animal!). Not only am I doing something that I love, but I am getting exercise while doing it – it’s a win-win!

Woman holding fish in river.

Food doesn’t get much fresher or more local & organic than fish or game you’ve caught or hunted yourself!

There are so many benefits to spending your free time outdoors (in my case, hunting and fishing) and being active:

  • Fresh air. This is #1 for me!
  • Organic food. It doesn’t get much more organic than something you’ve hunted yourself!
  • Vitamin D. Soak up that sunshine!
  • Quality time with loved ones. To my little family, hunting is who we are, and as hunters, we often associate time in the bush with people we care about.
  • Better mental health. Goodbye, stress!
Lakes and fall colours

The photography opportunities in northern B.C. are endless, as Laurel’s beautiful shot of Butler Ridge Provincial Park near Hudson’s Hope demonstrates!

As a bonus, the photography opportunities are endless! Northern B.C. is home to some of the most beautiful outdoor scenery and wildlife in the province. With moose, deer, elk, bear and numerous other animals living at your doorstep, it’s not uncommon to see these spectacular animals while going about your everyday life. We “northerners” often take these amazing sights for granted.

I always try to be grateful for everything in life, but when I’m on the river, in the bush or at the top of a mountain, breathing in that fresh, outdoor air and having monster bull elk come towards me, it’s an extra reminder of how blessed I am to be a hunter!

Are you a hunter or an outdoor enthusiast? What outdoor activities do you take part in to help maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle?

Laurel Traue

About Laurel Traue

Laurel Traue is the Regional Administrative Support for Public Health. She was born and raised in the Cariboo and loves being able to call this beautiful part of B.C. home. Laurel's passion is her family, and she loves to connect with them while spending time in the great outdoors. In her spare time, Laurel enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, spending time on the river, exploring new parts of the beautiful North and travelling!


Foodie Friday: Take the stress out of weekday mornings – busy morning breakfasts

Square of baked oatmeal and glass of milk.

Give your body’s energy factory the fuel it needs to support you throughout the day! Try Carly’s make-ahead baked oatmeal!

If you’re anything like me, you wake up on a workday morning and amble into the kitchen in search of breakfast. You may be thinking about the meetings you’ve got scheduled that day, the workout you are trying to squeeze in before work or making your kids’ lunches. Probably the last thing on your brain is a nutritious and satisfying meal to kick-start your energy.

But research shows that people who eat breakfast have more energy and better mental alertness and concentration for their workday. Think of it this way: overnight, when your body rests, so too does your energy production factory (your metabolism).When you wake up in the morning, if you don’t give your energy factory fuel (food) to work with, it won’t produce much energy. As a result, you’ll likely feel tired well into the day!

If you need a little more convincing of breakfast’s many benefits, I suggest you check out this article from Today’s Dietitian.

Because it’s so good both hot and cold and reheats well, let this filling and nutritious make-ahead breakfast take the stress out of your weekday morning routine! I like to make this ahead of time, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but you could also throw it together in less than 20 minutes while cleaning up from a weeknight supper if you’d prefer. This is a recipe I found on Epicurious – a foodie’s dream website with hundreds of well-tested recipes.

Square of baked oatmeal on a plate

This make-ahead baked oatmeal is delicious hot or cold and portions out easily for nutritious and filling weekday breakfasts!

Berry Banana Baked Oatmeal


  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped walnut or pecan pieces
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 cups berries
  • 2 cups milk or milk alternative
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. In mixing bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and half of the nuts. Set aside.
  3. In another mixing bowl, combine the milk, egg, maple syrup, melted butter and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish, cut bananas into 1 cm rounds and arrange evenly on the bottom of the baking dish. Scatter half of the berries into the bottom of the baking dish with the bananas. Evenly spread the dry oat mixture on top of the fruit in the baking dish. Evenly pour the milk mixture on top of the oats – make sure to get all of the corners saturated. Scatter the other half of the berries and toasted nuts on top.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is golden and there are no wet areas. Serve with additional melted butter or maple syrup to taste.

This baked oatmeal is scrumptious both hot and cold and lends itself well to reheating or travelling. To make breakfast a breeze, allow the baked oatmeal to completely cool, then cut into squares and portion into reusable containers or wax paper for transport on your busy mornings!

Carly Phinney

About Carly Phinney

Born in Vancouver, raised in the Okanagan, and a recent transplant to the North, Carly Phinney is a Clinical Dietitian at UHNBC. Carly’s interest in food started in the kitchen with her mother - watching her mother’s talent for just “throwing something together” from whatever was in fridge. She loves that, through food and nutrition, she is able to touch people’s lives and help them to make small but sustainable changes that can greatly improve their overall quality of life. Outside of work, you can find Carly in her kitchen baking up a storm or in the mountains hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.


Foodie Friday: Packing school lunches: Part 2

Apple, plums, cheese slices, muffin, leftover dinner, almonds, vegetables, and yogurt in containers.

Curious as to what a dietitian packs for her own lunch? Lise loves variety in her lunch but may not get through all of this during her workday. She’ll listen to her stomach and see what she needs!

Are you worried that your kid doesn’t eat enough at school? Does most of their lunch come back home at the end of the day? Is your kid so hungry after school that they are ready to have a meltdown? What to do??

In a recent blog post, we were inspired with some school lunch ideas. The Division of Responsibility in Feeding can help us here, too, by outlining parents’ jobs with feeding and kids’ jobs with eating.

Parents are responsible for deciding what foods are offered at meal and snack times, so it is up to you to decide what to include in the daily lunch bag.

As they get older, you can involve your kids in packing their own lunches by giving them some choices, such as: “For your fruit today, do you want an apple or a banana?” or “For your milk product, do you want yogurt or cheese slices?”

Your teen will eventually be able to take over the job of packing lunch, although you can still check in: “Did you pack food from 3 or 4 food groups?” and “Did you pack your water bottle?”

Once the lunch is packed and off to school, your job is done!

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding includes jobs for kids, too. It is up to your kid to decide in what order they will eat their food items or how much of each particular item they will eat. Your kid’s appetite can change from day to day; by listening to their body’s “hungry” and “full” messages, they know how much to eat.

As an aside, many schools have changed their lunch hour so that play time occurs before eating time. This is called “Play First Lunch” and school staff find that kids are more focused on eating their lunch, are better behaved and are more prepared to learn.

If there is no afternoon snack at school, your kid will benefit from a sit-down snack after school. Make this available every day, regardless of how much they have eaten for their lunch. As with packing lunch, you are responsible for deciding what to offer for this snack. As your kids get older, they can start to manage this snack with your guidance, such as “Choose foods from 2 food groups” and “Sit at the table for your snack.”

Curious as to what a dietitian packs for her own lunch? The photo above is one example: leftover spaghetti squash with meat and veggie sauce, an apple, 2 small plums, snap peas & carrots, blueberry yogurt, cheddar cheese slices, a homemade fruit muffin and almonds. I love a lot of variety in my lunch, although I may not get through all of this during my workday – I’ll listen to my tummy and see what I need!

The recipe below is my “master fruit muffin recipe,” but I often modify the ingredients. I might swap the ratio of banana to apples, or use a plum or pear sauce instead of applesauce. In terms of flour, sometimes I use only whole wheat flour or only white flour, while at other times I throw in some oats or bran. Sometimes I add cinnamon, ginger or other spices. It all depends on what I have available in my kitchen at the time and what I am in the mood for.

Lise’s Master Fruit Muffin Recipe

Makes 12 muffins

Dry ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt

Wet ingredients

  • 1½ cup overripe banana
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare muffin tins.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together in one bowl.
  3. Mix wet ingredients together in another bowl.
  4. Mix wet and dry ingredients together until just moist, quickly spoon into muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes.

These fruit muffins are quite moist, and so are best eaten within a day or two. Alternatively, double the batch and freeze the muffins for future lunches and snacks.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise started her career as a dietitian with Northern Health in 2004 when she moved to Terrace "for a year." More than 10 years later, she is now part of the regional population health registered dietitian team and she continues to love living, working and playing in B.C.'s northwest. Lise enjoys playing outside with her husband and friends and you might find her skiing, biking or kiting. She’s passionate about local food, keeps a garden, enjoys local community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers market goodies, and carries out food preservation projects.


Foodie Friday: Keeping lunches fun for back to school

Two kids and two adults packing lunch in the kitchen

If your kids help to pack their own lunch or help with the grocery shopping, they’re much more likely to eat it! Mix and match protein, fruit and vegetables, a carbohydrate, and some fat for a great, nutritious lunch.

Whether you love having your kids home for summer or are looking forward to the start of school, most parents find making lunches a bit of a chore. Without fresh ideas, lunches can get a bit repetitive and pretty soon your child is bringing home the majority of what you sent with them.

So what can you do?

First, involve your child in making their lunch! You are likely to get more buy-in and your kids are more likely to eat their lunch if they help with making it or with the grocery shopping for the ingredients.

Making sure you have everything on hand saves a lot of time, too. You may need ice packs to keep items cold, enough reusable containers for the foods you want to send, and a water bottle for sending water to drink. If you have extra food at supper, packing it up into lunch-sized portions right after supper saves time and makes lunch prep easy!

Lunch kit with tomatos, egg, water bottle, plum, granola bar, and yogurt.

Rebecca’s lunch includes cheese, yogurt, tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg, plum, granola bar, and more! What about yours? Don’t forget your water bottle, ice pack, and containers!

Need some inspiration for ideas? Here are some tried and true ideas to mix and match.

  • Sandwich, wrap, roti or pita stuffed with meat, cheese, egg, tuna, peanut butter*, jam, vegetables and/or hummus.
  • Chili, stew, perogies, soup, samosas, pasta salad
  • Dinner leftovers (look for a meat (chicken, fish, pork) or alternative; vegetable; and grain, potato, or pasta)
  • Waffles/pancakes or muffin
  • Cereal and milk
  • Quiche; scrambled or hard-boiled eggs
  • Cracker and cheese; tortilla
  • Yogurt and granola
  • Kebabs (meat, cheese, vegetable)

If you base a lunch around including a source of protein, a fruit and/or vegetable, a carbohydrate, and some fat, you will have made a great, nutritious lunch!

For school snack ideas visit Nutrition 411.

*Due to allergies, some schools do not allow peanut butter. Alternatives such as Wowbutter® may be allowed.

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.


Make school lunches nutritious, delicious, and fun!

Mother and daughter making scrambled eggs.

Make school lunches a family affair! Even young kids can take on tasks like washing fruit, filling water bottles, and packing lunch bags!

Summer is coming to an end, which means it’s back-to-school time for families across northern B.C. Getting back into school routines often means busy schedules! Fuelling those busy days can be challenging, but there are some easy things you can do to make back-to-school lunches nutritious, delicious, and fun this year.

Follow these five simple steps for stress-free mornings and happy tummies throughout the day.

  1. Be prepared. The Boy Scouts knew what they were talking about! Taking some time during your evenings or weekends to get prepared makes busy weekday mornings a breeze. Plan meals, chop vegetables, bake muffins, or batch-cook something tasty (like soup or chili) to eat throughout the week. Check out Holly’s post for some great lunch prep ideas!
  2. Get the tools. Make sure you have a variety of reusable containers, including cutlery and drink containers, so that no matter what you pack for lunch, you’ll have something to put it in. An insulated lunch bag and a food Thermos are both great investments, too.
  3. Make it a family affair. Get the kids involved in prep! Even young kids can wash fruit, fill water bottles, and pack their lunch bags. And make sure to involve your kids in planning their lunch, like asking whether they want carrot sticks or celery. Offering them a choice means they are more likely to eat those healthy foods. There’s lots of inspiration for preparing food as a family on the Northern Health Matters blog, like Emilia’s tips for age-appropriate ways to include kids in cooking.
  4. Seek out healthy helpers. Save time with some pre-prepared nutritious items like washed and bagged salad greens, baby carrots, unsweetened applesauce cups, individual cheese portions, and yogurt cups.
  5. Think beyond the sandwich bread. While sandwiches are definitely a lunchtime favourite for many, it can be fun to switch it up. Instead of bread, try wraps or pita pockets. Or skip the sandwich and try a pasta salad, soup, crackers and cheese, or even last night’s leftovers.

Looking for a little lunch inspiration? Try this easy pasta salad recipe! You can get the kids involved, prep it the night before, and break out of the sandwich rut. Sounds like a win for healthy school lunches!

Chicken Pasta Salad

Adapted from

Serves 4


  • 3 ½ cups cooked whole wheat pasta (such as rotini, penne, or macaroni)
  • 1 ½ cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely grated
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • ¼ cup of your favourite salad dressing (such as Italian, caesar, or balsamic)


  1. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, chicken, carrot, cucumber.
  2. Drizzle with salad dressing and mix to combine.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for up to two days.

To switch things up, try replacing the chicken with shrimp, ham, chickpeas, or tofu. Try out different vegetables, too, like broccoli, peppers, peas, or corn.

For more inspiration, check out our Foodie Friday posts!

A version of this article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of A Healthier You magazine.

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.


Foodie Friday: Keep cool this summer with homemade frozen treats

Strawberry ice pop on a plate with strawberries

Foods you make in your kitchen are going to be more nutritious (and delicious!) than the store-bought alternative. This summer, try making your own ice pops with your favourite fruit!

What a wonderful summer it has been in northern B.C.! How are you keeping cool this summer? Heading to the beach? Jumping in the pool? Enjoying a refreshing treat?

Kids love ice pops and frozen treats. They sure do hit the spot on a hot day! Have you ever tried making your own? They take only a few minutes to make and are guaranteed to be a hit! Ice pops are a fun and creative way for kids to get more fluids in the hot summer months.

Foods you make in your kitchen are going to be more nutritious (and delicious!) than the store-bought alternative. This rule applies for Popsicles and icy treats as well. The cost savings can be significant and you know exactly what ingredients are in there! It’s even better if you are able to use locally grown ingredients such as fresh B.C. fruit.

All you need are some ice pop moulds and a freezer! These moulds can be found among all the festive summer plates and glasses for under $5 at your local dollar store or larger grocery store. If you can’t find any, you can also use ice cube trays and cut pieces of firm drinking straws to use as handles.

When you have your own ice pop moulds, you can freeze whatever you like! Here are just a few ideas:

  • Blend up juicy watermelon with a squeeze of lime juice
  • Purée ripe peaches, nectarines or strawberries with a splash of water
  • Freeze your favourite smoothie. Try berries, milk, and Greek yogurt!
  • Throw some crushed raspberries or other berries into the moulds with diluted pineapple or orange juice

Here is a super easy strawberry ice cream inspired treat that is made with coconut milk, instead. The coconut milk makes this really rich, creamy and delicious.

The recipe below makes enough for twelve ¼ cup-sized ice pops (as seen in the picture) or six ½ cup ice pops.


  • 1 ½ cup strawberries, washed, core removed and chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 can of regular coconut milk
  • 2-4 tbsp maple syrup or honey


  1. Wash and prepare the strawberries. Place in blender.
  2. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over strawberries, careful not to add any seeds.
  3. Add the coconut milk and maple syrup or honey to the blender.
  4. Blend together until smooth.
  5. Pour smooth mixture into ice pop moulds, snap on the lids. Remember that if you don’t have ice pop moulds, you can use ice cube trays and firm straws.
  6. Freeze for at least 3-4 hours, until solid.
  7. When ready to eat, run under hot water for 10 seconds to easily remove the ice pop from the mould.
Amy Horrock

About Amy Horrock

Born and raised in Winnipeg Manitoba, Amy Horrock is a registered dietitian and member of the Regional Dysphagia Management Team. She loves cooking, blogging, and spreading the joy of healthy eating to others! Outside of the kitchen, this prairie girl can be found crocheting, reading, or exploring the natural splendor and soaring heights of British Columbia with her husband!


Foodie Friday: Enjoy B.C.’s bounty this summer

Grilled corn and tomatoes on a table.

How are you enjoying B.C.’s bounty this long weekend? Grill some local corn, pull some tomatoes from the vine, and give Marianne’s salad a try!

Summertime in B.C. is awesome! We can get outside and enjoy our favourite activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and swimming throughout our amazing province. It’s also a great time to up our healthy eating game as our gardens, farmers markets, and grocery stores are filled with fresh B.C. produce! I know I can hardly wait for those summer months when I can finally sink my teeth into B.C.-grown nectarines, raspberries, corn on the cob, and more.

There are many benefits to enjoying B.C.-grown fruits and vegetables

  • Local produce is the freshest produce you can buy – it’s picked ripe and ready to eat and delivered to you quickly, especially if it’s coming from your own backyard! This means it tastes better, looks better, and retains more nutrients.
  • Local produce is better for the environment – fruit and vegetables grown in other countries have to travel long distances and require more packaging to make it to your plate.
  • Choosing B.C. produce supports our local economies – when you choose B.C. produce at the grocery store or shop at your local farmers market you are supporting those producers in your community.

Whether you grow your own, visit your local farmers market, or shop at the grocery store, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the bounty of B.C. And what better time to do so than this B.C. Day long weekend! If you are hosting a BBQ, having a lakeside picnic, or going to a potluck, try out this crowd-pleasing salad. It’s packed full of flavour and uses a variety of produce you can find growing in our awesome province.

Happy B.C. Day everyone!

Salad and dressing

This grilled corn, arugula, and couscous salad is a celebration of B.C. produce. Enjoy it at your next BBQ, lakeside picnic, or family gathering!

Grilled corn, arugula, and couscous salad

Adapted from The Wellness Kitchen Cookbook, by Paulette Lambert, RD

Serves 6-8



  • 1 cup water
  • ⅔ cup whole wheat couscous
  • 3 cups arugula
  • 3 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
  • 3 ears of corn, grilled and kernels cut from cob
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • ⅓ cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese


  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper


  1. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.
  2. In a large salad bowl, toss couscous, arugula, tomatoes, corn, avocado, pumpkin seeds, cranberries. Set aside.
  3. For the dressing, in a blender or food processor, add basil, buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
  4. To serve, toss the salad with the dressing, then sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top.


  • Keep the dressing and salad separate until you are ready to serve to avoid soggy arugula.
  • You can also replace the couscous with quinoa or millet to make it gluten-free.
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.


Foodie Friday: Easy mason jar parfait

Yogurt parfait in mason jar.

Mason jar breakfasts can pack a powerful punch and are super easy to grab-and-go! Try Rilla’s recipe or mix it up with your favourite fruits and nuts.

Mason jars are a great way to take your breakfast up a notch. Their fun presentation gives a sneak peek into a colourful, appealing meal before we actually dig in!

Mason jars can be used to store and transport your meal and can also be used for baking or shaking/mixing ingredients.

This cool idea makes portion control at breakfast easy, with the added bonus of a portable and environmentally friendly container! Make a mason jar your new favourite Tupperware or lunchbox.

Need an idea to fill your mason jar?

Mix up the goodness of quinoa with greek yogurt, fruit and nuts for a breakfast with some staying power. This meal combination has a healthy dose of good fats, protein and carbs to start your day off right!

This recipe is extremely versatile. Try using granola in place of quinoa, a variety of fruit in place of blueberries, or other nuts, dried fruit or nut butter in place of almonds! The options are endless, and ensure that you’ll never be bored with your breakfast meal again!

Easy Mason Jar Parfait


  • ¼ cup cooked and cooled quinoa
  • ½ cup plain greek yogurt
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½ banana, sliced
  • 1 tbsp almonds
  • Pure maple syrup, to taste


  1. Prepare quinoa the night before as per package instructions. Cool overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Layer yogurt, quinoa, fruit and nuts and top with maple syrup to taste.

Try making these the night before or in batches for a quick grab-and-go breakfast in the morning!

Rilla Reardon

About Rilla Reardon

Rilla is a Registered Dietitian working for Northern Health since 2013. Rilla moved to northern BC from the east coast to continue developing her skills as a dietitian in a clinical setting while enjoying all that the north has to offer. Outside of work, she can be found experimenting in the kitchen or navigating the trails around Prince George with her dog, Henry. Rilla channels her passion for nutrition into practice, inspiring others to nourish their bodies, minds and souls with delicious and healthy food!


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.


Foodie Friday: Turn up the heat! Cooking healthy meals on the BBQ

BBQ chicken, mango salsa, asparagus, and carrots on a plate.

Think outside the steak for the grill this summer! Erin’s jerk chicken recipe is a great option for a healthy and quick BBQ dinner!

Summer is here!

Hot weather invites you to enjoy the outdoors, and cooking is no exception. Unless you enjoy cooking in a hot kitchen while gazing out at the beautiful sunshine, it’s time to pull out the barbecue and get creative!

While I was in Vancouver, I ran a community kitchen as part of a local organization that empowered families to grow their own food and cook delicious and healthy meals from their bounty. We cooked everything on a barbecue, from cedar-planked salmon to homemade wild blueberry perogies, to show that anything is possible with a little creativity and improvisation.

When you think about barbecuing, are you envisioning a juicy steak with grilled potatoes and corn on the cob?

While that is definitely an option, I like to try new things on the barbecue and also look outside of the typical steak and potato meal for cancer prevention.

Eating a diet high in red meat has been shown to increase cancer risk and grilled or barbecued meat may further increase your risk of developing cancer. According to the Dietitians of Canada, when meat is cooked at a high temperature, like on the grill, fat can drip onto hot flames. This can cause flare-ups and cancer-causing compounds may be formed. To help keep healthy while enjoying your favourite foods on the barbecue, here are a few tips.

Tips for a healthy BBQ season

  • Choose kabobs or thin cuts of meat to minimize time on the grill.
  • Trim off visible fat to help reduce flare-ups.
  • Marinate your meats to reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds by 80-90%!
  • Barbecue at a lower temperature.
  • Trim off any burnt or charred pieces.
  • Opt for vegetarian items! Grilling vegetables doesn’t increase your cancer risk.

Last night, I enjoyed this spicy jerk chicken with mango salsa, using butterflied and marinated chicken for a quick and healthy summer dinner.

Chicken, vegetables, and rice on a plate.

Butterflied chicken (or small cuts of meat on a kabob) is one way to minimize time on the grill and make your BBQ healthier this summer. What are your BBQ favourites?

Jerk Chicken with Mango Salsa


  • 4 chicken breasts, butterflied or pounded 1 inch thick
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp red chili flakes
  • ½ tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced

Mango Salsa

  • 1 mango, diced
  • 1/3 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ¼ tsp salt


  1. Combine spices and lime juice together to create a paste. Rub over chicken and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
  2. Turn the barbecue on to medium heat.
  3. Make the mango salsa by combining mango, red onion, tomato, cilantro, lime juice and salt together in medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  4. Place chicken on the barbecue and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until golden brown. Flip chicken and cook on the other side until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.
  5. Serve chicken with mango salsa and your favourite sides.

Food safety is still important on the grill. For tips to keep barbecuing safe, check out tips from Health Canada.

Don’t feel like cooking? Check out Carly’s “full-meal-deal salad” for a quick summertime dinner.

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.