Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Ready, set, menu plan!

Grocery list

A little bit of meal planning – including making a grocery list – can go a long way to help support healthy eating habits and make dinner time more enjoyable for everyone.

It’s been a hectic day, and now you need to get dinner on the table. All too often, we are faced with the “What should we have for dinner tonight?” dilemma. This can make dinner time a very stressful and daunting experience, especially when you’re already tired and hungry! For me, I’ve learned firsthand that “hangry”, the term used for anger or irritability due to lack of food, is definitely a real thing!

In honour of Nutrition Month this March, my small nourishing change is to make a weekly meal plan. Why do a meal plan? Meals planned and prepared at home tend to be healthier than restaurant meals or eating on the go. Plus, a little bit of meal planning can go a long way to help support healthy eating habits and make dinner time more enjoyable for everyone. It’s a win-win!

Meal planning can be a fairly simple task, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Try these simple meal planning steps:

  1. Make a menu plan. Write down your meal ideas for the week using a piece of paper, calendar or this handy menu planner from BetterTogetherBC. Post it on the fridge and get the whole family involved.
  2. Make a grocery list. Check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what food items you need.
  3. Go grocery shopping. Buy the foods on your grocery list.
  4. Get stocked. Keep ingredients for healthy meals and snacks on hand such as frozen or canned vegetables and fruit, plain yogurt, canned fish, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, canned beans and whole grains such oats and brown rice.

Looking for a quick, easy, and delicious dinner meal idea? This Mexican Chicken Casserole recipe is definitely one of my go-tos for those hectic weekday nights and is also great for “planned extra” leftovers.

Chicken and rice on a plate with carrots and salad.

Emilia’s Mexican Chicken Casserole is a great option for a hectic weekday night and makes great “planned extras” for lunch tomorrow!

Mexican Chicken Casserole


  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice or rice of choice
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 x 15 oz can black beans or beans of choice
  • 1 x 15 oz can of finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup low- sodium chicken broth or water
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2-3 large chicken breast or 6 chicken thighs
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add the dry rice, drained and rinsed black beans, corn, tomatoes, chili powder, oregano and chicken broth or water to a 8″ x 8″ casserole pan.
  2. If using chicken breast, cut into 3 pieces. Push the chicken into the liquid.
  3. Cover the casserole dish tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour.
  4. Remove from oven and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake uncovered for a few minutes, until cheese has melted.

Adapted from Budget Bytes.

Enjoy served with a side salad and a glass of milk or a dollop of plain yogurt. Possible recipe modifications include substituting the chicken with heart-healthy fish or doubling the portion of beans for a fibre-packed vegetarian alternative.

Do you have a favorite go-to dinner meal? 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!


Quality counts! 3 tips for Nutrition Month

Last week, dietitians Marianne & Rebecca provided some tips to get you ready for a 100 meal journey.

Did you have the chance to think about what your small, nourishing changes could be?

If you’re still looking for positive, easy changes to make to your eating habits, for Week 2 of Nutrition Month, we suggest looking at quality! Get clever with your cooking, swap in nutrient-rich choices to stay energized, and more!

Here are Rebecca & Marianne’s favourite tips for this week.

Berry smoothie

What small steps can you take to bump up the quality of your meals and snacks? How about a super smoothie for breakfast?

Tip #1: Jump-start your day! Power through your morning by eating a good breakfast.

A nourishing breakfast gives you a fuel boost plus protein and fibre to help you stay alert and avoid mid-morning munchies.

In a hurry?

  • Blend frozen berries, yogurt and milk for a super smoothie. Make it even better with baby spinach and ground flax.
  • Wrap peanut butter, a banana and trail mix in a whole-grain tortilla for a portable, crunchy breakfast.

Have time?

  • Make a burrito with scrambled egg, lentils or soft tofu, sautéed red pepper, avocado and salsa wrapped in a warm tortilla.
  • Top French toast with yogurt, sunflower seeds and warm sautéed apple slices.

For more breakfast inspiration, visit Cookspiration.

Plate of roasted sweet potatoes

Don’t think of them as leftovers – think of them as “planned extras”! Are you roasting sweet potatoes for dinner? Add a few more and layer them on whole-grain bread for a delicious and nutritious lunch!

Tip #2: Forget the food court! Pack good food fast with “planned extra” leftovers for lunch.

Packing lunch is a healthy, budget-friendly habit. Keep it simple: reinvent “planned extra” leftovers for a lunch that’s way better than the food court. Try these tasty ideas:

  • Cook extra chicken for dinner. For lunch, wrap chicken in soft tacos, with crunchy cabbage and shredded carrots, a sprinkle of feta and big squeeze of juicy lime.
  • Roast extra root veggies. Layer them on crusty whole grain bread with hummus and baby spinach for a scrumptious sandwich.
  • Toss extra cooked whole wheat pasta, couscous or barley with pesto, cherry tomatoes, lentils and small cheese chunks for a protein-packed salad.

The Dietitians of Canada have lots of creative ways to cook with leftovers.

Tip #3: Clever cooking! Flavour food with tangy citrus, fresh herbs and fragrant spices.

There are lots of simple ways to cook healthy without sacrificing taste. Try these tips to add flavour to meals:

  • Add pizzazz to plain grains and pulses by cooking barley, brown rice or lentils in low-sodium broth.
  • Stir ½ to 1 cup of canned pumpkin or mashed sweet potato into muffin batter for a veggie boost.
  • Make a luscious mashed potato with roasted garlic, a little olive oil and warm milk.
  • Purée vegetable soups, such as potato, sweet potato or broccoli, with low-sodium broth for deliciously creamy texture and taste.

For delicious recipes with a healthy twist, visit Healthy Families BC.

What small steps can you take to bump up the quality of your meals and snacks?

These tips are adapted from the Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month Campaign Materials. Find more information about Nutrition Month and join other Canadians on a 100 Meal Journey at

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. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)


Foodie Friday: Make small changes each meal to nourish your body and mind

Bowl of soup with bread and salad.

Erin’s small, nourishing change for this meal was to include beans in her soup. What changes will you make on your 100 meal journey this month?

As the season changes, are you looking to eat better? When the snow starts melting and the sun starts shining, I get inspired to make fresh and nourishing meals to recharge my body and brain.

Getting excited about eating well is what this year’s Nutrition Month is all about. This year’s theme – take a 100 meal journey – is focused on making small and lasting changes that will stick. There are about 100 meals in a month, and you can make small, nourishing changes in each meal to help you eat and feel better all year long.

Sometimes, I get too excited and want to take on the world! But too many changes at once can be overwhelming and hard to keep up. Choosing one change at a time and sticking with it will lead to lifelong positive changes.

One change that I made for a recent meal was to include more beans on my plate (or, rather, in my bowl!). Beans are packed full of plant-based protein and fibre, which are both great for keeping my heart healthy and nourishing my active body. 2016 is the International Year of Pulses, so the recipe I’m sharing this week features hearty Great Northern beans, but any other bean would work just as well.

Green Great Northern Soup

Serves 4-6


  • 2 cups Great Northern Beans, dried (4 cups low sodium canned beans would work too)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 L chicken stock, low sodium
  • 1 chorizo sausage
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (1 tsp dried thyme would work, too)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste


Note: If using canned beans, skip to #3.

  1. In a large bowl, cover the beans with 2 inches of cold water. Soak at room temperature overnight.
  2. Rinse the beans and place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and cook for 45 minutes or until the beans are soft inside, but not falling apart.
  3. In a separate pot, on medium heat, sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant.
  4. Add chicken stock, the whole chorizo sausage, thyme and bay leaf. Simmer, covered, for as long as the beans take to cook to develop a rich flavour.
  5. Once the beans are cooked, take out the chorizo, sprigs of thyme and bay leaf. Slice the chorizo. Add the beans to the soup pot along with sliced chorizo, Parmesan cheese, and kale.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this soup with fresh crusty bread and your favourite salad to round out your meal.

My small change this meal was to include protein and nutrient-rich beans in my soup to feed my body and mind. What will your next small, nourishing change be?

To make your pledge to a take a 100 meal journey, visit the Dietitians of Canada website to receive tips and strategies to stay on track.

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.


Eating 9 to 5 Challenge: And the winner is…

Ross, who won a Vitamix Blender with the Eating 9 to 5 Challenge is pictured.

Congrats to Ross, who won a Vitamix Blender with the Eating 9 to 5 Challenge!

This March was National Nutrition Month and its theme was Eating 9 to 5, which focused on people’s eating habits at the office/work site and their time-strapped schedules around the work day. In support of National Nutrition Month, Northern Health held the Eating 9 to 5 Challenge, which brought four weeks of challenges to northerners who completed tasks for entries into weekly team draws, as well as an individual draw for a Vitamix blender! We truly believe that everyone who took part and experienced a positive change to their eating habits as a result of the Challenge is a winner! Based on the amazing entries that were submitted, a lot of people received a ton of great tips for eating healthier before, during, and after work, and put those tips into action! Before we announce who won prizes, we want to thank everyone who took part and wish everyone good, healthy eats (and drinks) during your 9 to 5, and beyond!

After a brief delay, we’re happy to announce that the grand prize winner of the Eating 9 to 5 Challenge is Ross Knudson! Ross took part in the challenge on his own, literally naming his team “Ross Solo” … which is close to the moniker he uses when fighting the Empire. Ross won a Vitamix blender. Congrats, Ross!

We’d also like to congratulate The Northern Healthy Eaters, who took home our Week 1 prize of four Dietitians of Canada cookbooks; Anita, who entered as an individual, winning the Week 2 draw for four Thermos lunch bags; The District Divas, winners of Week 3’s four travel mugs; and, lastly, team We Love Our Pharmacy, who won two fruit/veggie trays for their next meeting!

Throughout all four weeks, we received fantastic entries that showed how serious people were about eating healthy in the workplace, but it was the Creative Challenges that put the biggest smiles on our faces! Here are a few random highlights:

The text "Make Lunch Fun"  surrounds a pencil crayon drawing of several pieces of fruit.

The Crazy Cantaloupes sent in this lovely piece of artwork, which, ironically, does not feature a cantaloupe.

A cupcake and a doughnut say "Eat us! We are so delicious!" to which team The Steamed Veggies respond, "No thanks, meeting snacks! I will just have my apple! I'm good!"

We know cupcakes and doughnuts are unhealthy, but, according to The Steamed Veggies, they’re actually evil! Stick to those apples!

And, without a doubt, the most adorable creative entry goes to The OR Health Freaks who put one of their kids to the test with this food quiz:

Thanks again to everyone who entered the Eating 9 to 5 Challenge! Feel free to let us know if any of the tips or challenges helped you make positive changes to your eating habits in the comments below.

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.


Foodie Friday: Workplace potlucks

Various dishes on a table.

How do you ensure that your potlucks are healthy potlucks?

Northern Health promotes teamwork and a sense of community in the workplace. In keeping with this vision, weeks can sometimes get busy with team meetings, events or gatherings. Often, these occur over the lunch hour – a time that tends to fit best into everyone’s busy schedules.

Because this means that we are often eating lunch with our coworkers, workplace potlucks are a popular choice for meetings and gatherings. These situations can, however, sometimes make healthy eating a challenge!

Here are some tips to ensure your next workplace potluck is a healthy workplace potluck!

  • Skip the sweets and desserts at events. Enjoy fresh fruit instead!
  • Follow the plate method and aim to fill half your plate with vegetables.
  • Have a sign-up sheet for potlucks with spots to fill under the four food groups. This makes sure there will always be balanced options!
  • Make sure to bring something healthy and tasty that you know you like – that way you can be sure of at least one healthy choice!

Try preparing some Mexican Quinoa Bites for a quick and easy potluck item!

Mexican Quinoa Bites

Recipe from The Lean Green Bean


  • ½ cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 cup black beans, cooked
  • ¼ cup avocado, smashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • ½ cup corn kernels, cooked
  • ½ cup onion, diced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ⅓ cup ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup low-fat Mexican shredded cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Rinse quinoa and cook according to package directions. Let cool slightly.
  3. Combine beans, avocado, peppers, corn and onion in a small bowl and mix well.
  4. Add spices and stir to combine.
  5. Add cooked quinoa, egg, ground pepitas, and cheese. Mix well.
  6. Spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray and spoon in quinoa mixture.
  7. Bake at 375 F for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes.
  9. Gently remove from pan. Serve with salsa.
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!


Food safety in the workplace

Soup being ladled into a bowl.

Clean and sanitize surfaces, use serving utensils, cook food thoroughly, and be mindful of time and temperatures to ensure that your next workplace potluck or celebration is a safe one!

I love office potlucks and catered lunches. It’s a time for everyone to break their routine and potentially try something new!

These celebrations do bring up some unique issues and concerns, though, as we think about how to prepare food safely and how to keep it safe throughout the function or meeting.

Here are a few tips that will help with food safety at your next workplace potluck, meeting, or celebration.

Don’t contaminate.

Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and use a serving utensil (e.g., tongs or spoons) to dish food onto your own plate. This will limit the amount of germs spreading from person to person.

Clean and sanitize.

There’s no guarantee that any surface is cleaned before your food, utensils, and hands touch it so along with washing your hands, make sure to clean and sanitize all surfaces that will come into contact with food. Make a sanitizing solution by mixing a half teaspoon of bleach with 1 litre of water.

Cook the food well.

Cook food completely to an internal temperature of 74 degrees Celsius and try to minimize the time between cooking and serving. Don’t cook food partway through for finishing later since this increases the risk of bacterial growth.

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Try to keep food out of the danger zone temperature of between 4 degrees Celsius (refrigerator temperature) and 60 degrees Celsius (hot holding temperature). Bacteria love growing at room temperature so it’s important to keep perishable foods either colder or hotter than the danger zone. Seafood chowder? Keep it hot in the crock pot. Strawberry spinach feta salad? Keep it cold with a bowl of ice water. If this is not possible, consume the food within 2 hours and throw out the leftovers.

Time is a factor.

If there is the possibility of someone taking leftover food home for dinner or to eat the next day, make sure you put a 2 hour rule on covering food and returning it to the fridge. This minimizes the time when most bacteria prefer to grow.

Still have questions? Feel free to contact Northern Health’s Public Health Protection staff for more advice or tips!

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!

Daisy Tam

About Daisy Tam

Daisy Tam is an Environmental Health Officer for Northern Health. She also has a background in nutritional science from UBC. Migrating up from southern B.C., Daisy has found the vast north to be full of fun and new winter and summer activities to stay busy. In her spare time, Daisy enjoys playing badminton, hiking, cross-country skiing, skating, baking, and reading as weather permits.


Workplace celebrations: More than just food

Tea, mugs, and teapot on a table.

Next time your coworker has a birthday or your team completes a major project, celebrate with a tea party instead of the typical treats! When it comes to workplace celebrations, get healthy by getting creative!

From holidays to birthdays, milestones, and achievements, there are plenty of reasons to get together with your coworkers for celebration. It’s great to take those moments to celebrate together. They often provide an opportunity to become a more closely knit team and forget about the stresses of everyday tasks. Often, workplace celebrations are centred on food: birthday cake, Christmas cookies, and other less nutritious treats. And while occasional treats are definitely a part of healthy eating, when they happen too frequently, they can impact our health and productivity in the workplace.

Many of us spend at least ⅓ of our day at work so having a work environment where making the healthy choice the easy choice is important. Since celebrations are social events and great opportunities for team building, it can be hard to decline when offered a cookie or other treat. Some people may feel pressure to take the item in order not to offend anyone or to fit in with the group. Having alternate ways of celebrating and including everyone takes the stress out of the situation for many.

Next time you and your workmates are planning a celebration, why not consider mixing it up with some fun non-food activities or trying some strategies to encourage healthy food celebrations? Here are 10 creative ideas to get you started:

  1. Keep cake a treat. Instead of celebrating with a cake for everyone’s birthday, why not have monthly or seasonal birthday celebrations?
  2. Consider alternative birthday celebrations. Give cards signed by coworkers or have a fun birthday object that the birthday staff member keeps for the day. It could be a pin, sash, hat, or other unique object!
  3. Have a pumpkin carving contest for Halloween.
  4. Hold a decorating contest. Decorate office doors or windows individually or in teams.
  5. Choose to sponsor a local charity.
  6. Plan a group activity. Rent the ice rink, have a bowling tournament, or try rock climbing.
  7. Choose restaurants that offer healthier menu choices. Check out Informed Dining for locations that provide nutritional information.
  8. Ask your caterer to make 80% of the choices healthier options, with 20% being treat food.
  9. Try a healthy theme for office potlucks. Choose a theme that encourages vegetable, fruit, and whole grain options, such as red and green vegetables for Christmas, or a soup and salad bar. Remember to create a sign-up list to ensure variety. List categories of foods and don’t forget extras like cutlery, napkins, or beverages.
  10. Instead of a meal, host an afternoon tea party. Coworkers can bring in their favourite teas to share. Don’t forget to bring your favourite mug, too!

For more information on creating healthy eating environments in the workplace, check out the Eat Smart Meet Smart guide and the Healthier Choices in Vending Machines policy page.

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.


Eating smart at work

Platter of sandwiches

Meetings, conferences, and gatherings often include catered lunches, sweet beverages, and snack breaks. Follow the Eat Smart Meet Smart guidelines to make your next meeting a healthy one!

I read somewhere that the average full-time worker spends 2,000 or more hours at work each year. That’s almost 25% of our time!

And if you’re like many of us in this modern-day work environment, your day is filled with meetings and conferences and, most of the time, these events include helping after helping of pastries and cookies, buffet-style lunches, coffee, and sugar-sweetened beverages. These are normally OK as treats every once in a while, but eaten day after day, these foods take a toll on your health.

If you’re not prepared, your healthy eating goals can suffer – think “fail to plan, plan to fail” – because these types of meeting and catering foods replace the healthier ones you may have brought from home. And these foods drain your energy levels leaving you sluggish and less productive with your work. They may even sabotage your physical activity goals, to boot!

To avoid this, the next time you have a meeting or all-day conference, check out Eat Smart Meet Smart. This guide can help you plan and host healthy meetings and conferences in the workplace. It covers a range of gatherings and includes tips for short meetings and menus for all-day events.

You can be the boss of your nutrition with this guide! Work with your favorite caterer to find options that are prepared with less salt, fat and sugar, and that will keep you focused, energized and healthy.

Yogurt parfait in a jar.

Swap the pastries, donuts, and sweets at your next morning meeting for DIY yogurt parfaits with fruit, granola, and nuts!

Here are some ideas to get you started on healthy eating at your next meeting or conference:

  • Ask for pitchers of water on each table to keep everyone hydrated and focused.
  • Order lighter lunches that include salads alongside whole grain sandwiches or wraps that are filled with vegetables and lean protein such as chicken, eggs, legumes or cheese.
  • Offer fruit rather than traditional sweets for dessert.
  • Consider taking an activity break rather than serving food. Sometimes people eat just because the food is offered rather than because they are hungry and this can lead to overeating.

My favorite snack for morning meetings is fruit and yogurt parfaits where there is a selection of low-fat yogurt, an assortment of sliced fruit, chopped almonds or other unsalted nuts, and some low-fat granola. For a great granola recipe check out dietitian Carly Phinney’s recent Foodie Friday Blog.

Do you have any tips for an Eat Smart Meet Smart meeting or conference?

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!

Beth Evans

About Beth Evans

As a registered dietitian, Beth is dedicated to helping individuals, families and communities make the healthiest choices available to them, and enjoy eating well based on their unique realities and nutrition needs. Juggling work and a very busy family life, Beth is grateful for the time she spends with her family enjoying family meals, long walks and bike rides. She also loves the quiet times exploring in her garden, experimenting in the kitchen, and practicing yoga and meditation.


Unpack your snacks!

Reusable water bottle, lunch bag, and containers on a table.

Can you spot the spork? How do you reduce waste in your lunches, sips, and snacks?

Waste created from food is not a new topic. I’ve been learning about how to be more environmentally friendly since I was a child. I grew up with curbside recycling, we had compost bins in our school lunch rooms and I even buy local when possible, but is that good enough? Nowadays our food comes with so much packaging that it can be hard to avoid. So what’s a concerned citizen to do?

When I have questions like these, I take them to the experts at the Northern Environmental Action Team (NEAT), located in northeast B.C. Karen Mason-Bennett is a program coordinator there and is a wealth of information on all things green!

So why is food packaging is such a problem? According to Karen, it isn’t just the fact that we are creating waste when we eat a packaged food. It also takes a lot of energy to make and ship the packaging before it’s ever used. Not to mention all of the human energy (labour) involved and the fact that many single serving portions tend to require a larger package as well – think individually-wrapped granola bars in a cardboard box!

All of this packaging exists for a reason, however – our own desire for convenience. The demand for these products has gone up as many more people are choosing prepackaged snacks out of convenience and the desire for portion control. We want more value for our time, and being able to spend less time preparing and packing our food is something we’re willing to pay for. Food packaging is also used in some cases to extend the shelf life of a product. For example, cucumbers that are shrink-wrapped in plastic are said to last 20% longer.

An eye-opening exercise to try the next time you go grocery shopping is to remove all of the “extra” packaging from your food as you put grocery items away in your home. How much packaging does it take just to get the food from the shelf to your home? You’ll likely end up with a stack of cardboard boxes and a bundle of plastic wrapping that were completely unnecessary.

But there are easy ways to cut down on this waste! As a mom of 3, Karen is a pro at packing lunches! Here are some of her tips on how to cut back your snack and lunch food waste:

  • Invest in reusable containers in a variety of sizes – then actually use them!
  • Buy packaged products in larger containers and then portion them into your own reusable smaller containers at home.
  • Snack on whole foods – nature has its own packaging!
  • Make leftover suppers into tomorrow’s lunch by packing these in reheatable containers.
  • Can your own preserves like peaches and applesauce in single serving jars.
  • Set a rule for yourself or for children – only one disposable item per lunch.

The important thing Karen wants you to remember is that “being green” is not a destination, it’s a journey. Some packaging is unavoidable, but making small changes in the food products you’re choosing can have a bigger impact. Every item that you reuse one extra time cuts that portion your waste by 50%. Let continual improvement be your goal, rather than environmental sainthood!

For more information on how to reduce your food waste, or to find answers to your burning environmental questions visit NEAT, The Story of Stuff, or Multi Material BC.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.


Rethink your drink: Choosing healthy beverages

Cutting board with sliced cucumber, cut strawberries, and a glass of water.

The gold standard for hydration is water! If the crisp, clean taste of water just isn’t to your liking, try adding a few fruit or vegetable slices to your glass or water bottle!

Does this scenario sound familiar? You return home after a long day at work, you have a headache, and your mouth feels like the Sahara. It’s only then that you realize that you haven’t had a drop to drink all day!

You’ve probably heard that the human body has a lot of water – and you’d be right! On average, water makes up about 60% of your body weight. This means that the average man contains roughly 42 litres of water! During our busy workday, we are constantly losing water to the environment (think sweat, breath, and pee). Since so many body functions rely on water, it’s very important to replace water lost during daily activities.

Keeping hydrated during your busy workday will help you to feel on top of your game. Listen to your body’s cues. You may need a drink when you feel:

  • a headache,
  • hungry despite having just eaten (sometimes thirst masquerades as hunger),
  • dry, cracked lips, or
  • thirsty!

But what should you choose to drink? There are many beverage options these days and some drinks are better than others for keeping hydrated.

The gold standard for hydration? Water!

Since we’re largely made of water, doesn’t it make sense to drink it? Bring a reusable water bottle to work and keep it filled. If you just can’t get into the taste of plain water, try adding a wedge of lemon or lime. Get even more creative by adding a combo of sliced cucumbers and strawberries to flavour your water!

Other good hydrating choices:


Milk has nutrients like calcium, protein, and vitamin D.

Tea and coffee

Contrary to popular myth, tea and coffee are not dehydrating. If you enjoy caffeinated coffee or tea, limit yourself to four 250 ml cups per day or choose decaf coffee and herbal teas instead. Remember that most medium-sized coffees are actually closer to two cups! Also, if you tend to add cream and/or sugar to your coffee or tea, keep in mind the extra calories you are drinking.

Drinks to rethink (choose less often):


While most juices are marketed as healthy because they have some vitamins and minerals, they also contain a lot of sugar! You’re better off eating your fruits whole and skipping the juice.

Fancy coffee

Think ooey-gooey caramel macchiatos, syrupy-sweet french vanillas, and everything in between! These coffee drinks have so much added sugar and fat that they could pass for dessert in a mug! Consider them to be desserts and save them for occasional treats instead.


Pop or soda is completely devoid of nutrients and full of added sugar (and often caffeine, too). Remember that viral video of cola dissolving a penny? That’s because pop has added acid and just like the penny, acid in pop will also damage your teeth! Diet pop may be missing the sugars, but will still damage your teeth, so give it a pass as well.

Vitamin water

These types of drinks are marketed as “healthy” by using the word water in their names, but they often contain more sugar than you’d think and may have vitamins in excess of safe limits.

Energy drinks

These beverages may claim to give you a boost, but they usually contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar. Some energy drinks may also contain unsafe and untested additives. You may feel a short-term gain in energy, but later on, you’re almost sure to crash.

When it comes to staying hydrated at work remember: Follow your thirst! H2O is the way to go!

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!

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.