Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Building Your Pantry Survival Kit

The idea of a “pantry survival kit” might sound a little overboard – after all, I’m not talking about traditional emergency preparedness or doomsday scenarios! I’m simply referring to everyday life where lately, I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water on the home front. My family seems to have a lot of extracurricular commitments when spring hits and I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way with many sports winding down and others ramping up – or maybe you’ve found yourself in the midst of final exams or peak work season. Whatever your extra time commitments may be, keeping a home-cooked meal at the top of your priority list might feel like a struggle.

When life gets busy, it gets even harder to plan ahead for healthy meals throughout the week. You may find yourself arriving at home only to find the fridge shelves emptier than your stomach! This can be the trigger for a quick drive to the nearest fast food joint or a speed dial takeout order. And this is where a pantry survival kit comes in. What is a pantry survival kit? It’s a recipe (or two) in your arsenal that can be cooked from pantry items exclusively! With this kit in mind (and in your pantry), you can have dinner on the table way before the pizza guy comes knocking.

fresh herbs, kitchen, pantry ingredients

A pantry survival kit helps avoid hunger disaster!

The benefits of a home-cooked meal are numerous: you’re more likely to consume higher amounts of fiber, heart healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals, as well as less sodium and trans fat. If you are feeding a family, cooking and eating together at home will help your children develop healthier eating habits as they grow into adulthood. You’re likely to save a few bucks as well and for the next month, cooking and eating together could even net you a cash prize through the  Hands-on Cook-off contest!

So, what’s the secret to building a pantry survival kit?  It all starts with a good recipe that appeals to you. Then, all you need to do is keep the pantry stocked with those ingredients. I’ve included one of my favourite pantry recipes below. I like this one because my whole family enjoys it and it’s quick enough to get on the table in about 25 minutes, especially with my kids helping to open cans, chop basil, set the table, etc…  The only “fresh” ingredients in this recipe are the garlic (which has a pretty decent shelf life) and the basil. I try to keep a few potted herbs growing on my window to brighten up my pantry meals but you could also substitute for dried basil.

Bow Tie Pasta with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes and Basil 

Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves of garlic, 1 minced and 3 thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tbsp for the pan
  • 3/4 lb of bow tie noodles
  • 2 14 oz cans of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz can of navy beans (or other white bean of your choice), drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted (optional) water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the sliced garlic with the 3-4 tbsp of olive oil and set aside.
  3. Heat the tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and beans and bring to a light simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low. Continue to simmer until some of the liquid has evaporated and it is slightly thickened, 10-15 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the basil. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
  4. Serve the sauce over bowtie noodles and drizzle with the garlic infused olive oil.
Carmen Maddigan

About Carmen Maddigan

Born and raised in Fort St John, Carmen returned home in 2007, after completing her internship in Prince George. She has since, filled a variety of different roles as a dietitian for Northern Health and currently works at Fort St John Hospital providing outpatient nutrition counselling. In her spare time, Carmen can be found testing out a variety of healthy and tasty meal ideas. She also enjoys running, camping, and playing outside in the sun or snow with her family.

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Are “picky eaters” just “eaters in training”?: Tips to help build kids’ food acceptance skills

Child eating a cherry

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods.

It’s lunch time. You prepare a meal and sit down to eat with your kid(s). They eat all of the [food x] but leave [food y] completely untouched. What’s the deal? Is it always going to be like this? Why can’t they just eat a bit of everything? How do kids go from here (“rejecting” certain foods) to there (accepting a wide variety of foods)?

Come on a little trip with me!

Imagine you take a trip to an unfamiliar place. Somebody presents you with bread, cheese, and a bowl of … green, lumpy, semi-solid something. They gesture for you to eat it. You hesitate. You feel anxious. You don’t know what this is – you certainly don’t feel like eating it!

Stay on this trip with me. Imagine now that you eventually learned to like that green, lumpy, semi-solid something, and now you even look forward to when it might be served again! Whaaaat? How could it be? How did you come to accept, and even like, that food?

It could look like this:

First, you looked to see that other people were actually eating it. But you looked at the “semi-solid something” and decided that you were not yet ready to try it. The next week, it was offered again, and now it was a little less scary. Maybe you poked at it with your spoon. Later, you gave it a sniff. Then, you stuck your finger in it. Maybe someone told you what was in the dish. Maybe you had the opportunity to see it being prepared, and you even got to help. Eventually, you put a little in your mouth but then spit it into a napkin. You decided it was tasty, and that you wanted a little more of this … broccoli soup or green jello or guacamole or whatever this dish is in your mind.

Back to reality. Think of a time when you learned to like a new food. What helped you to learn?

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods. We can help to make this learning process feel safe.

Here are some things to try to support your kids to learn to eat a variety of foods:

  • Make the same meal or snack for everyone. Sit and eat together. Seeing others eat a food is a great way to learn about it.
  • Offer new foods with familiar foods. If they are not yet comfortable with one food, kids can eat from the other items at that meal or snack.
  • Serve new foods over and over, without pressure or praise. Kids may need to see a food 15 to 20 times before they decide to eat it.
  • Be honest about what you are serving. Kids need to experience foods in order to learn.
  • Teach your kids to politely turn down food they aren’t yet ready to eat.
  • Respect tiny tummies. Serve a small amount to start and allow seconds. Kids’ hunger and appetite change from day to day, meal to meal.
  • Involve kids in growing and cooking food, and in packing their lunch.
  • Praise kids on their table manners, not on how much or what they eat.
  • Expect that in time your “eater in training” will learn to accept a variety of food. They will learn at their own pace.

For more information, see: Coaching Kids to Become Good Eaters and The Picky Eater.

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.

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Love your lentils!

Between the busyness of internship and a limited student budget, I’m always on the hunt for simple and affordable recipes. I often find that I turn to lentils since they can be used in so many recipes – both in addition to meat or as a meat substitute.

Why lentils?

Lentils come in a wide variety of colours including green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and black. They are mild in flavour, ranging from sweet to earthy. This variety allows them to be used in many dishes. Dry lentils store well in a cupboard or pantry, so you can buy them in bulk.

Lentils are great because they are a hearty and cheap source of protein, fibre, folate, and iron.

Speaking of iron, it is important to have good sources of iron in our diets every day. In our bodies, iron carries oxygen through the blood. Not getting enough can leave you feeling tired and cranky.

How your body uses iron

  • Iron from meat, fish, and poultry is easily absorbed.
  • Iron from other sources (eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and tofu) is not as easily absorbed, but pairing these foods with foods rich in vitamin C helps the body absorb more of the iron.
  • If you don’t eat much (or any) meat, it is important to regularly eat a variety of plant-based sources of iron, such as lentils.

Basic lentil cooking

I find it helps to have a simple recipe for cooking lentils. That way, I can cook a big batch and add them to different meals. Cooked lentils can be refrigerated for 3-5 days. They also freeze well.

Cooking time for lentils ranges from 20-45 minutes, depending on the type. Check the lentil package for specific instructions, but the general process is:

  • Add lentils and water (use a 2:1 ratio; so for 1 cup of lentils, add 2 cups of water). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until soft.
  • Remove from heat and strain

How to use lentils

Lentil soup in a bowl

Lentils are great because they are versatile, hearty, and a cheap source of protein, fibre, folate, and iron! Try them in Laurel’s simple lentil soup!

Laurel’s simple lentil soup

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, with juices
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 bunch kale, thick stems removed and leaves cut into small strips
  • ¾ cup red lentils (uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Dash of soy sauce
  • Dash of chili flakes
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  2. Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil. Stir in the sweet potatoes, kale, lentils, and thyme. Simmer until the lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Add salt, pepper, soy sauce, and chili flakes to taste.
  3. Spoon into bowls. If desired, top with the Parmesan cheese.

(Northern Health Dietitians love lentil soup. For more recipes, see here and here and here)

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel is a dietetic intern with Northern Health. She wanted her internship to be a rich learning experience, but also an adventure, so she decided to move to beautiful northern B.C. to learn and explore. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. When she’s not working, you can find her cooking, swimming, hiking, or camping.

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Celebrating Foodie Friday: One dietitian’s quest to try new recipes and celebrate her northern B.C. colleagues

ingredients, lentil soup

My kitchen was stocked and ready to make Sarah’s lentil soup.

TGIF! Not only is the weekend around the corner, but every Friday on the Northern Health Matters blog comes with amazing food photos and delicious recipes from my fellow northern B.C. dietitians. If you’ve been to the blog before, then you know what I’m talking about: Foodie Friday!

Foodie Friday is now a weekly feature on the Northern Health Matters blog. Since the series started in March 2014, over 20 Northern Health dietitians and dietetic interns have served up 89 delicious, inspiring, and informative #FoodieFriday posts! Foodie Friday authors share healthy eating tips and delicious recipes that put the tips into action. And who can forget their amazing photos!

I was recently looking through a number of the posts and was struck by the wonderful array of recipes and accompanying photos. Looking at them literally made me hungry – my stomach rumbled! More importantly – I was inspired!

My thought process then went something like this:

  • “I certainly should get around to making some of these delicious looking recipes…”
  • “That looks yummy! And that’s neat! Oh, and that’s an interesting idea. Maybe I could make a bunch of these recipes…”
  • “Hey, March is Nutrition Month… I could challenge myself to do a whole month of Foodie Friday recipes!!!”

    Broccoli salad never looked so good!

So, where did that thought process take me?

Today, my personal recipe challenge is well underway. I picked 10 recipes to start with, made a grocery list, went shopping, and stocked my fridge and pantry. I am particularly excited about using some ingredients that I have rarely used (e.g., leeks, orzo) and dishes that I have rarely made (e.g., burgers, homemade mac ’n’ cheese, broccoli salad – can you tell I grew up in an immigrant family?).

What can I share with you so far?

  • Armed with a list of recipes to tackle, I am so much more inspired to cook! This challenge has already reinforced for me the benefits of menu planning for healthy eating.
  • I’ve tried some things that are totally new to me, like baked oatmeal, which, as promised, is delicious and super versatile. It has already made an appearance at breakfast, lunch, and as a snack after work.
  • My lunches are fantastic these days! Yay to leftovers!
  • I like the idea of making recipes that are my dietitian colleagues’ favourites, like Sarah’s lentil soup, Beth’s Caesar salad, or Lindsay’s morning glory muffins. Food truly does connect us!
  • Adding cocoa powder to a smoothie is a fantastic idea – why didn’t I think of that before?

    Lindsay’s morning glory muffins were a success!

While I have many new recipes ahead of me yet, I am already happy to have taken on this recipe challenge. Dietitians often encourage folks to try new recipes (although usually in a more moderate way, like one every week or so, not a month-long quest!), and I am certainly reaping many benefits.

How about you? What has your experience been with new recipes? Have you ever done a recipe challenge? How was it?

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.

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Nutrition Month: What are the ingredients for trustworthy nutrition facts?

apple, orange, lime, red pepper

Is the nutrition information you read online trustworthy?

Did you know that at least half of Canadians get their nutrition information from sources on the internet? Whether you are looking for information on picky eating, digestive issues, or managing a chronic condition like diabetes, it’s important to know that the information you are getting is credible and evidenced-based.

There’s a lot of nutrition information available out there, but let’s face it – not everything we read online is true. So how can we find nutrition information we can trust?

March is Nutrition Month, and registered dietitians from Northern Health (and across the country!) are ready to share their tips for healthy eating – and to help Northerners separate nutrition fact from fiction.

Here are 5 questions you can ask to help determine if the nutrition information you are reading online is trustworthy:

  • Is the website promoting a quick fix or a miracle cure?
  • Is the website trying to sell me something instead of providing education?
  • Are the website authors qualified to give nutrition information? (Tip – registered dietitians are the only regulated nutrition professionals in BC)
  • Is the information derived from personal opinion rather than scientific evidence?
  • Do the facts on the website sound too good to be true?

If you answer “yes” to most of these questions, that information might not be reliable. Which means it would be best to take a pass!

Fortunately in B.C., everyone can access credible nutrition information from registered dietitians at HealthLinkBC. You can speak directly to a dietitian Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling 8-1-1, or you can email a dietitian any time of day by visiting healthlinkbc.ca/healthy-eating.

You can also get nutrition tips and delicious healthy recipes from local dietitians on the Northern Health blog (blog.northernhealth.ca) every #FoodieFriday, during Nutrition Month, and all year long!

This article was adapted from materials found on the Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month website: nutritionmonth2017.ca.

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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Foodie Friday: break the cycle with mindful eating

So we’ve turned the corner into another Nutrition Month, an exciting time for all of us dietitians to amp up the spotlight on healthy eating.

This year’s theme is “Taking the Fight out of Food.” In my professional life, I meet a lot of people who are in the grips of a long-term feud with food! They feel as though they’ve “tried every diet under the sun” but can’t seem to get their eating under control. In my experience, this kind of thinking about health and especially body weight make people an easy mark for fad diets, which unfortunately don’t work! There is an ever-growing body of evidence demonstrating that people rarely maintain the weight lost on these diets and quite frequently regain more than they lost in the first place. So how can you put this food fight to bed?

Start by accepting your body how it is. Right now. Easier said than done, but it is really hard to do something good for your body (like eat well or exercise) when you’re constantly hating it.

Next, get the facts about how to stop the never-ending cycle of eat-repent-repeat! “Intuitive” or “mindful” eating can help you break this cycle and teach you how to tune into your own body’s cues of what and how much to eat. When you label foods as “good” or “bad”, as most fad diets often do, you may subconsciously start wanting the “no” foods more and the “yes” foods less. If you can successfully put all foods on an even playing field, you can start enjoying all foods without guilt and end that perpetual food fight!

I’ve been known to seek out a little something sweet after a meal and one of my go-to indulgences is homemade ice cream. It’s really quick to make with the right tool (and is sure to impress your guests!). The flavour combinations are endless and you can always find one to match your mood or meal theme. One of my favourites is coconut lime.  Give it a try, and make sure to sit down and enjoy it mindfully!

ice cream, coconut

Treat yourself by trying out (and mindfully eating!) this delicious homemade ice cream recipe.

Coconut Lime Ice Cream (in automatic ice cream maker. Don’t have one? See note below.)

Ingredients

Recipe adapted from  All Recipes

  • 1 can (14oz) unsweetened coconut milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup half and half cream
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 mango, peeled and sliced (optional)
  • ¼ cup toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Directions

  1. Whisk coconut milk, sugar, half-and-half, lime juice, lime zest and salt together in a large bowl until sugar is fully dissolved. Transfer mixture into an automatic ice maker, and freeze according to manufactures directions.
  2. If you would like hard ice cream consistency, you will need to transfer ice cream into an air tight container and freeze for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  3. Scoop ice cream into bowls and garnish with mango and toasted coconut, if desired.

Editor’s note: Carmen’s recipe looked delicious to me but I don’t have an ice cream maker. I did some searching and found this option for folks without ice cream makers. I’m excited to try this process!

Carmen Maddigan

About Carmen Maddigan

Born and raised in Fort St John, Carmen returned home in 2007, after completing her internship in Prince George. She has since, filled a variety of different roles as a dietitian for Northern Health and currently works at Fort St John Hospital providing outpatient nutrition counselling. In her spare time, Carmen can be found testing out a variety of healthy and tasty meal ideas. She also enjoys running, camping, and playing outside in the sun or snow with her family.

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Foodie Friday: Ditch the diet, not the healthy eating

Roasted vegetables

We can all benefit from eating more vegetables! Try roasting some colourful root vegetables such as yams, carrots, beets, and turnips next time.

The start of a new year often brings resolutions to eat better and get active. With the latest diet trends and celebrity weight loss stories hitting the internet and newsstands, it’s easy to get swept up in the promise of a quick fix.

I read somewhere that by February, 90% of dieters have ditched their “healthy eating” regimes. If you have been on a diet, chances are you already know that it can be impossible to stick to. Dieting, with its strict food rules and “good” and “bad” foods lists, can lead to feelings of deprivation, anxiety, and guilt. Also, many of the things people do for the sake of weight loss are harmful to their physical and mental health.

But don’t despair!  In contrast, healthy eating should be flexible and make you feel good.  Research clearly shows that making small changes to your eating habits over time works best.  Here are few things to consider if you are looking to ditch the diet mentality and rekindle a healthy relationship with food.

  • Feed yourself faithfully. Eat regularly throughout the day, and pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues to guide how much you eat.
  • All foods fit. Healthy eating balances eating for health, taste, and pleasure. Plus, you may find you are more likely to eat fruits, veggies, and other nutritious foods because you enjoy them, not just because they are good for you.
  • Add on, don’t take away. Think about what foods you can add to make a balanced meal that includes at least 3 foods groups from Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Focus on healthy behaviours, not weight. Health is not measured by a number on a scale. What can you do to take care of yourself at the weight you are now? Read more about health at every size here.

One goal we can all benefit from is eating more vegetables! I like to add a mix of colourful root vegetables such as yams, carrots, beets, and turnips along with potatoes to the roasting pan for a nutrition boost. Crispy and caramelized on the outside, soft and warm on the inside, they are the perfect winter side dish or can be blended into a flavourful soup.

Roasted Root Veggies

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of root vegetables*, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 onion, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Seasoning of your choice – I like to use oregano or thyme, black pepper, and a sprinkle of salt

* Good options include yams, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga, or potatoes

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Place root vegetables in roasting pan and toss with vegetable oil and seasonings.
  3. Roast veggies for 45 min, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender.
Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

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

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Foodie Friday: With gratitude to the hunters and the snow…

Moose in snow

Have you tried wild game before? Registered dietitian Victoria was hesitant at first but now has trouble going back to beef!

Winter is here and I am pretty excited. I love the first snowfall! Letting those first snowflakes settle on my face is one of my favorite winter moments. It’s a great time for families and friends to get out and have some fun together walking or playing in the snow.

After one of those outdoor winter adventures, it’s sure nice to come home to a hot meal. This is where a crock pot comes in handy! The recipe I’m sharing today is moose meat spaghetti sauce made in a crock pot so all you have to do is cook the pasta when you get home. Sound good? Of course, if you don’t have moose meat, you can always substitute ground beef.

I know many Indigenous people and northerners who hunt or have someone who hunts for them. I had the good fortune last year to be given some moose meat from a friend. I learned a lot from him about the best way to cook the meat and make sure it is safe to eat.

The First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets from the First Nations Health Authority are a great resource on traditional foods such as moose. They provide nutritional information as well as traditional harvesting and food use. Moose meat is an excellent source of protein and B vitamins (riboflavin and niacin), and a good source of iron. It’s also low in saturated fat compared to modern domestic animals like beef.

I’ll admit that at first, my daughters and I were hesitant to try moose meat because we had not had it before. But after a few meals, we found it hard to go back to beef! Moose meat is a healthy and delicious northern food. I hope you enjoy winter and this great tasting crock pot moose meat spaghetti!

Crock pot moose spaghetti

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500 g ground moose meat
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1- 28 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1- 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • Other vegetables such as mushrooms or zucchini (optional)
  • 1 package spaghetti or other pasta noodles

Instructions

  1. Fry the ground moose meat in a frying pan with the oil until fully cooked. Put into crock pot.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the noodles. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
  3. When you are ready to eat, in separate pot, boil water, add the noodles, and cook as per the package directions. Drain. Serve with the sauce on top.

Serving suggestion:

  • If you like, you can garnish with parmesan cheese and serve with a tossed salad. A dessert such as frozen berries is a nice addition.
Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: Give your comfort food a boost!

Plate of macaroni and cheese

Mac & cheese is easy to make from scratch and, with a few tweaks, you can amp up the nutrition and taste!

The snow has been falling and the days are getting shorter. Yes, winter has arrived in northern B.C.! These chilly evenings have me turning to soups, stews, and hearty comfort foods.

Comfort foods often get a bad rap when it comes to nutrition. We often think of comfort foods as being heavy, rich, and lacking in the vegetable department. But there isn’t any good reason they have to be this way. Most classic comfort foods can be easily modified to boost their nutrition and still be warm and satisfying enough for even the coldest winter night.

Mac & cheese is probably one of my favourite comfort food meals to make at home. Not only is it an easy dish to make from scratch, but with only a few little tweaks, you can amp up the nutrition and taste:

  • It’s easy enough to switch out regular macaroni for whole grain pasta to add some extra fibre to your meal.
  • Using an old or aged cheddar allows you to use less cheese while keeping that cheesy flavour.
  • And I always add some vegetables to my mac & cheese to make it a complete meal.

Some great vegetable choices include:

  • steamed cauliflower or broccoli
  • frozen peas or corn
  • sautéed mushrooms
  • puréed butternut squash
  • dark leafy greens, like spinach or kale

Here, I’ve used baby kale in my favourite mac & cheese recipe because it has a more mild flavour than regular kale and it requires less prep. If baby kale isn’t available, you can easily substitute chopped fresh, frozen, or canned kale instead.

Casserole dish with mac & cheese

Marianne’s recipe calls for kale, but cauliflower, broccoli, peas, corn, mushrooms, or squash are all great mac & cheese additions!

Oh Kale Yeah! Mac & Cheese

Recipe from Evergreen Eats

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole grain pasta (such as macaroni, rotini, or penne)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded old cheddar (the older the better!)
  • 1 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of baby kale, packed
  • 1/2 cup herb and garlic croutons, crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Cook pasta per package directions, until al dente.
  3. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stir and cook for 1 minute, without browning.
  4. Lower the heat, and gradually whisk in milk. Stir until bubbles form around the edges, and sauce thickens. Do not boil.
  5. Stir in cheddar cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm over low heat until pasta is cooked.
  6. Drain pasta, and add it to the cheese sauce, along with the baby kale. Stir until combined and kale has wilted slightly. Transfer to baking dish, and top with crushed croutons.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until top is crispy and golden brown.

Notes:

  • No croutons? No problem! You can use breadcrumbs, panko, or even crushed crackers or a few potato chips.
  • As the cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce are all salty, taste your sauce before adding any extra salt – you might find you don’t need it!
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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Foodie Friday: A quick and tasty fall meal (spinach & white bean soup)

Soup

A quick and healthy fall meal that makes for great lunch leftovers, too! Add spinach and white bean soup to your menu this week!

Looking for a quick and tasty meal to whip up this fall? This spinach and white bean soup is a personal favourite of mine simply because it is quick to prepare and makes for easy lunches throughout the week. Also, it’s delicious!

Kidney beans are a healthy and cost effective way to add extra protein into your diet. Just remember to rinse off canned beans under water first to remove the excess salt. Add in all the extra veggies and you are left with a fibre- and protein-packed meal that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.

This recipe calls for orzo, which is a small pasta similar in shape to rice. It can easily be substituted for any other small pasta (or quinoa) that you might have in your kitchen.

Spinach & white bean soup

Adapted from Damn Delicious

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach (or 1/2 cup frozen)
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 can (15 oz) white kidney beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup uncooked orzo pasta
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots and cook until soft (approximately 5 minutes). Add in garlic and stir one minute longer.
  2. Add in chicken stock, tomatoes, and herbs (thyme, basil, and bay leaves). Bring to a boil.
  3. Stir in orzo. Reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender (approximately 10 minutes).
  4. Stir in kidney beans and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted. Remove bay leaves before serving and add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Destyni Atchison

About Destyni Atchison

Destyni is a Clinical Dietitian at Fort St. John Hospital and Peace Villa. She has been working with Northern Health for the past two years and also runs her own nutrition consulting business. In her spare time, she enjoys snowshoeing, hiking and developing new recipes for herself and her clients.

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