Healthy Living in the North

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: Making vegetables the star of your supper

Roasted cauliflower with sauce and herbs on top

Cauliflower is covered in spices, roasted, and topped with sauce, cilantro, and pistachios in registered dietitian Erin’s recipe – making it the true star of dinner and a standalone vegetarian main dish, too!

Vegetables are often thought of last when planning a meal. Sometimes, they are dragged out of the depths of the freezer and cooked to death with no flavours added. With that approach, it’s no wonder many people don’t enjoy their vegetables! Well, I think it’s time to get creative and bring vegetables to the forefront at meal time!

Cauliflower is one of my favourite vegetables, among my other favourites in the Brassica family like cabbage, broccoli, and kale. For some, these can cause a bit of unwanted gas, but they have many health benefits to outweigh the cons like fibre to keep you regular and vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to prevent against certain types of cancer. For more health info on the Brassica family, check out Marianne’s blog post on brussels sprouts.

When the temperature starts to drop, I crave warm meals with warm spices like cinnamon and chili. This recipe draws on the warm flavours of Morocco, with a vibrant kick from lemon and cilantro. It can be served as a side (like I usually do) with toned-down lemony fish or chicken, or can be featured as a vegetarian main dish. This recipe is adapted from one I recently saw in the fall edition of the Ricardo magazine.

How can you get creative and make vegetables the star of your supper this week?

Moroccan whole roasted cauliflower

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower, leaves removed. Keep the cauliflower whole.
  • 1 tbsp Moroccan spice blend (I buy this as a blend, but it usually has cumin, cinnamon, chili, ginger, coriander, and allspice if you want to make your own)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup hot water (may need more depending on how thick the tahini is)
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup pistachios, chopped
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400C.
  2. In a large pot, steam the cauliflower until a knife inserts easily. When finished, place cauliflower on a parchment lined tray.
  3. Mix together the spice blend, olive oil, and salt. Pour evenly over cauliflower.
  4. Roast cauliflower until golden brown on top.
  5. While the cauliflower is roasting, mix together tahini, hot water, lemon juice and zest, and garlic. This should be a thick but pourable sauce. You may need to add more hot water if it is too thick.
  6. Drizzle tahini over cauliflower. Top with cilantro and pistachios.
  7. Cut into slices (like a cake) and serve!
Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

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

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Foodie Friday: Make zoodles with your summer harvest!

It is the peak of summer! Now is the time when you have the best selection of fresh and vibrant fruit and vegetables in the grocery store, farmers market, or in your own gardens.

One vegetable that you likely have more of than you know what to do with is the almighty zucchini. Gardeners, like I aspire to be, who grow zucchini learn to become very creative with their bounty, or try to pawn off the squash on their friends and family. When I lived in Vancouver, I had a small garden plot as part of a community garden and I loved growing and cooking with zucchini. Just check out these beauties!

Zucchini and tomato

Zucchini plant
Zucchini is a good source of fibre which helps lower blood cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, and keeps you regular. Like all vegetables, zucchini is also a good source of vitamins and antioxidants. Specifically, zucchini contains carotenoids: lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, which may reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, and eye disease through their protective effect in the body. In the recipe below, adding avocado to the pesto sauce adds an extra boost of antioxidants and fibre and also replaces some of the olive oil.

If you grow or buy zucchini, or are one of the lucky recipients of this delicious vegetable, below is a great way to use them and get at least two servings of vegetable in. Round out the meal with a grilled chicken breast and some crusty garlic bread.

Zucchini noodles with chicken breast

I’d love to get some new ideas of what to do with all the zucchini that is in its prime, so please leave a comment to share how you use it!

Creamy avocado basil pesto with zoodles (zucchini noodles)

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 5 zucchini, large
  • 1 avocado, pit removed
  • 15 basil leaves, fresh
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper, ground
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese

Instructions

1. Julienne zucchini lengthwise by hand or with a mandolin. You can also use a vegetable noodle-making gadget to make long spiral noodles- or ZOODLES!

Zucchini noodles in a bowl

2. Place zucchini noodles in a colander with 3/4 tsp salt. Let sit for 30 minutes and drain liquid.

Bowl of zucchini noodles

3. In a blender or food processor, mix together avocado, basil, 1/4 tsp salt, pepper, garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, and lemon until smooth.

4. In a sauté pan on medium heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add zucchini noodles. Cook for 2 minutes. (You can also leave them cold for more crunch). Note: I chose not to cook the zucchini this time, which made life a lot easier in this heat wave we are having!

5. Add sauce and parmesan cheese to the pan and coat the zucchini noodles. Heat through.

Zucchini noodles with parmesan cheese

6. Serve and enjoy!

Zucchini noodles with pesto

Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

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

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Foodie Friday: Healthy grilling

Skewers

A bit of char from the grill makes for a delicious veggie skewer!

Summer is the time to enjoy leisurely meals outside, and BBQing is one of our favourite ways to justify stepping out of the hot kitchen. With a little creativity and planning, barbecue favourites can be just as healthy as meals made indoors!

Give these healthier options a try at your next barbecue:

Sausages: Instead of traditional beef or pork wieners that tend to be greasy and salty, try leaner chicken or turkey sausages.

Fresh meats: Avoid the extra salt, sugar, and preservatives in pre-marinated meats or store-bought barbecue sauce – make your own marinade in only a few minutes! Just mix together a liquid base or two (lemon juice, balsamic or apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce) with some fresh or dried spices (garlic, onion, basil, parsley, pepper) and a little oil. Remember that fattier cuts of meat like marbled steak and chicken thighs tend to grill better than very lean beef or chicken breast because they stay juicy when cooked over an open flame. Don’t worry, these meats can fit into a healthy meal, too – just remember to trim any excess fat.

Tin foil: This kitchen essential makes cooking vegetables on a barbecue a snap! Simply cut up whatever you like (potatoes, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, and bell peppers all work really well) into bite-sized pieces. Get fancy with seasonings or just leave them plain and let the delicious flavours shine through. Make sure to seal the tin foil package with a folded seam and then place it on the grill with the seam side up (so the vegetables don’t fall out!).

Food on sticks: Vegetables also taste delicious with a bit of char from the grill. Get your kids involved in the food prep by asking them to assemble the skewers. Give the recipe below a whirl this weekend!

Marinated vegetable skewers

Ingredients

Skewers

  • 1 red & 1 green bell pepper, chopped into largish pieces
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1 cm thick rounds
  • 10 (or so) mushrooms, whole or halved depending on their size
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, whole
  • 1 red onion, chopped into largish pieces
  • 8-10 bamboo skewer sticks, pre-soaked in water

Marinade

  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ – ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil (dried basil works, too!)
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano

Instructions

  1. Soak the skewer sticks in water for at least 20 minutes – this helps to prevent the sticks from burning when placed on the barbecue.
  2. While the skewers are soaking, chop the vegetables – make sure that the pieces are large enough to be properly skewered so they don’t fall off.
  3. Mix up your marinade in a large bowl and place all of the chopped vegetables into the bowl. Let the vegetables marinate for at least half an hour (just enough time to heat the grill and have a cool drink on the patio!).
  4. Now comes the fun part: skewer a piece of each type of vegetable, alternating to make a nice pattern. Once the skewers are ready to go, you can cook them right away over low-medium flame on the barbecue or store them in the fridge for several hours until meal time.
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.

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Foodie Friday: Spring cleaning your diet

Tray of salad rolls

Spring is the perfect time to get re-inspired around healthy eating! This season, try playing up veggies in new ways like salad rolls!

Is your kitchen done with the winter blues? If you’re like me, spring is the perfect time to get re-inspired and focused around healthy eating. Fresh local produce is becoming more abundant and the bright sunny weather brings with it tasty & delicious barbecue season to enjoy all that fresh goodness!

No fancy juice cleanses needed here, just a shift in focus to enjoy fresh, whole foods again! A little planning and inspiration can go a long way:

  • Short on time? Plan out a few meal ideas on the weekend. This will save you from hitting the grocery store multiple times and will help you make a conscious effort to eat fresh, minimally processed foods.
  • Thirsty? Skip the pop, fraps and sugar-heavy beverages. Grab some lemon water or home-brewed ice tea instead. If you’re a juice drinker, try cutting back or mixing half with club soda.
  • Hot weather? Ditch the oven and try these easy options: veggie-loaded pasta salads, quinoa/grain salads, sandwiches, wraps, or fruit & cottage cheese plates.
  • Need some veggie inspiration? Try to play up your vegetables in new and exciting ways. Try grilling veggie kebabs on the barbecue, throwing together a fresh veggie platter with your favourite dip, or try my all-time favourite: Vietnamese salad rolls … because salad wrapped up is way more fun!

Vietnamese Salad Rolls

Cut veggies on rice paper wraps

Salad rolls are a great way to enjoy veggies in the spring – no oven required!

Makes 40 half-rolls

Prep time: 1.5 hours

Ingredients

Rolls

  • 20 (8 inch) rice paper wrappers
  • 4 oz rice vermicelli noodles
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 red peppers
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 bunch romaine or butter lettuce
  • 1 bunch green onions (white parts removed)
  • 1 bunch fresh mint

Peanut dipping sauce

  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp chili-garlic paste (I used sambal oelek)
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • sesame seeds for garnish
Rice paper wrapper with mint leaves

Make sure to roll the rice paper wrap tightly!

Instructions

  1. For peanut sauce: whisk all ingredients together, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Set aside.
  2. For salad rolls: cut vegetables into thin strips. Lettuce leaves can be cut in half width-wise.
  3. Boil 4 cups of water in a kettle. Put rice noodles in a bowl and cover in boiling water. Let sit 5 minutes then drain out water.
  4. Prepare work surface with tray of cut-up vegetables, lettuce leaves and cooked rice noodles. Fill deep dish (I used a pie dish) with hot tap water and have rounds of rice paper ready.
  5. To roll each salad roll:
  • Place 1 rice paper wrapper in hot water until soft and pliable (approx. 10-15 seconds). Remove from water and place on dry plastic cutting board (or clean damp dishcloth).
  • Lay lettuce leaf just above the centre of the wrapper, leaving about 1 inch of space on each side.
  • Fill lettuce leaf with 1/4 cup cooked rice noodles, 2 strips cucumber, 3 pepper strips, 5-6 slices thinly sliced carrot, 2 mint leaves and small slice of green onion.
  • Fold top of rice paper wrapper over the bundle of cut veggies, then fold in sides and roll TIGHTLY.

Once you are finished rolling all the salad rolls, cut each one in half diagonally. Plate with peanut sauce for dipping.

Salad rolls can be made 2 days in advance, simply leave whole (un-cut) in a tray. Cover with a damp paper towel then wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

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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