Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Eating well when living alone

Amelia eating alone, takes a bite of food.

Canada’s Food Guide says to “Eat Meals with Others.” What about those who live, and eat, solo?

The newest edition of Canada’s Food Guide focuses on the “hows” of eating just as much as the “whats.” One of the recommendations is to eat meals with others – but what does that mean for those of us who live, and eat, solo?

Eating together is best for our health

Food is one of life’s great pleasures. When we share a meal with others, we share our joy, companionship, heritage, and life experiences. People typically eat more vegetables and fruit when eating with others, and the social connections that we create around food are so special (I personally love the message behind this video). There are good reasons that the Food Guide suggests this practice; however, many people experience loneliness and do not always have that privilege. It can be hard to be motivated to cook interesting, healthy, and enjoyable meals for one person – especially when you know you’re doing all the clean up as well!

The effects of loneliness

Loneliness can exist for people in many different ways. For instance, some people live in one-person households, while others live with family or friends, but have challenging work schedules. Feeling lonely, no matter the circumstances, can impact your ability to engage in health-supportive practices and can affect overall health. Some studies suggest that loneliness is more damaging to our health than other risky behaviors, such as smoking.

Staying connected when living alone

I live in a single-person household and am faced with loneliness at times. From keeping on top of household chores to taking time to prepare and eat healthy meals, loneliness can make day-to-day tasks more challenging. I’ve learned that living and eating alone doesn’t have to be all leftover leftovers, microwave meals, take-out, and eating over the sink. What has worked for me is finding ways to simply and quickly feed my “family of one” meals that are nutritious and enjoyable, and to plan to share food with others when possible.

Strategies I use for eating well when living alone

  • I batch cook, but keep meals simple so I can switch things up. Over the weekend, I batch cook simple proteins and whole grains that can be served in different ways throughout the week by changing up the spices, sauces, and presentation. Using frozen fruits and vegetables helps cut down on prep and cooking time, and allows for variety throughout the week. Batch cooking also helps me reduce cleanup time – a real bonus in my books!
  • I keep in mind “quickie” meals that I can make in a hurry. These fast meals more or less follow the “healthy plate” in Canada’s Food Guide, and can save time and money versus ordering in or relying on highly-processed convenience foods. Staples for me are:
    • Breakfast for dinner.
    • A taco salad of canned black beans and corn with other veggies and Tex-Mex spices.
    • A sandwich, piled high with my favourite ingredients like chicken, spinach, avocado, and sliced apples.
  • I plan to eat with others when I can. My friends and I get together a few times a month to share meals. It could be potluck-style or one person can host everyone, or we may choose to gather around a table of take-out pizza or sushi. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but we all enjoy it! For me, eating with others also means carving out the time in my work day to eat meals with coworkers in the lunchroom, and occasionally planning potluck lunches or other special meals at work.
  • I set up the right environment for myself. When I’m eating alone at home, I find that I’m better able to enjoy my meal and eat mindfully (two other Canada’s Food Guide recommendations) when I’m at my dining room table and I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast. Watching television can be too distracting, and eating in silence feels isolating to me. When the weather is nice, I might take my meal to eat outside.

Putting it all together

Canada’s Food Guide offers tips on how you can eat together with others more often. It even gives special considerations for families and seniors. We all experience variations in our eating habits. These day-to-day variations cause normal fluctuations in the amounts and types of foods that we choose and eat. The healthy eating habits, such as eating together, that we practise can also change from day to day.

We all experience “normal eating” a little differently. Your “normal” might be eating most meals alone or practising self-care by preparing nutritious foods you enjoy. If that’s the case, consider including others at your table. It could bring valuable benefits to your health!

Want to learn more about the Canada’s Food Guide? Here’s what Northern Health’s dietitians are saying about it.

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Foodie Friday: sharing a meal with others – a true holiday gift

Season’s Eatings! With the holidays just around the corner, I start to grow homesick for my home on the East Coast. I often catch myself daydreaming about my family’s long dining room table with the bright red tablecloth and the people I love gathered around it. More than just a big Christmas dinner and devouring turkey with all the fixings takes place there – a lot of important family traditions happen around that dining room table. It’s those traditions that mean the most to me. I’m grateful for my family and that I’m able to spend the holiday season with them. Not every family or every year will be the same. Sometimes people celebrate with chosen family, with friends or coworkers, or choose to take time alone and reflect on the passing year.

The benefits of preparing and sharing a meal with others are a true holiday gift.

When we think about eating during the holidays, it’s easy to dwell on the large portions, decadent options, and seemingly endless buffets. I encourage you to take holiday eats off the “naughty list,” listen to your body, and take the time to enjoy each morsel. The benefits of preparing and sharing a meal with others are a true holiday gift. For all the years I worried about the contents of the holiday meals or spent my time anxiously trying to make the perfect dish, I barely remember a single meal I ate in great detail. What does last, for me, are the memories, traditions, and the sense of family around that long red table.

One thing that’s always on the table is my mom’s homemade cranberry sauce. She makes it every year to share with family and neighbours and I want to share the recipe with you!

Cranberry Orange Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 12-ounce pack fresh cranberries

Instructions:

  1. Combine juice and sugar to a saucepan and heat until dissolved.
  2. Add cranberries and zest, simmer for 10 minutes, until all berries burst. Stir occasionally.
  3. Cover and cool completely.
Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Foodie Friday: To-fu or not To-fu – Smart ways to adopt plant-based eating

Plant-based eating has become one of the largest food and health trends of the past few years, which, as a dietitian, I’m delighted to see. Aside from being delicious, plant-based protein choices are typically lower in saturated fats, higher in fibre, and can be more sustainable for the environment. You can’t deny the health benefits of vegetarian or vegan eating when it’s done properly, because there are many benefits!

However, that doesn’t mean that we need to adopt a strict new lifestyle to reap the rewards. It’s up to you what kind of commitment you want to make. Many of us probably wouldn’t fare well on a strictly vegan diet (me included!), but we could make small steps to better our health, and the planet’s. Most of us eat 21 meals each week – is there opportunity for you to make one or two more of those meals meatless?

Plate of tofu and veggies.

Looking to include more meatless ingredients in your meal rotation? Tofu could be that quick-and-easy staple your family is looking for!

If meatless eating is a new ballgame for you, it doesn’t need to be a complicated affair; try simple items like vegetarian chili, tofu stir fry, lentil soup, homemade black bean burgers, or falafel. You could also be more adventurous and include things like TVP (textured vegetable protein), seitan (made from the protein gluten), or tempeh (a fermented soy product). I don’t usually recommend the “fake meat” products which are highly processed, usually pack a dose of sodium (and are expensive). As always, fill your plates with delicious vegetables and whole grains to make these meals as satisfying as possible.

Tofu, in particular, is one of those foods that people decidedly dislike before they’ve had a chance to try it. I get it, it’s bland, spongy, and there are so many types – it can be intimidating to make for the first time. With the right techniques, like pressing out the excess moisture, and using a delicious marinade, it just might be that quick-and-easy staple your family is looking for!

Amelia’s Tofu “Un-Recipe”

Ingredients:

  • 1 block extra firm tofu (454 g)
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch

Marinade (or use another favorite marinade recipe):

  • 1 tsp oil of choice (sesame, canola, olive)
  • 2 Tbsp cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock (or use water if none on hand)
  • 1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce (or use extra stock for lower sodium)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, molasses, maple syrup)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (or a hefty pinch of garlic powder)
  • 1 tsp grated ginger (or a pinch of ground ginger)
  • Optional: Hot sauce, to taste. (Or use black or cayenne pepper for lower sodium)

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or with lightly oiling. Tofu can also be cooked by pan frying over medium heat or even bbq-ing, 5-8 minutes per side, if that suits you better. Tofu can also be eaten raw; uncooked marinated tofu is a yummy addition to a green or pasta salad.
  2. Open tofu package and drain excess water, dry the surface of the tofu with a clean towel. Slice the tofu widthwise in 1cm (3/4 inch) slices. Slice each slice into 2 triangles.
  3. Lay the triangles between two clean, dry kitchen towels and press firmly to remove any excess moisture, removing moisture allows the tofu to soak up delicious flavour!
  4. Mix marinade ingredients in a dish and add tofu, ensuring all pieces are covered, and let sit at least 20 minutes, turning halfway through to coat. During this time you can chop veggies and start to prepare your side dishes.
  5. After 15 minutes, drain excess liquid (if any) and add cornstarch, tossing to coat evenly.
  6. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake 40 minutes, flipping tofu after 20 minutes.

My favorite way to enjoy baked tofu is dipped in a spicy peanut sauce and served alongside some colorful veggies and roasted potato chunks.

Have you tried incorporating vegetarian mealtimes in your household? Let us know in the comments what it’s like for you to eat off the “meaten” path!

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Foodie Friday: beat the heat! No-cook summer meals

I’m not originally from northern BC, but having grown up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I can relate to long winters, short summers, and the month we’ve renamed “June-uary” back home. Since leaving the fog behind and moving to northeastern BC, I so appreciate seeing the sunshine all year round, especially late into the summer evenings!

One thing remains the same in my two homes: the temperatures eventually climb in those short months of summer and I often hear people say “it’s too hot to cook!” Pair the heat with busy summer schedules, and many of us may turn to fast food, restaurants, and delivery, in a pinch. These choices are usually high in calories, fat, and sodium, and low in nutrients which make them a poor choice on the regular. Their ease and convenience can be appealing, but there are lots of ways to get healthy meals on the table just as quickly – without even pre-heating the oven or turning on the stove! Salads, sandwiches, and “brinner” (breakfast for dinner), have been my go-to’s for no-cook healthy eating over the years, but my favorite is the snack plate!

snack foods on a board.

A snack plate is great for little fingers and can help increase intake for smaller appetites too. It’s also a great opportunity to use up leftovers or stragglers in the fridge.

 

No matter the time of year, I truly enjoy a “snack plate” style meal. It gives me vibes of sharing tapas with friends or noshing at a party, plus the varieties in textures and flavor are so satisfying! A snack plate is also great for little fingers and can help increase intake for smaller appetites too. The snack plate can be a great opportunity to use up leftovers or stragglers in the fridge to reduce waste. To make a healthy and delicious snack plate, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Fresh chopped veggies and fruit always make an appearance – and should fill most of the plate. Take advantage of what’s local and seasonal right now, or pull some from your freezer and quickly steam in the microwave!
  • Protein like boiled eggs, hummus, pre-cooked shrimp or meats, marinated tofu, and/or reduced fat cheese. A grocery store rotisserie chicken goes a long way as well!
  • Whole grains in the form of crackers, sliced baguette, naan bread, or even air-popped popcorn.
  • In a snack plate it’s the dips and extras that bring it all together! Add in pickles or olives, roasted nuts, spicy mustards, veggie dips, chutneys or salsas, whatever you and your family loves! Try my quick pickle recipe below.

Quick-Pickled Mixed Veggies

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup veggies of choice, sliced thin. I use red onion, radishes, and carrot ribbons (made with a vegetable peeler)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • ½ cup boiling water (from the kettle)
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ tsp red chili flakes

Instructions:

  1. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water and add vinegar, chili flakes, garlic and vegetables. Ensure the veggies are submerged.
  2. Cover and leave to sit at room temperature or in the fridge until the mixture is cool.
  3. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to three days.
Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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