Healthy Living in the North

International No-Diet Day: say good-bye to diet

Do you have something that you are super sensitive and/or passionate about? The thing that gets you so riled up that you have to speak up or do something? For me, that something is weight. More specifically, how weight, and its connection to eating and health, are viewed in our world.

In today’s world, it seems normal to make comments and pass judgements about body size.

Just in the past month I’ve witnessed these scenarios:

  • One work colleague to another: “You look awesome! Have you lost weight?” Why is this problematic? It’s because it assumes that all weight loss is good and achieved in safe ways. It also implies that the person didn’t look good before losing the weight.
  • During lunch one day, a staff member attributed certain eating habits to someone based on their size: “You must eat healthy, you are so little!” to which the individual commented that they enjoyed a varied diet including full fat dairy, especially cheese, and had a sweet tooth. This comment fails to recognize that there are many things that influence body size.

These are just two common examples of “diet culture.” I suspect you have your own examples.  Diet culture is a way of thinking in which food and body size are judged and body size is valued over health.

Diet culture causes harm in some of the following ways:

  • It presents eating as moralistic, meaning food is “good” or “bad.” If you choose to eat “bad” foods then you are bad and should be ashamed. This view doesn’t consider that we all have different living circumstances and access to resources. For example, socio-economic factors, such as income and education, have a large impact on a person’s ability to access food. Even I, who has a lot of economic privilege, pause before purchasing a cauliflower head for $7.99. In truth, no food is good or bad. Rather, healthy eating is eating a variety of “good-tasting” and “good-for-you” foods in amounts that are satisfying and support health and wellness (in fact, this is how dietitians define “diet,” in a supportive, not restrictive way).
  • It overvalues food and eating by promoting the idea that nearly every health problem can be fixed by changing what, how, and/or how much you eat. While modifying diet may sometimes positively impact your health, it isn’t a cure all. There are many factors that impact health, including genetics, access to resources like money and health care, culture, experiences of trauma (especially in childhood), and social and physical built environments. The belief that diet = health places high value on one component of health (physical) without considering the collective impact of other components (mental, social, etc.).
  • It suggests that being “fat is bad.” Specifically, fat people are described using many negative labels. Jeon and colleagues recently assessed comments on YouTube and found there were “frequent disinhibited aggressive messages” against overweight individuals online. This is weight bias and stigma, a form of discrimination, which has been shown to negatively impact health (check out this article or a previous blog written by me if you want to know more). The truth is that when you look at the stats, it looks like those in the overweight and lower levels of obesity categories have lower health risks. So, why is it okay to discriminate against larger bodies (i.e. fattism)? Is it really about health?
  • It promotes the idea that weight loss, by any means, is to be celebrated. I’ve seen many disordered eating behaviours that are reinforced in bodies of all sizes because they promote weight loss. I’ve had past clients tell me they’ve been complimented for their weight loss . . . while on chemotherapy. I was on the receiving end of similar comments about weight loss a few years ago from a nurse colleague. My mother had just died unexpectedly at age 54. I was devastated and, for a few months, I wasn’t able to focus on taking care of myself well – I wasn’t nurturing myself with regular meals and snacks. My body was physically showing my grief. This was not a sustainable or a healthy approach to eating. However, as I came to terms with this personal tragedy, I returned to my usual way of eating and moving. Perhaps, rather than focusing on weight, we should look to creating supportive environments that celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes. All bodies are good bodies!

Diet culture causes harm. Diets fail to deliver long term weight loss. Instead, they typically increase your likelihood of gaining weight and negatively affecting your relationship with food and your body.

spirit mascot holding scale.

May 6 is International No Diet Day. On this day, ask yourself, “what can I do to stop diet culture”?

May 6 is International No Diet Day.

May 6 is International No Diet Day.On this day, consider giving up diets and contributing to diet culture. Since habits are a better predictor of health than size, consider ways to take care of your body, mind, and soul. Here are a few ideas to ponder:

  • Smash your scale and pledge to not weight yourself. Check out this video for inspiration.
  • Feed yourself faithfully – plan and enjoy regular meals and planned sit-down snacks of foods that you enjoy.
  • Practice intuitive eating. Take time to listen to and respond to your body’s cues for hunger, fullness, and satiety. Remember, it’s okay to choose to eat beyond fullness. Chances are, when you give yourself permission to do so, you will eventually learn to trust yourself to eat the right amount for you. Intuitive eating is non-judgemental. Check out Emilia’s blog post Ditch the Diet, Not the Healthy Eating for more ideas.
  • Explore new foods and cooking methods. Discovering new foods and new ways of cooking can help you to connect with the food that you eat.
  • Honour and share your food traditions with family and friends.
  • Recognize and stop engaging in diet (e.g. “Today is my cheat day.”) and fat (e.g. “Do I look fat in this?”) talk. Check out this blog and this video for definitions and strategies to deal with these.

From more than 20 years working as a dietitian, I know that you can’t tell how someone eats, moves, or takes care of themselves based on their size or shape. Doing so can cause physical and emotional harm. This “no-diet day”, ask yourself, “what can I do to stop diet culture”? Take a moment to think about one, tangible thing you will do. Please share!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Celebrating the work of dietitians in the north: Dietitians Day 2018

Did you know that March 14th is National Dietitians Day in Canada? On this day, we celebrate registered dietitians (RDs) as healthcare professionals who support health through food and nutrition. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on the contributions of the approximately 35 passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated RDs that work all throughout Northern Health. In particular, I started to think about those dietitians that have served in the north for many years and how things have changed over the years.

Linda’s story

 I first met Linda McMynn in the fall of 1996. She interviewed (and subsequently hired) me via videoconference for a job at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. It was my first experience with videoconference, a very new technology at the time. Linda’s willingness and courage to use this brand new technology really speaks to her openness to seek out new challenges. Linda was the first dietitian to work in Terrace, moving here in the 1970s:

I got to write my own job description and develop the job the way I wanted. I felt very isolated in the beginning, but the job turned out to be a huge opportunity. I was able to explore and work in many areas of the profession that I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed in Vancouver.”

Working in the north helped shape Linda’s preferences and career path. She says that during her training, she enjoyed clinical work, but intensely disliked food service and administrative dietetics. However, in the past two decades with Northern Health, Linda has immersed herself in the food service world. She pioneered the development of high quality food service practices and policies that have improved food service in all Northern Health facilities.

Two dietitians cooking pasta together.

Left: Linda McMynn and Right: Flo Sheppard; circa 2010 in Smithers at a Northwest Dietitian gathering, making pasta.

When I asked Linda what she believed to be at the core of her work as a dietitian, she was quick to say ‘food first’:

The best way to ensure good nutrition is by preparing, eating, and enjoying good food  . . . ideally with others.”

Certainly, I recall her efforts to make this real for the residents of Terraceview Lodge, a residential living facility in Terrace. I’ve always been struck by how deeply Linda cares about the people she serves. Certainly, many dietitians, including myself, prefer to be working behind the scenes to make things better, like Linda.

Wendy’s story

 Wendy Marion-Orienti is a dietitian based out of Smithers. Like most northern dietitians, she is a generalist, working across the spectrum of care: health promotion and prevention, treatment, and long-term care. She is best known for her expertise in person-centred care, especially with clients with diabetes and disordered eating. When I first met Wendy in 1996, I was struck by her passion for food and her focus on providing whole-person care.

Two dietitians standing together on rock over looking valley near Smithers, BC.

Left: Wendy Marion-Orienti and Right: Shelly Crack; taken near Smithers circa 2010.

Wendy didn’t start out wanting to be a dietitian. Initially she was enrolled in a degree in interior design at the University of Saskatchewan. The program had set courses for the first two years. While taking a required nutrition course, she was struck by the professor’s impassioned description of nutrition and its ability to make a profound difference at the local, national, and global level. It was this discovery that motivated Wendy to switch career paths. Her upbringing on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan, where “we ate what we grew and very few foods were purchased (sometimes macaroni)” is what “planted [her] in nutrition,” so this switch to a career as a dietitian was an easy one.

When asked what she loves most about her work, Wendy said:

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with clients, families, colleagues, and community . . . to walk with them, and to support them in making informed choices about their health.”

 I, along with many other dietitian colleagues, have been on the receiving end of Wendy’s warm and nurturing support and friendship.

Reflections of nutrition: then and now

Collectively, Linda and Wendy have offered almost 100 years of quality service to northern BC.  When asked about changes in the nutrition landscape, both of them reflected on how the field of nutrition has continued to grow.

Linda noted that there has been a growth in the interest in food and nutrition:

When I first started working as a dietitian, nutrition was not a frequent topic of discussion in the media. I don’t remember there being the prevalence of food fads, supplements, and diets being promoted. There wasn’t much interest in where our food comes from. Now there is so much more interest in all aspects of food.”

 Wendy agreed. She reflected that, throughout the years, there are cycles of food fads – the “miracle” food was once broccoli, then kale, cauliflower, and coconut, to name a few. In truth, there are no magic foods, rather the wisdom of variety and balance prevail.

Wendy also appreciates the ever-expanding variety of foods that can be enjoyed. She remembers when yogurt and granola were rare, found only in health food stores. Now, an increasing number of people enjoy diverse eating patterns that incorporate foods from a variety of cultures and those locally grown or produced. Wendy incorporates influences from Korea, China, and Thailand into her cooking, as a result of travel to these countries. However, she occasionally enjoys a traditional meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, and fresh greens from the garden, which is a meal from her youth. Although the foods we eat and our understanding of healthy eating has grown over time, the basic understanding that food means more than nutrients, is key. Food celebrates who we are and where we come from.

This year’s Dietitians Day, I’d like to honour the RDs that have come before me, those I work with now, and those who will come next. I feel honoured to share in the work that dietitians do. RDs have a strong scientific knowledge base, and promote person-centered health, not only through food and nutrition, but also through their passion, commitment, and advocacy for the health and wellness of the communities they serve.

Do you have a story about how a dietitian has made a difference for you?  If so, we’d love to hear about it. Happy Dietitians Day!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Eating well at work: what Northern Health staff have to say

Have you ever tried to make a lifestyle change, say tweaking your eating habits, and it didn’t quite work out? My past efforts have taught me that success is more likely to happen when you consider what is needed to make “the healthy choice the easy choice”. I find that different strategies are needed for home, work, and fun.

In recognition of October’s Healthy Workplace Month, I asked a few work colleagues throughout the region to share with me what makes it possible to eat well at work. Here’s what I learned:

 Planning at home can support easy access to your preferred food

I have a morning routine that includes packing a lunch. I also try eat away from my desk. It’s important for me to take a break.”

“I typically bring a week of snacks with me on Monday to save time and take the guess work out of snack planning. Some of my favourites are whole fruit, cut up veggies, homemade muffins or cookies, oatmeal packs, yogurt, cheese cubes, and boiled eggs.”

Supportive work colleagues and spaces make a difference

We plan potlucks a few times a year, with a focus on balancing out dishes to include all four food groups – and we always leave room for dessert!”

“I appreciate that we have a space at work where we can eat together. I really enjoy spending social time with work colleagues catching up, sharing food and recipes, laughing and relaxing.”

“It’s great that we have access to a kitchen to safely store and prepare lunches. It means I am not stuck eating sandwiches every day!”

“We’ve changed the culture at our worksite so that our staff room isn’t the “dumping ground” for people’s unwanted sweets. Years ago, there would be bags and bags of leftover Halloween candy, boxes of Christmas chocolates, or Valentine and Easter treats on the communal table – it was hard to not eat it when it was sitting there. Some days I’d feel sick from eating so much candy. It’s better now because if I want a seasonal treat, I can bring my own or accept one if it’s offered.”

Tasty, healthy, options that anyone will love!

 Management support, whether through policy, resources, or events, really shows that my workplace values my health

Twice a year, our managers host social events for all staff — one is a bbq and the other is a luncheon. There is always a great variety of food.”

“It’s great that we have approachable dietitians at our workplace. I like that they have a flexible approach to what healthy eating is, and they make me feel good about my food choices.”

“My team lead tries to follow the Eat Smart, Meet Smart guidelines when planning our team meetings. This means we have more healthy options to choose from, and we’re more likely to have a fruit bowl instead of a box of doughnuts at meetings these days!”

As you can see, there is a variety of strategies that people feel make healthy eating easier at work. For some additional thinking, check out Marianne’s blog about Workplace celebrations:  More than just food and Beth’s blog about Eating smart at work.

I’d love to hear how your workplace makes it easier for you to eat well!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Foodie Friday: flexible recipes make cooking easier

If I asked you the following questions, what would your answers be?

  • Do you value being able to cook meals for you and your family?
  • Do you try to buy and cook the best possible food for your family?
  • Do you struggle sometimes to match your expectations of a family meal with what ends up getting served at your table?
trifle ingredients on the table

One way I make cooking easier is that I use “ish” recipes. “Ish” recipes are basic recipes that can handle a lot of playing around with ingredients and still turn out tasty!

There’s a pretty good chance you replied “yes” to all. As a dietitian I have chatted with many families over the years and consistently through their stories and questions, I have heard them express both their enthusiasm for and challenges with getting food on the table. As the main cook in my family, I too would answer “yes”.

Many things can get in the way of getting home-cooked food on the table. One way I make cooking easier is that I use “ish” recipes. What do I mean by this? “Ish” recipes are basic recipes that can handle a lot of playing around with ingredients and still turn out tasty! These recipes let me use what I have on hand, substitute foods that my family likes, and simplify the process of following a recipe. Some of my favourite “ish” recipes include:

In this blog post, I’d like to share a recipe I’ve made so many times and in so many ways that I know it by heart: trifle! What is trifle? Trifle is a dessert I grew up with and has its roots in England. My family’s trifle was served at all holidays and special events, and consisted of a glass bowl lined with slices of jelly roll cake and filled with layers of Jell-O, Bird’s Custard, and canned fruit cocktail. I’ve made a few adaptations to the recipe but trifle is still my go-to dessert. I love that it is so easy to make, flexible in terms of what and how much of the various ingredients you use, and can be made ahead. My trifle typically changes throughout the year:

  • Summer: angel food or lemon pound cake, custard and berries and/or peaches
  • Fall: gingerbread or carrot cake, custard and pears
  • Winter: chocolate cake, chocolate custard and home canned cherries
  • Spring: white cake, custard or lemon curd, canned mandarin oranges and frozen berries

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

trifle on a table with spoon

I hope you enjoy this Trifle recipe as much as I do!

Flo’s Flexible Trifle

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups cubed cake
  • 3-4 cups fruit (cut in small pieces if large berries, peaches, bananas, etc. and you can used canned fruit like mandarin oranges, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, etc.)
  • 1 can evaporated milk (original recipe used 1 ¼ cups of cream)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup vanilla Greek yogurt (I use full-fat yogurt >5% as the original recipe called for whipped cream)
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds

Instructions:

  1. Cube cake and set aside.
  2. Heat, but do not boil, the evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. While the milk is heating, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow and smooth. Pour the hot milk into the egg yolks and beat vigorously. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook, over low heat, stirring until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Prepare fruit so that it is in bite-sized pieces.
  4. Placed almonds on a baking sheet and toast in a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes until golden.
  5. Assemble ingredients: layer cake cubes, fruit, custard in a glass bowl, ending with a custard layer. Smooth the vanilla yogurt over the entire top. Add toasted almonds. Chill for 2 hours before serving. Makes 8 generous servings.
Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Recipe for Your Best Beach Body

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


What’s your favourite childhood memory of summer?

sandals on beach

Is it time you consider breaking free from unhealthy beliefs about your body?

There’s a good chance that a beach or lake is part of that memory: lazy days of swimming, building sandcastles, floating in a tube, or lounging with a good book. In childhood, beach time is typically filled with carefree adventure and happiness.

Fast forward to adulthood. Beach time is complicated. Many women, and ever increasing numbers of men, express dread and shame when faced with wearing a swimsuit in public, which may result in avoiding the beach, sometimes for years. What contributes to this?

Our culture, supported by unrealistic media images, has created an ideal of what bodies, especially “beach bodies,” should look like. Unfortunately, this ideal is not:

  • Realistic: It is common that media images are tweaked to make models (who don’t represent average men and women) look taller, slimmer, fitter, whiter … supposedly more “perfect.” Since these images aren’t real, how can real people ever achieve them?  Check out this presentation for more info.
  • Representative: Since 67% of women in North America wear a size 14 or larger, media images don’t represent the majority of women. Do you see yourself, your sister, your friend, your mother, your daughter when you view media images? Check out #everybodysready on Twitter for more representative images of beach bodies.
  • Healthy: It is commonly believed that thin = healthy, but this is often not true. Health is influenced by behaviours (like competent eating, moving regularly in ways that feel good, appreciating the body you have and what it’s capable of doing, and practicing body kindness) and can’t be assumed based on one’s size.
girl laying in sand on beach

The recipe for a beach body is simple: Have a body. Put on a swimsuit. Go to the beach.

This gap between the “ideal” and the real leads to bad feelings about our bodies. These feelings make us vulnerable to ads for products and programs that promise a quick fix, but ultimately fail and move us further away from health. This also creates a culture of judgement. It’s within this culture of judging one another’s bodies as “beach worthy” that our dread and shame develop.

For me, it was the summer between grades 6 and 7 that my feelings about my body changed. This was before we understood that it is very normal to gain weight before and during puberty. I was in the middle of these biological changes and was the tallest, most developed girl in my class. A well-meaning older cousin told me I was fat, and that I needed to be careful about what I ate. That was the beginning of my dieting career. I’m fortunate that my education and career path crossed the work of Ellyn Satter, Geneen Roth, Susan Kano, Frances Berg, Evelyn Tribole, Linda Bacon, and Lucy Aphramor. With their support, I have been able to incorporate the principles of eating competence and health at every size into my life. And this has allowed me to regain my positive relationship with food, eating, activity, and my body.

Is it time you consider breaking free from unhealthy beliefs about your body? After all, the recipe for a beach body is simple:

  • Have a body.
  • Put on a swimsuit.
  • Go to the beach.

Don’t wait to reach that unrealistic beach body; dive in and enjoy life now!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Foodie Friday: Refresh your winter eating with vegetables and fruit

Bag of frozen cherry tomatoes

Meeting the daily vegetable and fruit requirements of Canada’s Food Guide in northern B.C.’s long winters can be a challenge, but frozen, canned, and dried produce can help!

I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t know that eating vegetables and fruit is good for you. However, it may not seem possible to meet the daily vegetable and fruit requirements of Canada’s Food Guide during our cold northern winters when nothing grows and most produce is shipped from far away and is quite costly.

But don’t despair! Just remember that vegetables and fruit come in many forms, including frozen, dried and canned, and these, too, have benefits:

  • Convenience: Since the washing, peeling and chopping is already done, food and meal preparation time is shortened by using canned, dried or frozen produce.
  • Freshness: If you are lucky enough to grow your own food or support a local farmer, you can preserve food at the height of its freshness and quality. I’ve also been known to buy seasonal produce and preserve it. Last year, I transformed blueberries from the grocery store into a home canned blueberry sauce to use on my waffles instead of maple syrup.
  • Nutritious: Especially in the winter when growing and shipping conditions can increase the time it takes for fresh produce to reach you, preserved produce will have less nutrient loss.
Tomato plant

When you are picking your tomatoes this year (or buying seasonal produce), consider freezing a few batches for healthy options in the winter months!

The larger nutrition goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables – and using canned, dried and frozen versions makes that easier! Here are a few ways to include these products in your diet:

  • Make fruit salad or smoothies using frozen or canned fruit.
  • Top cereal with dried fruit like raisins, diced apricots or dates.
  • Mix dried fruit with cereal and/or nuts for an on-the-go snack.
  • Add canned or frozen fruit to plain yogurt to add sweetness and nutrition.
  • Top wholegrain pancakes or waffles with canned fruit like peach slices, frozen fruit or fruit sauce like applesauce or pear sauce.
  • Add frozen, canned or dried fruit or vegetables to wholegrain muffin and quick bread recipes — I like grating all that summer zucchini into 1 cup batches that I freeze and add to my muffins later in the year.
  • Add frozen vegetables to rice, soup or pasta sauce.
  • Mix chopped frozen spinach or kale into yogurt-based dips.
  • Add canned or frozen applesauce or pear sauce or frozen ground cherries into your meatball or meatloaf recipe to add sweetness and fibre and lower the fat slightly.
  • Make homemade milk-based soups using frozen vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes or asparagus.
Tomato soup on a stove

Healthy soups are a breeze with frozen vegetables! Flo’s simple winter soup involves roasting some tomatoes, blending them up, adding a couple extras based on your preference, and then enjoying!

When selecting canned, dried or frozen produce, choose fruit processed in water or juice rather than syrup and choose vegetables processed with little or no salt.

One of my favourite winter meals is tomato-based soups. I grow and pick tomatoes in the summer and store them in the freezer. In the winter, I pull these tomatoes out and roast them in the oven with a little bit of vegetable oil and seasoning. Once cooked, I blend them until they’re smooth and either mix with milk to make a “creamy” tomato soup or add to a pot of chick peas and other vegetables to make a vegetarian soup. After a day of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, a bowl of hot soup hits the spot!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Cooking with kids

Grilled cheese sandwich with vegetables and nuts as toppings.

Cooking with kids is a great way to spend time together and teach them invaluable skills! Kids as young as two years old can help wash vegetables and choose ingredients like the toppings for their own grilled cheese sandwich!

While it may seem more like work than fun, cooking with kids at any age is a great way to spend quality family time together while teaching important life skills.

Cooking with kids can be a gift that keeps on giving, now and in the future. When kids cook at home they are:

  • Exposed to healthy foods, which may positively shape their lifelong food preferences.
  • Given opportunities to build reading, math, chemistry and problem solving skills.
  • Provided opportunities to develop self-confidence and creativity.

Here are a few things to remember:

Provide age-appropriate opportunities to grow cooking skills.

  • Kids as young as two years of age can help in the kitchen with simple tasks like washing fruits and vegetables and adding ingredients to a bowl. By age 12, kids can have the skills to do independent meal planning and preparation. Check out the Nutrition Tools for Schools guide for more information on age-appropriate food skills
  • Supervise kitchen time and demonstrate safe food handling practices, including hand washing and keeping cooked and raw foods separate, as well as safe practices like working with knives and what to do in the case of a fire.
Ingredients for a grilled cheese sandwich

When cooking with kids, be sure to provide age-appropriate tasks, supervise for safety, keep it simple, and make it interactive. The skills kids learn will last a lifetime!

Keep it simple.

  • Choose recipes that have fewer steps and ingredients and/or take a portion of a recipe and let your child help. For example, your child may be able to whisk and scramble the eggs while you complete the other pieces to make breakfast burritos. Check your local library or online for cookbooks with simple recipes.

Make it interactive.

  • Especially in the beginning, cooking may mean letting kids choose from a variety of prepared ingredients to make their own version of the meal. In my home, “build your own meal” recipes have always been winners with all ages – our favourite being build your own pizza where everyone chooses from bowls of diced veggies, fruit and meat, grated cheeses and sauces like pizza sauce, pesto and hummus to top whole grain pita, tortilla or pizza dough.
Grilled cheese sandwich with lots of toppings.

Building your own grilled cheese sandwich is a great way to involve kids in cooking and along with a salad or soup, makes a delicious and balanced meal!

To get you started, try this recipe for “build your own grilled cheese sandwich”:

  • Bread (any kind you like)
  • Cheese (try mozzarella, cheddar, brie, gouda, or another favourite)
  • Toppings (sliced pears, apples, avocado or tomatoes; caramelized onions, cooked sliced potatoes, grilled vegetables like peppers or zucchini, spinach leaves, sliced meats, etc.)
  • Condiments (pesto, honey, mustard, jalapeno jelly, jam, etc.)

Lay the ingredients out and let your family pile all their favourite cheeses and toppings on the bread. Brush each side of the bread with a little vegetable oil and then bake, broil or grill until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted. To make a balanced meal, serve with a green salad or a bowl of tomato soup!

For more healthy eating ideas and recipes like this, visit the recipes section on the Northern Health Matters blog!


 

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Foodie Friday: Back to basics – scratch cooking

A whisk in a pot with chocolate pudding

Scratch cooking can be simple, quick, low cost, healthy, and tasty!

Many Novembers, I have stood in biting cold or sloppy wet snow to watch the local Remembrance Day parade process to the Terrace Cenotaph. I’m always moved to tears by our veterans, who serve as very visual reminders of the contributions made to keep Canada safe and free.

November 11th always adds perspective to my life and helps me reflect on what is important. It calls to mind the efforts of those at home during early war efforts, when food was scarce and the emphasis was on local production, preparation, and preservation. I think about how reliant we’ve become on convenience foods, supposedly for the sake of ease and saving time. However, I only have to pull out the old cookbook handed down to me by my mother to access simple and low cost recipes that are tasty and healthy. Homemade pudding is one example.

Store-bought puddings are often heavily packaged, list sugar as the ingredient present in the largest amount, include fillers and preservatives, and are made with milk that, unlike regular fluid milk, typically isn’t fortified with vitamin D.

Making your own pudding is quick. In fact, you can assemble the dry ingredients in the following recipe to make your own pudding mix to use later or, because it’s so quick, you can make it on-demand when the need for a tasty and healthy snack or dessert occurs. If you do make the mix, store it in a cool and dry place until you are ready to add the wet ingredients, as per the recipe.

Chocolate pudding topped with bananas

Adding fresh fruit makes this a balanced snack that includes two food groups from Canada’s Food Guide.

Chocolate Pudding

Makes four ½ cup servings

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

1. Add sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and flour to a pot. Whisk in 1 cup of milk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Whisk in the rest of the milk. Continue to stir over medium heat until thickened.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.

2. Cool in the refrigerator or enjoy while still warm.  To make a balanced snack that includes two food groups from Canada’s Food Guide, top the pudding with some sliced bananas, pears, or strawberries!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Helping or Harming:  Reflections from 20 years of being a Dietitian

A crowd of people attends a farmers' market

“Healthy” comes in all shapes and sizes.

Oh, the conviction of youth!  Long gone are the unshakable beliefs from my dietetic internship about how to define “healthy” and the importance of weight in preventing disease. Twenty years have passed and, in that time, I’ve worked in five different provinces with a variety of patients and partner organizations. For instance, young families; schools; clients living with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and disordered eating; and seniors in care homes, all of whom came from very diverse backgrounds.  In nearly every case, health was defined, in part, by weight. Today, I question that belief. Why? Because I’ve seen so many instances where a subtle emphasis on weight has contributed to some harm.

I’ve learned that while weight is often one of the first lines of treatment when someone is diagnosed with a chronic disease, research tells us that less than one percent of people successfully keep weight off after four years, and usually regain the lost weight plus some. In the end, after treatment, people are at a higher weight and often feel bad about themselves. This can’t be good for health.  Does it make sense to promote a treatment that is doomed to fail?

The recommendation to lose weight perpetuates something called the “thin ideal” (believing that a slim body is the standard for beauty and health), which is based on an assumption that people defined as “overweight” (as per the problematic standard of BMI or body mass index) eat poorly, too often, and do not move enough. My twenty years of experience tell me that this is not the case. Rather, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes and are supported by healthy and intuitive eating, active living, and positive self-esteem. Thus, a better plan is to focus on supporting everyone, no matter their size, to live well.

The “thin ideal” has normalized weight bias and stigma, where we live, work, play, and are cared for. What is weight bias and weight stigma?

  • Weight bias is a negative judgement of someone because of their weight, shape and/or size.
  • Weight stigma is what a person experiences when weight bias happens to them.

Weight bias and stigma can seem harmless and might even be done in the spirit of helpfulness, but it still hurts. Examples of weight stigma include:

  • Refusing to offer dessert to someone and/or questioning whether someone “needs” that serving of dessert because of their size.
  • Using headless images of “overweight” people or images of “overweight” people being sedentary in handouts and presentations.
  • Using the word “fat” as an insult instead of what it is, which is a physical description of body composition.
  • Assuming someone is unhealthy if “overweight” or healthy if “underweight” or “normal weight.”
  • Failing to offer healthy food at school because “we don’t have fat kids at our school” (yes, one school actually gave this as a reason why they didn’t need to follow the Guidelines for the Sale of Food and Beverages in BC Schools!).

Weight bias needs to stop.  It starts with us thinking about what our own biases and assumptions about weight might be (take the Weight Implicit Attitudes Test) and developing respect and empathy for people who are impacted by weight bias. Last week was Weight Stigma Awareness Week, but it’s an issue that we need to be aware of all year round. Learn more here.

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Foodie Friday: Build a Better Summer Burger

Summer burgers and saladSummer is here—as is evident by the light beaming in my bedroom window at 5:30am, the amount of things blooming in my garden, and the increasing need to mow my lawn—and nothing says summer like a juicy burger on the BBQ! You might think burgers and dietitians don’t go well together, but you’d be wrong! Perhaps because of these incorrect beliefs: dietitians only eat healthy foods; foods can easily be defined as healthy or unhealthy; and burgers can’t be healthy. All false!

Dietitians think less in black and white and more in shades of gray when it comes to food and eating. Our careful consideration of food and nutrition science clearly shows that healthy eating is defined more by the pattern of how one eats over time, rather than food by food or meal by meal.  When we translate that knowledge into practical tips for you to use, a list of things to consider about food begins to form:

  • Burgers on the barbequeFood – is it real food, local, minimally processed?
  • Nutrition – does it provide a variety of key nutrients to support growth, development, and health?
  • Eating competence – are you able to get enough food that you enjoy?
  • Culture and traditions – are you able to get and enjoy foods that support continuation of your family and cultural traditions?

Dietitians work with people where they are at and support them to make small, sustainable changes in what and how they eat. That means we would never try and convince someone who loves a burger loaded with fried onions, bacon, cheese, and mayo-based sauce to make the switch to a veggie or salmon burger (although I do make a great veggie burger!). Instead, we might offer tweaks to your usual recipe to pump up the nutrition and flavour while reducing the salt and fat a little.

Below is a typical burger recipe with a few suggestions to do exactly that. You can pick and choose from the list, do them one-by-one or a few at a time. Let your taste buds guide you!

Usual Burger Ingredients

Possible Modifications

1 lb. hamburger meat
  • Use extra lean ground beef (local if you can get it) or moose
  • Mix ¾ lb. of extra lean ground beef with ¼ lb. of lean ground chicken or turkey or ¼ – ½ cup soy ground round or mashed black beans
  • Add 1/3 cup of grated carrot, zucchini, apple or pear or 1/3 cup of ground cherries to the meat mixture
¼ cup soft bread crumbs
  • Use whole wheat bread crumbs or oatmeal
  • Use leftover cooked quinoa or brown rice instead of bread crumbs
1 egg
  • Use 2 egg whites instead of a whole egg
¼ tsp. salt
  • Leave out of the recipe
1/8 tsp. pepper
  • Be creative and add other herbs and spices like cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic, etc.
4 hamburger buns
  • Use 100% whole wheat or whole grain buns
Toppings: ketchup, relish, mustard, mayo, bacon
  • Use a lower sodium ketchup, substitute with salsa or use a fruit chutney
  • Load on the veggies whether grilled veggies like mushrooms, onions, zucchini, peppers or fresh ones like sliced tomatoes, leafy garden greens, onions, grated cabbage, avocado or hot or sweet peppers
  • Add a lower fat cheese (<20 MF), preferably a sharply flavoured one for added zing!
  • Use less traditional condiments like hummus or tzatziki
  • Use lower sodium bacon or turkey bacon or leave out the bacon sometimes

 

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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