Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: World Food Day – Household food insecurity is not about food

A graphic for World Food Day is displayed.

World Food Day is October 16, 2019. Check out #rethinkgiving online to get involved.

October 16 is World Food Day – a day to raise awareness about food insecurity and poverty. With 1 in 6 Northern BC households struggling to put food on the table, the issues of poverty and food insecurity run deep in our region, but progress is being made. This year, BC came out with its first ever Poverty Reduction Strategy, which lays out a plan to reduce poverty and improve health in BC communities.

What is household food insecurity?

Household food insecurity is the inability to afford food due to a lack of income. The root cause of household food insecurity is not the price of food – it’s poverty. People are food insecure because they can’t afford to eat.

Faced with challenges like the high cost of rent and child care, individuals and families earning low wages struggle to buy healthy food after meeting other basic needs. The fact is, healthy eating is unaffordable for families on a fixed income, who often have to spend half of their total income on food. With high housing prices and other bills, families are forced to choose between keeping a roof over their heads and buying food. However, food insecurity is not just an issue for those on a fixed income: 65% of people who are food insecure are in the workforce, making low wages that simply aren’t enough.

How does household food insecurity impact our communities?

Household food insecurity deeply impacts health. Adults who are food insecure have higher rates of chronic health issues such as heart disease and diabetes, and are more likely to experience depression, distress, and social isolation. Children who live in households that struggle to buy food have poorer general health, academic outcomes, and social skills than their peers. These health impacts can cause a circular pattern; poorer health can make it harder to afford the basic needs that support health in the first place. To improve the health of our communities, we need to take action.

So, what can be done?

Access to food is a complex issue. As Nick Saul writes, the solution to hunger is not just food:

“How we frame a problem always determines the kind of solution we get. If we say hunger is due to a lack of food, the obvious answer is: Get those people something to eat…but if we ask what’s really at the root of hunger, we discover the answer is more complex. That’s because the root of hunger is poverty… we’re not going to solve such persistent problems [as hunger] with donations of canned peas and corn – no matter how well-meaning. The solution lies elsewhere” – Nick Saul, Community Food Centres Canada

Food charity (such as food banks and food hampers), and community gardens have become the default solutions to household food insecurity. While these initiatives aim to achieve very important goals, like emergency food relief, improved food skills, a more sustainable food system, and social connection, these programs do not reduce household food insecurity because they can’t deal with the root cause of the issue, which is poverty. In order to address household food insecurity, policies to increase income are needed (e.g., affordable childcare, higher minimum wages, higher income-assistance rates, and affordable, safe housing). With its goal of reducing overall poverty in BC by 25% by 2020, BC’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is an important first step.

No one should have to choose between buying food and paying the bills. Municipal, provincial, and federal governments, businesses, and communities all play a role.

What are small steps that you can take to support poverty reduction in your community?

For more information on household food insecurity, check out this blog series:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Canada’s Food Guide: How was it created?

An image of the updated "healthy plate" from the new Canada's Food Guide.

The new Canada’s Food Guide includes updates to how we approach food, including this revised healthy plate.

The new Canada’s food guide has been out for six months. Registered dietitians across Northern BC have shared what they like about the new edition, such as:

  • The emphasis on our relationship with food.
  • The change in the food groupings.
  • The emphasis on plant-based foods.
  • The message that there is no one “right” way to eat.

Dietitians also appreciate the process by which the food guide was revised.

“I like that industry-funded research did not inform the development of the guide,” said Judy April, clinical dietitian from Dawson Creek. “This goes a long way to increase the trust the public has in the recommendations.”

Let’s take a closer look at the process of updating the food guide.

Establishing the need

Prior to the current version, the guide was last updated in 2007. The science around healthy eating is ever-changing; new information is always becoming available. It’s important that Canadians have up-to-date guidelines that they can trust. For example, the old food groups were no longer supported by science as strongly as the new groupings are.

Updating Canada’s food guide

Updating the food guide was no small feat! The process was long and involved a combination of research, and public and professional consultation. The goal of Canada’s food guide is to support Canadians to live healthy lives, and to create environments that support health. Therefore, the process to update the guide was detailed, unbiased, inclusive, and thorough.

How did scientific evidence inform the update?

The first step was to look at the evidence on healthy eating. Many sources of information, and only the best, most up-to-date evidence, was used to update the guide.

Did Canadians have a say in updating the guide?

It was important for Health Canada to hear from Canadians. Their consultation process included using online discussion forums and focus groups to reach the public, health professionals, Indigenous organizations, and health charities.

What input did food industry have on the guide?

In order for Canadians to be confident in the new guide, Health Canada committed to putting the health of Canadians first. In other words, it was important that those who hold a financial interest in the healthy eating guidelines did not significantly influence the guide. Yoni Freedhoff, a physician and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa has said: “I can’t think of anyone with greater conflicts of interest in the creation of a food guide than the folks who sell and promote the food.” (Originally quoted in this CBC article.)

As such, the food industry did not inform the updates to the food guide.

More is needed to support healthy eating

The goal of the food guide is to support the health of Canadians over the age of two years. Importantly, the food guide is only one part of creating an environment that supports healthy eating. Additional initiatives to support Canadians in healthy eating include: a food policy for Canada, healthy eating strategy, and a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.

Learn more about the food guide

Want to learn more about processed foods? Dietitian Flo is here to help!

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Dietitian pro-tips: The 4th edition

A child and an adult man stirring food in a bowl together.

2019 has been a big year for dietitians, with the release of the new Canada’s Food Guide; we recently shared what Northern Health dietitians had to say about this new and improved guide.

During this Nutrition Month, the blog has featured the work of a few local dietitians, including Amelia and Allie. Others have been sharing their knowledge about food and nutrition.

For the last few years, on Dietitians Day, our amazing team has shared tips on food, nutrition, and healthy eating in a “pro-tips” blog post. This year, we are doing it again, but with a twist! Part of eating is done with our eyes, so why not share photos that bring our tips to life? “See” what our dietitian team members have to say!

Lise Luppens (Terrace)

Cook together with family or friends! Even toddlers and preschoolers can get involved. Learn more about building healthy relationships in the kitchen.

A jar of overnight oats.

Hannah Zmudzinski (Dietetic Student)

Mornings can be hectic! Planning meals ahead of time can help simplify your day. Try making breakfast the night before with these delicious overnight oats:

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup quick oats
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 4-5 mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup chocolate soy beverage or milk
  • Top with fresh or frozen berries

Instructions:

  • Mix contents into container and chill in fridge overnight.
  • Next day, you can enjoy the oats at home, or wherever your morning takes you!
A woman holding a glass of green onions regrowing in water.

Hannah Wilkie (Fort St. John)

Re-grow veggies from veggie scraps! For example, you can re-use the bottoms of green onions by placing the roots in a glass with a small amount of water. Watch them re-grow before your eyes. Just be sure to change the water frequently!

 

Two children sitting on the counter with muffin tins.

 

Dena Ferretti (Terrace)

Dietitians also have picky eaters; even when both parents are dietitians! Shocking, I know. In our house both our children have very different palettes. My daughter loves black olive pizza and my son loves Thai sweet and spicy sauce with his rice. What helps us navigate the waters of “I don’t like that” or “I won’t eat that” is involving them in cooking. Remember, food is completely new to children and it may take 20 or more exposures to a new food before they adopt it. Those exposures can include something as simple as seeing the food, touching the food or smelling the food – we haven’t even begun to talk about bringing that food to their mouth. Be patient and try to have fun with your children around food.

Apple slices with peanut butter on one of them.

Robyn Turner (Vanderhoof)

Healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated. Pair simple foods from two or three food groups from Canada’s Food Guide to make fast, portable, and tasty snacks. One of my favourites is a classic: apple with peanut butter!

 

A hand holding a button that says Dieting with a line through it.

 

Flo Sheppard (Terrace)

Ditch dieting. Instead, build a healthy relationship with food and your body. Feed yourself faithfully with foods you enjoy and that make you feel good. Listen to your body to know what and how much to eat to feel satisfied. Take care of, and appreciate, your body for all it can do.

A woman holding a pot of ingredients to make tortillas.

Emilia Moulechkova (Terrace)

A playful approach to food can go a long way to support healthy eating. Build variety into your diet by trying a new food, recipe, or method of cooking. Here I am on my 30th birthday having fun making homemade corn tortilla for the very first time. We served them family style and let everyone choose from a variety of toppings such as lettuce, onions, red pepper, refried beans, ground beef, and salsa. Yum!

 

People enjoying a workplace potluck.

Laurel Burton (Prince George)

Healthy eating is much more than food and nutrients; it’s also about fostering social connection and creating a sense of community. Looking for more ways to eat with others? Take a cooking class with a loved one, or plan a monthly dinner date with friends. At my workplace we try to come together every few months to share food. After all, nothing invites variety quite like a potluck!

Looking for more RD tips? Check out our previous posts!

Nutrition Month Eating Together contest

During Nutrition Month throughout March, we want to see how you eat together! Organize a date to eat together, show us, and be entered to win an Instant Pot! This could mean grabbing a coffee and scone with a colleague, organizing a lunch date with a friend, having a potluck with family – whatever this means to you! Set a date, eat together, and show us to win! See our Eating Together contest page for complete details.

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Food Security, Part 3: A call to action

All British Columbians have the right to access a healthy diet in ways that are right for them. In two previous blog posts, I highlighted  household food insecurity and the Food Costing in BC report. With the knowledge that 17% of households in Northern BC are food insecure, what are our next steps?

It is important to mention that decreasing household food insecurity isn’t about decreasing the cost of food. This is because we also must ensure that our food system is healthy and sustainable. Part of a just food system is making sure growers and producers are paid a fair wage – which is reflected in the cost of food.

Community food security

There is a lot of wonderful food systems work happening in Northern communities that focuses on food growing, preparation, and eating. This focus on improving the food system works to increase community food security, which is the ability to access a healthy, safe, and culturally appropriate diet, while maintaining a sustainable, healthy, and just food system. Community food security programs can:

Household Food Insecurity: An income-based issue

However, while community food programs offer a lot of value, household food insecurity is an income-based issue that needs income-based solutions. The root cause of household food insecurity isn’t the price of food or distance to grocery stores. It’s also not lack of food skills or education; it’s that some households do not have enough income to purchase food. Community food programs do not address income deficits directly. According to local community advocate Stacey Tyers,

Food programs that focus on local and sustainable agriculture, (e.g. community gardens) are very important for the health and wellbeing of a community. However, without also addressing income, many community members still cannot afford to put food on the table.”

Changing the situation for those who struggle to meet their basic needs must begin with a focus on income. Exploring income based solutions is the most effective way to decrease household food insecurity:

Ultimately, no person should have to worry about getting enough food. BC would benefit from income based solutions that raise the income of fixed wage and low income earners, so that all British Columbians can have their basic needs met. Without addressing income, household food insecurity will remain a concern in our communities,” says Stacey.

Income based policy has been shown to work:

  • The risk of household food insecurity drops by 50% once low income adults reach the age of 65 and become eligible for seniors’ pension programs (a form of guaranteed income)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador invested in poverty reduction work, which saw a reduction in household food insecurity among social assistance recipients

Access to food is a human right – all Northerners should have their basic needs met. The health impacts of food insecurity go far beyond individual and household food patterns, or food and lifestyle “choices”. Household food insecurity is closely linked to income, and factors such as low income and unpredictable employment more deeply impact health than food choice itself.

Individuals, communities, and governments all have a role to play in making BC more food secure.

Wondering how you can get involved?

Check out the first two blogs of this series:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Food Security, Part 2: Food Costing in BC

How much does it cost for you to put food on your table? Your weekly grocery bill may come to mind, as well as how and where you get your food. But do you also factor in costs like getting to the grocery store?

The cost of a basic, healthy dietFood costing report cover.

The BC Centre for Disease Control’s latest food costing report was just released. This report shows how much food costs, as well as how much money is required to purchase a basic, healthy diet. The new report shows that:

  • Food costs have been rising across BC.
  • In northern BC, the average price of a basic, healthy diet is the highest it’s ever been: $1038 per month (for a reference family of four).

Food costs: only part of the story in the north

The true cost of eating, however, involves more than just food prices.

To learn more, I spoke with two community advocates: Stacey Tyers, from Terrace, and Liza Haldane, from Laxgalts’ap, in the Nisga’a valley.

Stacey points out that families in many small northern communities are faced with extra expenses because of long distances to grocery stores. This is the case in Laxgalts’ap, where travel to grocery stores can profoundly impact cost of food.

“Laxgalts’ap is over 300km round trip from the nearest grocery store, so cost of gas is significant,” says Liza. “That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a car.” Those who don’t have a vehicle must pay for a ride, and it can cost up to $200 return – on top of the grocery bill.

The north is also more vulnerable to bad weather and power outages, which can cause food losses.

“Imagine stocking your freezer full of food for the winter, and losing it all when the power goes out,” says Stacey. For many, this would be devastating.

Additional barriers to food access

Other barriers to food access exist for northern families:

  • Food travels long distances to reach northern stores – this can impact food quality and quantity.
  • Bad weather and road closures can affect food access and availability.
  • Shorter growing seasons limit the availability of locally grown foods.
  • Hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering wild foods requires access to land, time, equipment, fuel, and specialized skills.

Access to nutritious cultural foods can be challenging as well, such as fish.

“If you don’t have a boat or money for equipment, it can be hard to access this resource. There are also new limitations on food fishing,” Liza points out. As a result, she feels that “access to food [has become] a privilege… It’s very alarming.”

Rising food costs in BC: those who are hardest hit

In an earlier story, I raised the topic of household food insecurity (HFI), which is when a household worries about, or does not have enough, money to purchase food. HFI and income are closely linked, so increases in food costs have the biggest impact on fixed and low-income households. According to Stacey, “those who have low incomes will be the hardest hit by rising food prices.”

Households who are on a fixed income (e.g. social assistance) and those earning minimum wage spend significantly more of their budget on food compared to median wage earners. And this amount does not include travel to grocery stores. With food costs on the rise, and social assistance and minimum wage set below the living wage, limited food budgets grow even tighter.

Next steps for BC

Northerners are resilient, but we experience additional costs, realities, and barriers to accessing food. HFI is a serious public health issue in the north. The Food Costing in BC report is one advocacy tool – what else is being done?

Stay tuned for my last story in this series, Food security: a call to action

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Foodie Friday: Pumpkin-more than just a spooky decoration

woman holding pumpkins.

Carving pumpkins are less flavourful than their smaller relatives, but the seeds are edible and extremely delicious when roasted!

It’s that time of year again – when kids are getting their Halloween costumes ready, and pumpkins are being carved. I recently learned that the tradition of carving pumpkins began in Ireland, as a way to ward off evil spirits. Interesting, right? To this day, pumpkin carving is still a fun way to spend time with family or friends, to be creative, and to celebrate the fall season.

But pumpkins are much more than a fun Halloween activity. As a dietitian, at this time of year I often get asked, “Aside from carving and eating it in pie, what can you actually make with pumpkin?”

Pumpkin, like many of its cousins, is an edible squash, like butternut or acorn squash. It comes from the same family as cucumbers, zucchini, and watermelon. For some reason though, pumpkins seem to be less well known for their versatility as a food. While we see pumpkin flavoured things everywhere these days: in coffee, granola bars, and yogurt, it’s not often featured in main dishes.

Ways to eat pumpkin:

  • You can eat pumpkin in many of the same ways as other squash: add it to soups, stews, pasta dishes, sauces, oatmeal, pancakes, baked goods, or your favourite snacks. Pumpkin even works in stir-fry.
  • You can buy canned pumpkin puree in the store – this is a convenient way to have pumpkin around, and you can store it for a long time. You can also make your own pumpkin puree

Row of carved pumpkins.

This week Laurel learned that carving watermelons is just as effective as carving pumpkins – and the flesh is a tasty treat while you carve!

Tips on types:

There’s a difference between edible and ornamental pumpkins:

Ornamental

  • Large carving pumpkins: not nearly as flavourful as their smaller cousins. They’re watery and stringy. You can still roast and eat the seeds – highly recommended!
  • Huge show pumpkins: these are really cool, if you’ve ever seen one at a fair, but they’re not edible.

Edible

  • Sugar pumpkins: they’re a few pounds (~2-3lb) and have a rich, sweet flavour.
  • Miniature pumpkins: provide a lovely centre piece at a fall themed table. You can also eat them. They become bitter as they age, so if you’re using as a centre piece, eat within a few weeks.

Benefits of pumpkin:

  • They’re a great source of fibre, potassium, and vitamin C, as well as vitamin A, which is important for vision and a strong immune system.
  • Working with pumpkins can be a fun activity for kids: choosing one, roasting the seeds, or helping to make a tasty recipe!

Don’t forget about the seeds!

  • You can roast them: Add your favourite spices or just with a little oil and salt (a fun activity for kids).
  • Add to salads, cereals, trail mix (for a great on-the-go snack), yogurt, and baked goods, or eat a handful as a snack.
  • Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein, fibre, iron, zinc and magnesium.

Pumpkin oatmeal.

Pumpkin oatmeal: a cozy breakfast. Any toppings of your choice can work.

Pumpkin oatmeal

Prep time: 5-10 minutes             Cook time: ~15 minutes           Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of quick cooking oatmeal
  • 4 cups of water, or 2 cups water & 2 cups of milk (if you’d like a creamier oatmeal)
  • 1 (14 ounce) can of pumpkin puree, or 1 ¾ cup of roasted sugar pumpkin
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tbsps. maple syrup or honey

Instructions:

  1. Combine water, oatmeal and bring to a boil. Add the pumpkin puree and spices.
  2. Cook as instructed on your oatmeal package (should take around 7 -10 minutes for the oatmeal to cook). Stir often.
  3. Add maple syrup, stir, and serve.

Optional: sprinkle with pumpkin seeds, coconut shavings, or any topping you like.

This Halloween, when you’re picking a carving pumpkin from your local Farmers’ Market or grocery store, grab a sugar pumpkin and try it for your next meal!

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Food Security, Part 1: What is household food insecurity?

Today is World Food Day, a day to promote awareness of food security around the globe. In northern BC, almost 1 in 5 households struggle to afford a basic, nutritious diet. When I first read this statistic, I was shocked. In a country as resource-rich as Canada, how is it that 17% of northerners either don’t have enough food, or worry about running out?

Defining food security

Let’s start by defining food security. Simply put, it is the ability to access enough safe and healthy food, at all times. It includes many things such as:

  • Access to food stores and markets
  • Access to land to produce food
  • Getting enough food to support a healthy life
  • Maintaining a healthy food system

But walking through food stores in many northern communities, we don’t usually see empty shelves. If there is so much food available in our stores and markets, how is it that some households worry about running out?

Food security and income

The main reason is that some households do not have enough income to buy food. This is called “household food insecurity” (HFI): when a household worries about, or does not have enough money to purchase healthy food. Since starting my role as food security lead for Northern Health, this has been one of my biggest learnings: household income is the biggest predictor of HFI.

But it’s not just that food can be expensive. Rather, it’s that some household incomes are not enough to support a healthy diet. In fact, households on a fixed income (e.g. social assistance), or who work minimum wage jobs, are at the highest risk of being food insecure. For those on a fixed income, almost half – about 44% – of their income goes to food, compared to 15% of the household income of higher wage earners. This 44% doesn’t include other costs associated with food (e.g. travel to food stores), nor does it include housing and childcare. It’s a tough situation for many households.

Food security is a determinant of health

Given that many households struggle to buy food, it’s no wonder that HFI is a serious public health issue in BC. But why, exactly? To answer this, let’s take a step back and look at what impacts health. There are many things that we don’t often think about, things that go beyond food or lifestyle “choices.” These are social factors, such as where we are born or how much money we make, and they can impact health long before we’re sick. They are often conditions over which we don’t have much control.

Food security’s impact on health may seem obvious: eating nutritious foods can help keep you healthy. But, while this can be true, having enough money to buy food in the first place can have more of an impact on health than food choices alone. In fact, there are many chronic health conditions that are connected to HFI, including mental health.

Addressing household food insecurity

Fortunately, there are many determinants of health that can be addressed through policies and programs. Advocacy initiatives can also inspire change; for example, today is World Food Day, and tomorrow is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Here in BC, one tool we use is monitoring food costs over time, to help determine the household income required to purchase a basic, healthy diet. The Food Costing in BC 2015 report showed that food costs are on the rise. The 2017 data will be available soon; how will the results compare? Stay tuned for the next blog posts in this series:

To learn more about HFI in northern BC, check out this helpful infographic.

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Foodie Friday: Creating fast and efficient meals for big events

I recently went home to visit family – people who now live far apart from each other, in different corners of the country, and the globe! On this particular visit, my sister and her small children were returning from Singapore, so along with additional family, we were navigating some significant jet lag! Needless to say, we wanted to have hassle free, easy to prepare meals. Also, when you’re visiting family you haven’t seen in at least a year, who wants to spend all that time cooking?

Planning meals for large gatherings (such as family reunions or celebrations) can take a lot of work, and can be stressful! Fear not. Here are some tips that can make meal time faster and more efficient, so you can spend more time visiting.

Tips for preparing big meals:

  • Stick to familiar meals, and keep it simple: for big family gatherings, we often stick to meals we know best. That way, cooking is easy, and less risky! Keeping recipes flexible helps make cooking easier.
  • Meal plan: to prepare for meals the next day, my mom and I would take a moment to plan the night before. This helped us to stay organized and take stock of what we needed to prepare. You can meal plan as far ahead as you need to!
  • Prepare snacks ahead of time: to prepare for our family’s arrival, we made a few key foods ahead of time, including muffins, dipping sauces, and cut-up vegetables. This way, we had some snacks ready for people to munch.
  • Prepare parts or all of the meal ahead of time: it’s often helpful to prepare dishes ahead of time (e.g. lasagna). However, if this isn’t an option, preparing some meal components in advance can help with efficiency. We cook our spaghetti sauce ahead of time. That way, all we have to do is cook the noodles at dinner time, and we can spend the day visiting.
  • Assign tasks: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Each day we assigned cooks (and dishwashers!) for different meals. My four year old nephew even helped out – he picked the basil for a pesto sauce I made, and helped put the ingredients in the blender (with supervision).
  • Serve foods buffet style: at meal time, food was placed on the kitchen table and everyone served themselves. This allowed everyone to choose from what was provided.
  • Plan for leftovers: consider sending guests home with extra food, freeze individual portions for future lunches, or incorporate leftovers into the next day’s meals.

I made the following recipe while home visiting. It was a hit! It incorporates summer vegetables, is quick to prepare, and is a definite crowd pleaser.

Bowl of lentil sauce.

The lentil and zucchini dish served with toasted bread and cheese. A quick and simple meal for large groups!

Lentil Sauce with Zucchini Noodles

Ingredients:

  • 1-2  large fresh tomatoes (or 1 15oz (475ml) can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup hummus
  • 1/4 cup split red lentils
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but delicious)
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or any standard herbs you like: basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, etc.)
  • 2 large zucchini, spiralized (I use one fairly large zucchini or 2 small ones)*
  • Sprinkle with parmesan cheese (optional)

Note: If you don’t have a spiralizer (which I don’t), you can use a cheese or vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini thinly.

Instructions:

  1. If using fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks. If using canned, add with other ingredients as directed below.
  2. Boil the water in a pot. Add lentils and let simmer for 3 minutes. Add all other ingredients, except cheese. Let pot simmer until sauce is the desired thickness (if you like a thicker sauce, let it simmer a little longer).
  3. Remove sauce from burner and pour over the raw zucchini. Option: you can also cook the zucchini right in with the other ingredients if you prefer cooked zucchini.
  4. Sprinkle on parmesan cheese and enjoy!

This recipe can be served as a meal or as a side dish.

Little girl eating from spoon.

My niece Lilian taste testing. At meal time she enjoyed eating this dish with her fingers; exploring the different textures and colours.

What are some ways that you make large group meals efficiently and less time consuming?

For more zucchini recipes, check out:

For other tips on using leftovers, check out:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Foodie Friday: Summer hydration – Delicious thirst quenching drinks!

Summer is my season. I often joke that I was born into the wrong climate, since I really come alive in the hot summer months and play indoors during the winter. (I’m learning how to love snow!).  Here in northern BC, we don’t take our precious summer months for granted! As the days get longer and warmer, I prefer to spend most of my time outdoors. Whether it’s going for long bike rides, picnicking with friends, or spending weekends hiking the beautiful trails around Prince George, I’m out enjoying every minute of this weather!

When being active on hot sunny days, it’s important to stay hydrated. In her blog post, dietitian Carly Phinney tells us why staying hydrated is important. She suggests that we listen to our body’s cues for sensing thirst, and she explains that water is the best way to satisfy thirst. I couldn’t agree more!  Water is budget friendly, vital for our bodies, and oh so versatile!

I recently went on a hike with some friends who brought along an interesting drink that was very refreshing. It was water, but with a twist! (Stay tuned for Vash and Nick’s great summer drink recipe below). This got me thinking, what are some healthy ways to stay cool and hydrated this summer?

  • Add fruits and vegetables to your water; it’s a great way to add some excitement to a classic beverage (think: strawberries, cucumber, berries or citrus).
  • Freeze your favourite fruits and eat them as frozen snacks throughout the day. Depending on the season, I like eating frozen grapes, cherries, and berries. (For the little ones, be sure to cut those grapes in half before freezing).
  • Make your own frozen snacks and fruit pops for a refreshing munch.
  • Mash up your favourite fruits, freeze them into ice cubes, and add to cold water.

I’d like to share two recipes that I’m going to be using a lot this summer:

One of my favourite summer drinks is a classic: homemade lemonade! This lemonade recipe is lower in sugar compared to store bought varieties, and is made extra tasty by using freshly squeezed lemons!

Three people drinking a refreshing twisted water.

Enjoying Vash and Nick’s refreshing water after a sizzling hike!

Classic homemade lemonade:

  • 2 tbsp. of honey
  • 1 litre of water (regular or fizzy)
  • 4 fresh lemons, juiced (you can use a lemon juicer or your hands)
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • A few handfuls of ice cubes (either regular ice cubes, or ones that have frozen fruit in them!)
  • Mint leaves as a garnish (optional)

Optional additions:

  • Mashed blueberries and strawberries (fresh or frozen!)
  • Sliced oranges and limes (creates a citrus medley!)

In a saucepan over medium heat, stir honey and ½ litre of water until completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. In a pitcher, combine the rest of the water and lemon juice. Add in the honey mixture once cooled. Stir. Add sliced lemons, ice cubes, mint and fruits (if using). Enjoy!

The second recipe, as promised, is Vash and Nick’s delicious thirst quencher!

Man enjoying drink with a Hawaiian shirt.

There are many ways to add refreshing tastes to water. A variety of homemade lemonades can be enjoyed as part of a summer potluck.

Vash and Nick’s famous water recipe:

  • 1 cup of water (can be regular or fizzy)
  • A handful of frozen or fresh berries (whole or mashed)
  • A squeeze of lime juice (to taste)
  • A squeeze of lemon juice (to taste)
  • Vash adds chia seeds for a refreshing crunch, but this is completely optional!

Let the water sit for a minute or two (bring it with you on a walk or hike), or store in the fridge for a few hours to let it really cool down. Enjoy!

Different takes on Vash and Nick’s water:

  • Mash up strawberries and mint
  • Cut up cubes of watermelon and add basil
  • Slice lemons, limes and oranges (for a citrus twist!)
  • Add some fruit-filled ice cubes

Looking for more information on healthy drinks?

Creating some fun recipes at home can help support healthy options, and get family and friends involved. What are some ways that you stay hydrated and cool during the summer?

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Gathering with food: northern voices

In March, we celebrated Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, dietitians across Canada highlighted food’s potential, including the ability of food to bring us together. In support of this theme, Northern Health held a photo contest, asking northern community members to submit photos of themselves eating together with family, friends, or co-workers, with a brief description of what eating together means to them.

It’s inspiring to see how our communities come together over food and we wanted to highlight the wonderful submissions we received. These posts have some common themes, including:

  • Meal and snack times provide an opportunity to connect with loved ones.
  • Life can be quite busy, so having some time to gather, relax, and celebrate food can improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Food also teaches valuable life skills, such as teamwork, food preparation, sharing, and many more!

In the following pictures, it’s clear that families across the north use mealtime to connect with loved ones. These are some of the responses to our question, what does eating together mean to you?

family eating together.

Food brings us together in many ways. Teaching kids cooking basics, manners, team-work (by setting and clearing the table or unloading the dishwasher), sharing, and serving [the food].  Then there is the conversation while seated together, sharing a meal…conversations are best around the dinner table with 3 boys!” -Colleen from Prince George

family time together.

My husband and I always make a point of sitting down together to eat; we need this time to reconnect.” -Brenda from Dawson Creek

family eating together.

Food brings us unity and strengthens our bond as a family and as a community. We gather and share foods. While eating, we share our happy experiences and concerns.” -Marian from Prince George

family eating together.

Sitting down to eat together gives us a chance to connect, catch up on the day, or start the day together. It helps us bond as a family!” -Michelle from Prince George

family meal photo.

Some of my fondest memories have been centered on food… from social and family gatherings to parties and celebrations… I associate the smiles, laughter, and fun with how food can really bring people together, through simple preparation, eating together or cleaning up the last of the skimmings.” -Pamela from Prince George

Thanks again to all who submitted fantastic entries to our Nutrition Month contest, and a special shout-out to our contest winner, Marian from Prince George! While we enjoyed reading each of the submissions, Marian’s collage of pictures really demonstrated the variety of ways in which food can bring us together, through food preparation, cooking, and eating!

Explore some of our other blog posts to see how food can bring us together:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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