Healthy Living in the North

Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces: Shifting attitudes about breastfeeding

The Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces decal is pictured. It features a blue and white graphic of a mother and child breastfeeding and includes the text: "We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere."

It’s a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, and local businesses can support that right by ordering this decal.

Did you know that in BC there are laws that protect women’s right to breastfeed in public? To raise awareness of this right, Northern Health has made available a window decal that states: “We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere.” Many businesses and organizations have posted the decal on their doors and windows. They can be ordered on the Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces webpage.

The impact of the decal

A decal is a small thing, but it can support important conversations. I was curious to know what impact the decal had on the clients and staff of participating businesses and organizations.

To learn more, we’d have to ask! In March 2019, I had the pleasure of supporting three Health Promotions students from the University of Northern British Columbia to do just that. Sonja Bork, Fatemeh Mohammadnejad, and Molly Brawdy interviewed staff from 10 Northern BC businesses and organizations that display the decal. Overall, they learned that the decal has been well received. They described positive feedback from staff and regular visits from breastfeeding mothers. This is great!

In this project, Sonja, Fatemeh, and Molly also learned a lot. At the end of our time together, they each shared their thoughts with me. From their comments, it is clear that this project will have a lasting impact on how they view promoting breastfeeding.

Learning about biases

Molly found that this project was a chance for her to become aware of her own views on breastfeeding:

“Before, I had not considered my own attitudes towards breastfeeding in public. Through this project, I became aware that I had internalized the idea that mothers should breastfeed in private and cover up when doing so in social settings. While I was supportive of breastfeeding in general, I had not embraced the “any time, anywhere” mindset.”

Legal rights and public support

Fatemeh, an international student, noted tensions between what is legally supported in Canada and public views of breastfeeding:

“Before coming to Canada, I had not considered breastfeeding in public places, as this is not a right in my country (Iran). Through this project, I have learned that in Canada breastfeeding is not a legal problem, as there are laws that protect this right. However, there is still a lack of empathy, respect, and understanding in some organizations and in society in general. There exists some level of rejection of mothers who breastfeed in public spaces.”

Raising awareness

Because some people may not be aware of women’s right to breastfeed, Fatemeh saw value in the breastfeeding decals:

“This initiative is an opportunity to promote the right of mothers to breastfeed in any space, without feeling uncomfortable and stressed. By displaying a decal, organizations can help to raise awareness and educate clients about the importance of breastfeeding for mothers and infants.”

Supporting change

Sonja felt that the decal is a useful health promotion initiative and that the students’ role in this project was itself an important catalyst for change:

“I have found this project to be both useful for our own learning and for Northern Health. Apart from our tasks in this project, we also convey the idea of breastfeeding-friendly spaces to our peers, friends, and families, thereby … serving as mediators in this promotional process.”

Shifting attitudes

Finally, through this project, Molly described a major shift in her own attitude about breastfeeding:

“As I heard participants’ views and thought about the initiative in general, my ideas of what it means to support and promote breastfeeding shifted. Now, when I see a woman breastfeeding in public (whether covered or not) I will not see it as awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, I see an example of a woman confidently engaging in a normal behaviour for the benefit of both herself and her child.”

The reflections of these three thoughtful students show the value of supporting conversations about breastfeeding. Thank you, Sonja, Fatemeh, and Molly, for your great work, and good luck in your future health promotion activities!

Do you want a breastfeeding decal for your business or organization? Submit your request.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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A sigh of relief: trusting kids to eat enough

An adorable child, with food all over it's face, smiles into the camera and holds a peanut butter and jam sandwich.

Children of all ages have the ability to regulate their food intake. The division of responsibility in feeding trusts, respects, and protects this ability.

Many parents of young children worry that their kids don’t eat enough. As a dietitian and a mother of a young child, I totally get it. We want the best for our children; we want them to be healthy and to get the nutrition they need.

Mealtime struggles

Parents and caregivers often tell me about the strategies they use to try to get kids to eat. We keep them at the table, prompt them to take a few more bites, chase them with spoons (“airplane!”), praise them when they finish their plates, negotiate with them, and entice them with dessert. It’s a lot of work. Kids often resist these efforts, and parents get frustrated. And kids are frustrated too! It’s an exhausting experience for many families.

Is there a different way?

Fortunately, yes. Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding (DOR, for short) is the recommended approach to feeding children. This approach helps prevent and manage a lot of common feeding challenges. It’s based on trusting that children of all ages are capable of determining how much to eat to grow and be well.

Adults’ roles and kids’ roles

In short, the DOR outlines adults’ roles with feeding, and kids’ roles with eating.

Adults are responsible for deciding what foods to offer, and when and where to offer them. Ideally, they would provide a variety of foods over the course of the day, offered at regular meal and snack times, in ways that support eating together. Once adults have done these pieces, their job is done.

Then, it’s up to the kids – they decide how much to eat from the foods provided, or whether to eat at any meal or snack time. Adults don’t have to do, or say, anything about how much is eaten – this is left up to the child.

Learning to trust

In my experience, at first, parents can find it hard to trust the DOR (also known as the “trust model”): “Letting kids decide how much to eat – is that a responsible thing to do? Won’t they starve?” In fact, right from birth, children can eat the amount they need to grow well. A hungry baby will let you know! And when they are satisfied, they’ll let go of the nipple, turn their head away, lose interest, and/or fall asleep. As they grow older, children continue to have the ability to regulate their food intake. The DOR is all about trusting, respecting, and protecting this ability.

A shift

It can be quite a shift to learn to trust kids to eat enough. There’s also a bit to learn about how to apply the DOR; however, in my experience, when parents and caregivers start to apply this approach, many feel a huge sense of relief. They’ve been working so hard – too hard – and they can finally take a step back, and learn to trust their children to do their part with eating. In turn, children will start to become more relaxed at meal times as well, eating the amounts they have appetite for, and (eventually) exploring a greater variety of foods.

Learn more

Interested in learning more about the division of responsibility in feeding? Consider the following resources:

It might also be helpful to connect with a dietitian:

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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The Northern Table: It sat on my kitchen counter for a year – and then I ate it

An opened spaghetti squash and the inside 'noodles' in a dish.

Spaghetti squash will keep on the counter for a lot longer than you might think!

I love vegetables that keep. I’m thinking of things like cabbages, onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, and other root vegetables. These hearty vegetables can live in our kitchens for a long time without spoiling, giving us more chances to fit them into recipes and our busy lives.

Last year I discovered that spaghetti squash can be added to the list of foods that last a REALLY long time. We had gotten quite a few squashes from our local community supported agriculture project, but I’ll admit it: I was not well versed in how to use these foods. Therefore, they sat on my counter, tucked away behind the fruit bowl, and were neglected for quite some time. Some got eaten, some spoiled, and some continued to patiently wait for their fate to be decided.

Then fall rolled around again, and with that came more freshly harvested squashes. It was then that I realized that some of the previous year’s spaghetti squashes were STILL sitting on my counter! Embarrassing, I know. So one day I thought, “Well, these can’t possibly be good anymore,” but I sliced one open just to be sure.

To my great surprise, it was… pristine. So I put it upside down in a baking dish with about an inch of water, and baked it in the oven for about 40 minutes. When I sampled it, it had a lovely texture and tasted great! I used a fork to pull the “meat” out of the shell, breaking it apart into its tell-tale “spaghetti” strings. I served it with dinner, simply dressed with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Yum!

What a forgiving, hearty vegetable! You can bet that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more spaghetti squash in the future. In the meantime, there are still two left on my counter from last fall, one of which will likely be used for a spaghetti squash “pasta” dish.

How do YOU like to eat spaghetti squash?

Read more about squash in past posts:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Milk and young children: what you need to know

A child with a cup of milk.In a recent post, I explored how milk and fortified soy beverages fit into the new food guide. Did you know that Canada’s food guide is intended for Canadians two years of age and older? Guidance for feeding infants and toddlers is more specific. Today, let’s take a closer look at feeding advice related to milk and young children.

Breastfeeding is recommended to two years and beyond

For as long as children continue to receive breast milk, they don’t need milk from cows (or goats) or other alternatives. Moms can be assured that their own milk is the best choice for their child, for as long as they and their child wish to continue breastfeeding.

Formula? When to switch to cow’s milk

Older babies who do not receive breast milk can usually switch from a store-bought infant formula to cow’s milk between 9-12 months of age (if you have questions about infant formula, speak with your healthcare provider).

Introducing animal milk

Do you want to offer your child cow’s or goat’s milk? Consider these tips:

  • Wait until your baby is 9-12 months of age and eating iron-rich foods
  • Choose a pasteurized, full-fat (homogenized or 3.25% M.F.) milk that is not flavoured or sweetened. Goat’s milk should be fortified with vitamin D.
  • Offer milk in an open cup, at meal or snack times.

Beverages to avoid for children less than two years old

Lower fat milks (i.e. 2%, 1%, and skim milk) are too low in fat and calories for young children. Plant-based beverages, such as soy, almond, rice, coconut, and hemp drinks, are also low in calories and other important nutrients. The Canadian Pediatric Society and Dietitians of Canada released a statement advising parents against providing these drinks to young children.

Fortified soy beverages are an option for older children

For children two years and older, fortified soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be an alternative to milk. If your child doesn’t drink milk, consider offering about two cups per day of an unsweetened, fortified soy beverage.

Be cautious with other plant-based beverages

Beverages made from rice, almond, coconut, oat, hemp, cashew, etc. are low in protein and many other nutrients, though some store-bought products have vitamins and minerals added into them. If you choose to provide these drinks to children two years and older, make sure that they are eating a variety of nutritious foods and are growing well. Also, choose products that are unsweetened and fortified.

The bottom line

That’s a lot of nitty-gritty details about milk and young children! The table below organizes information by age group.

Age Recommendations
0-9 months · Breastfeed your baby.

· If you do not exclusively provide breast milk to your baby, offer a store-bought infant formula.

9-24 months · Continue to breastfeed your toddler.

· At 9-12 months of age, non-breastfed toddlers can transition from formula to pasteurized whole cow’s milk (3.25% M.F.) if they are regularly eating iron-rich solid foods. Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups). Full fat goat’s milk fortified with vitamin D is also an option.

· Vegetarian babies who drink formula, who will not be receiving cow or goat’s milk, should continue to receive a follow-up soy formula until 24 months of age.

2+ years · Continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your child wish.

· Children that no longer breastfeed or who don’t breastfeed very often can be offered pasteurized cow’s milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim) or goat’s milk (fortified with vitamin D). Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups).

· Fortified soy beverages (unsweetened) also become an option at this age.

 

A dietitian can help you find ways to support your child’s nutritional needs.

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Canada’s new food guide: where did milk go?

The Canada's Food Guide and a jug of milk.In the lead up to the release of Canada’s new food guide, there was much chatter about milk, particularly around whether milk would be removed or not.

The food guide, which provides eating advice for healthy Canadians two years of age and older, was launched in January 2019 with a brand new look. The rainbow with the four food groups was replaced with a plate with three food categories: vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein foods. Something else appears to be different – a glass of water is shown with this plate. So, the question still remains: was milk wiped from the food guide?

Milk: still got it!

The new food guide features a section on the plate called protein foods, which combines foods from the older meat and alternatives, and milk and alternatives food groups. Protein foods include lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and poultry. This is also where we now find milk and products like cheese, yogurt, and kefir (fermented milk), as well as unsweetened fortified soy beverages. As the name implies, these protein foods are all good sources of protein and various related nutrients.

Milk: a nutritious beverage

So, for those of you who enjoy milk, rest assured that this nutritious beverage can continue to have a place in your diet. There are good reasons that milk has stayed in our federal dietary guidance:

  • Milk is a great source of various nutrients, such as protein, vitamin B12, and calcium.
  • In Canada, cow’s milk is also fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that is available in only a few foods.
  • Milk is also widely available and can be enjoyed with many other foods, making it an easy and versatile source of these key nutrients.

Unsweetened fortified soy beverages: also an option

What if you don’t drink milk? No worries – you can get similar nutrients from other sources. The most nutritious non-dairy drink is fortified soy beverage; in the older version of Canada’s food guide, soy beverage was listed in the milk and alternatives food group, along with milk. In the new food guide, soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be grouped with the protein foods. Unsweetened fortified versions are recommended and these are an option for Canadians two years and older (note: soy beverages are not recommended for children under two years of age).

Other plant-based beverages: not so nutritious

You might be wondering, “what about other plant-based beverages?” These include drinks made from almonds, cashews, hemp, coconut, rice, potatoes, and others.

It’s important to know what these beverages offer in the way of nutrition – it varies! In general, these drinks are poor sources of protein, containing as little as 0 or 1 gram of protein per cup. Compare that to 9 grams of protein from cow’s milk and 7 grams of protein from soy beverages. Plant-based beverages are also naturally low in many other nutrients, though some vitamins and minerals are added into commercial products that are fortified (check the labels). For some nutrient comparisons, check out this related article: Understanding Non-Dairy Beverages.

Since even fortified versions of plant-based beverages are low in protein (except soy) and many other nutrients, these drinks are not recommended for infants and toddlers. If they are offered to children over two years, careful meal planning is required to ensure that they are meeting their nutrient needs through other sources. Are you wondering what is recommended for children? Stay tuned for another blog post, coming soon: Milk and young children: What you need to know.

The bottom line

Milk continues to be a hot topic! Hopefully this article has provided clarity on how milk, fortified soy beverages, and other plant-based beverages fit within the updated food guide. That said, our diets are deeply personal, and a lot affects how and what we eat. A dietitian is a great resource and can help you choose beverages to meet your family’s nutritional needs.

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Canada’s new food guide: What Northern Health dietitians have to say

Lise Luppens holding a copy of Canada's new food guide.
Lise Luppens, Population Health Dietitian, with Canada’s new food guide.

No doubt you’ve heard: Canada’s new food guide has finally been released. With a brand new look (bye-bye rainbow!) and recommendations going beyond food choices, it has already caused quite a bit of conversation!

Wondering about Northern Health’s (NH) take on all the excitement? We polled NH dietitians to hear what they like about the new resource. Read on for what they had to say:

“I like that the new food guide emphasizes the importance of how we eat. Our relationship with food and how we enjoy our meals is as important as the nutritional quality of the foods we’re eating.” -Courtenay Hopson, Prince George

“I appreciate the clear picture on the guide. The fruits and vegetables are easily recognizable and are available in Canada. It features canned and frozen options, in addition to fresh, as at certain times of the year these can be cheaper and easier to find.” -Rebecca Fraser, Vanderhoof

“Canada’s new food guide is simple, to the point, and leaves room for each of our own unique diets – how fresh! It promotes a more normalized way of thinking about food and nutrition, and helps reassure Canadians that if they’re cooking at home and enjoying food, then they are likely eating fairly well. My takeaway? Let’s make meal times important again!” -Olivia Newton, Quesnel

“I love that the new food guide emphasizes plant-based proteins. This will have positive results for personal health, but also supports eating patterns that are more environmentally sustainable.” -Danielle Billey, Terrace

“The new food guide is practical and focuses on HOW to eat by supporting a positive eating environment. It’s important to cook and eat with others, be mindful around your eating habits, and truly enjoy your food.” -Erin Branco, Prince George

Olivia Newton holding Canada's new food guide.
Olivia Newton, NH Dietitian, with Canada’s new food guide.

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

“The new food guide focuses on how we eat, more than how much we eat, supporting clients to tailor actions based on their preferences and lifestyle. It’s about implementing small changes to enjoy a variety of healthy foods in meaningful ways.” -Amelia Gallant, Fort St. John

“I like that the new food guide emphasizes food skills and ways to minimize food waste. It also considers other environmental impacts of the foods we choose and encourages more plant-based proteins, such as pulses [the family of plants that include dried peas, dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas].” -Hannah Orfald-Clarke, Fort St. John

“The new food guide supports people to start where they are at and to make small sustainable changes. For example, ‘cook more often’ will mean different things to different people – it might mean starting to cook, cooking on the weekend, cooking every day, or cooking with your kids or grandkids more often, depending on your current practices and available resources and opportunities.” -Flo Sheppard, Terrace

“The new food guide reflects that there is no one way to eat. Enjoying food with others is important, and a wide variety of foods fit within a healthy eating pattern.” -Laurel Burton, Prince George

Well, there you have it – Northern Health dietitians think there’s quite a bit to like about the new food guide! We might also take this opportunity to remind folks that it’s a guide, and that dietitians can be great support for individuals with unique nutritional needs who would benefit from tailored recommendations.

Are you looking for support from a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Joyful eating: Northern dietitians share holiday food traditions

Robyn's nuts and bolts.
Robyn’s nuts and bolts.

Northern Health recognizes that culture and traditions are components of healthy eating, and that food is an important part of holiday celebrations. In a recent post, dietitian Amelia Gallant describes how the act of sharing a meal with others is a “true holiday gift.” For her, it creates memories, reinforces a sense of family, and makes traditions.

My family came to Canada when I was just a baby. Growing up, we didn’t maintain many Belgian traditions, nor did we adopt many Canadian ones. Perhaps because of this, I have always been intrigued by other families’ holiday food traditions. Curious, I reached out to other dietitians in Northern BC, and asked them to share their traditions. Their responses were as unique and varied as the dietitians themselves.

Ginger beef and dancing
“My family has ginger beef, rice, and salad on Christmas Eve after going to church. After supper, we sing Christmas carols and dance while my uncle and cousin play the accordion. We started this tradition a few years ago and it’s a lot of fun!”
~ Courtenay Hopson, Prince George

Jigg's dinner with turkey.
Jigg’s dinner with turkey.

Open doors and kitchen parties
“For my family in Newfoundland, the holidays are about having an open door for family and friends. We gather to eat, dance, and party in kitchens, around a plate of cookies and cake or a feed of “Jiggs Dinner” with turkey. We can expect someone to show up uninvited and in costume, with a pillowcase on their head and “rubber boots on the wrong feet.” It’s a tradition of door-to-door visiting, merriment, and a who’s-who guessing game known as “Mummering”.”
~ Amelia Gallant, Fort St. John

Digging for good fortune
“For New Year’s Eve, I love helping my mom make her famous “banitsa,” a traditional Bulgarian dish with layers of filo pastry, eggs, and feta cheese. We add small pieces of dogwood branches, or handwritten fortunes wrapped in foil. Once it’s ready, my family gathers around the table and digs in. As each fortune is found, we read it out loud, and discuss it around the table, usually with a great deal of laughter!”
~Emilia Moulechkova, Terrace

Fondue and friends
“We have a fondue with friends. We usually do an oil fondue with vegetables and steak; they organize a cheese and bread fondue. We spend a few hours doing fondue and talking. It is delicious and very cozy! Afterwards, we exchange presents that we save to open on Christmas day.” 
~ Olivia Jebbink, Prince George

Flo's cinnamon buns.
Flo’s cinnamon buns.

Cinnamon buns to share
“I spend Christmas Eve making cinnamon buns, which we drop off to friends with baking instructions for the next morning. I appreciate knowing that my friends are enjoying cinnamon buns on Christmas morning, just as we are in our house. Every year I do a bit of a twist – last year it was tropical cinnamon buns, the year before it was Nutella-stuffed buns. I am still deciding for this year!”
~ Flo Sheppard, Terrace

A snack passed down through generations
“My family only prepares ‘nuts and bolts’ in December. My brother and I always measured the ingredients, while Dad prepared the secret sauce. This recipe has been passed down through many generations, each adding their own touch. This year, I finally made the ‘Turner Classic,’ after finding the original recipe in my great-great-grandmother’s recipe book!”
~ Robyn Turner, Vanderhoof

Honouring Mom and Dad
“To celebrate my Dad’s Ukranian heritage, we always eat a Ukranian meal on Christmas Eve, including perogies, cabbage rolls, and borsht. We also always have birthday cake after Christmas dinner (and sometimes for breakfast the next day, too!) as my Mom is a Christmas baby.”
~ Lindsay Van der Meer, Prince George

I love each of these stories. While they showcase a variety of foods, preparation methods, and people with whom to celebrate, they all highlight the joy in sharing food and traditions. Now that I have a young family of my own, I reflect on what traditions I’d like to build into our holiday celebrations – clearly, so much is possible!

This holiday season, with what kinds of food traditions will you celebrate?

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Nutrition and breastfeeding: Are we sending the right message?

As a dietitian, I aim to stay abreast of up-to-date nutrition information. Some topics surprise me, and cause me to rethink my approach. I am realizing that information about nutrition and breastfeeding can send the wrong message, even though it might be well intentioned.

breastfeeding mom on picnic bench

There is no need for a special or restrictive “breastfeeding diet.”

Does breastfeeding require a special diet?

Online, we can find suggestions for foods that moms should or shouldn’t eat when they are breastfeeding. Mothers probably hear this advice from family, friends, and others, too. Unfortunately, this suggests that moms need to follow a special diet in order for their milk to meet their babies’ needs. Not only is this untrue, this myth can cause stress for mothers and families. It can also create a barrier to breastfeeding. Mothers want the best for their babies, and this informs the choices they make. And some mothers wonder, “Is there is enough nutrition in my breast milk?”

Mothers’ milk is amazing

I am happy to share good news. Even if she isn’t always eating well, a mother’s milk will generally be nutritious and the best choice for her baby. Did you know that the level of many nutrients in a mother’s milk are not affected by what she eats? What’s in her milk primarily comes from her body’s nutrient stores. As a result, her milk is a reliable source of calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and other nutrients, despite day-to-day variability in her diet. Her milk also offers so much more than just nutrients. It also supplies unique immune factors, stem cells, hormones, and enzymes – and her baby can’t get that from any other food. Amazing!

What guidance can we offer breastfeeding mothers?

There aren’t a lot of dietary do’s and don’ts for breastfeeding mothers; no special diet is required. As with other women of childbearing age, with the goal of supporting their own health, breastfeeding moms are encouraged to:

  • Choose foods from each of the food groups of Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Aim for two servings per week of fatty fish that is low in mercury, such as salmon, herring, and sardines. Canned fish can be a nutritious and economical choice.
  • Continue to take a multivitamin supplement, such as a prenatal vitamin.
  • Follow cues of thirst, hunger, and fullness to decide how much to eat and drink.

Some breast milk nutrient levels do fluctuate with mom’s food intake, namely certain vitamins and fatty acids. This is where the multivitamin and attention to fish intake can be helpful. Also, because we live in the north, we recommend a vitamin D supplement for breastfed children.

Other things that might be helpful to know:

  • You don’t have to drink milk to make milk.
  • A cup or two of coffee or tea each day is just fine.
  • Teas made from food products or the following herbs are generally safe: bitter orange/orange peel, echinacea, peppermint, red raspberry leaf, rose hip, and rosemary.
  • There’s no need to avoid spicy foods, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, citrus fruit, fish, sushi, soft cheeses, or other dairy products.
  • Avoiding specific foods for the purpose of preventing allergies in infants is not advised. For more information, see HealthLink BC’s resource: Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in Your Baby.
  • In cases where mothers or babies have unique nutritional concerns, a dietitian or other knowledgeable health care provider may be able to help.
  • Some families may benefit from additional supports to access food (see General & Health Supplements or BC211).

The bottom line

Breastfeeding moms can feel confident that their babies are getting great nutrition, and there is no need for a special or restrictive “breastfeeding diet.”

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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We asked, you answered: Northern Health staff weigh in on how to eat together

Family meals. Eating together. Sharing food. We know it’s important – in fact, a variety of previous posts on this blog discuss how eating together supports overall health. However, busy schedules can make it hard to gather at meal times. For some of us, a mention of “family meals” can lead to feelings of guilt. What to do?

A screenshot of a Northern Health staff poll about eating together.In a recent post, dietitian Laurel describes how food connects us, and she emphasizes that we can achieve this in small, baby steps. In honour of “Eat Together Day” (June 22nd), we polled Northern Health staff about how they could fit eating together into their busy schedules. An amazing 171 staff members responded – check out their responses on the right.

Breakfast is not where it’s at … or is it?
As the results trickled in, it became clear that getting together for breakfast was not the top pick; only 5% of respondents chose this option. Mornings can be hectic, and if that’s your reality, you might like Carly’s take on busy morning breakfasts or Marianne’s grab-and-go breakfast ideas. However, for some families, gathering in the morning might be easier than at dinnertime, with less pressure to accommodate kids’ activities or early bedtimes.

It’s snack time!
People are looking for realistic ways to connect around food. This might explain why the most popular response to our poll was “bring a snack to share,” with 25% of respondents choosing this option. Sharing a meal may not always be possible, but sharing a snack could be; it can be nutritious, quick to prepare and support connections with others. It might be a simple plate of cheese and crackers, or veggies with hummus dip, and an invite to those who can to join together for 10 minutes. If this appeals to you, check out healthy snacks for adults or Carly’s take on summertime patio snacking.

Shall we do lunch?
The first runner up in our poll, at 23%, was “gather with work colleagues for lunch.” We have meal breaks built into our work days and can use that time to gather. Even when we each bring our own lunches, there is value in eating together. The occasional work potluck would allow for sharing the same food as well. For inspiration, see Flo’s tips for eating well at work.

A selection of snacks on a table.

A selection of snacks that staff at the Terrace health unit recently shared on a morning break – a great example of bringing a snack to share and gathering around food during the workday!

Your turn or mine?
What about sharing the work of meal preparation? In our poll, 19% of respondents selected “take turns hosting with friends or neighbours.” If you’re thinking about hosting, consider one-pot meals like chili, casserole, or lasagna, where leftovers can be used for lunches or quick dinners. Consider asking others to make a salad, side dish or dessert. Alternatively, throw meal planning to the wind and host a potluck instead!

Let’s get outside
A few respondents were keen on gathering outside for a meal or packing dinner “picnic” style. These options allow us to enjoy the warmer weather and work around summer activities. If that’s up your alley, check out Marianne’s summer salads for sharing and Laurel’s delicious thirst quenching drinks.

The verdict
Eating together doesn’t need to be elaborate; it’s really just about gathering together at a meal or snack time. It can look different from day to day, and from person to person. Our poll of Northern Health staff emphasized that different things will work for different people. What about you? How do you make time to eat together with others?

Feeling inspired? Read more about fitting meals into busy schedules:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Down at the farm: Community Supported Agriculture

Summer is here! Amongst the many things to look forward to at this time of year is… Wednesday. Why Wednesday, you might ask? Well, this is when we take a weekly trip down to the farm and pick up our allotment of locally grown foods from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. This is the fourth year that my family and I have enthusiastically participated in the Skeena Valley CSA.

What is a CSA?

A CSA is a partnership between farmers and community members, which reduces risk to farmers and thereby supports local agriculture. Participants pay the farmer(s) in advance, providing them with the financial capital needed to plant, grow and harvest food for the season. In turn, participants enjoy local foods harvested throughout the growing sechopped rhubarb sitting on a table.ason. In our case, we receive weekly food allotments for about 20 weeks, from late May through to early October.

What food do we get from the CSA?

Every week, we are supplied with a variety of food items. In Terrace, it’s still early in the growing season, and at this time of year we tend to receive a combination of fresh produce, preserved items from the previous year, and other unique offerings. For example, a recent allotment included potatoes, jam, fresh lettuce, field flowers, lovage, lamb’s quarters, dried mint tea, eggs, raw honey and a bag of miso paste (produced by a local chef). Later in the season we will see dozens of other foods items, likely including cucumbers, tomatoes, berries, zucchini, cabbage, corn, apples and squashes.

What do we like about participating in the CSA?

There is so much I appreciate about being part of the CSA. For one, I am always impressed with the diversity of food items that we receive, and it is great exposure to what can be grown and harvested locally. Sometimes we receive foods that are unfamiliar to us: What, for example, do we do with “lamb’s quarters”? (Curious? Check out Emilia’s post about these leafy greens!)

I also like being able to dabble in seasonal food preparation. We can certainly preserve some of our CSA foods for later use, such as the rhubarb that I chopped up and fired into the freezer for future reincarnations into rhubarb muffins, rhubarb crumbles, or rhubarb iced tea (yes, it’s a thing). On the other hand, some of these items won’t keep well, so we have to be quite intentional and creative in incorporating these fresh and sometimes unfamiliar foods into our meals. Last week, I made a colourful salad with fresh lettuce, field flowers (totally edible!), and lamb’s quarters, mixed with chopped green cabbage and a miso dressing. It was crunchy and delicious!festive summer veggies and leaves in a wood bowl.

The CSA is also great for kids!

I love bringing my toddler to the farm. There are a few chickens, rabbits, and lambs on site, which is a curiosity for those of us who don’t have animals at home. More than that, however, on the farm we also get exposure to local agriculture, more than we do at the grocery store, or local farmers’ market. It’s rewarding to hear my daughter say, in relation to something we are eating, “Did this come from the farm?”

How about you? What opportunities do you and your family have to engage with the local food system? What are some of your favourite locally harvested foods?

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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