Healthy Living in the North

Learning to trust: Northern Health dietitians share stories about feeding their children

A young, smiling boy wearing polar bear pyjamas and sitting at a kitchen table holds a spoon up to his nose.Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding (sDOR) is a best-practice approach that helps to prevent and manage common childhood feeding problems. It’s based on the understanding that, within the structure of regular meals and snacks, children have the ability to eat the amounts they need to grow well and be well. We introduced sDOR in a previous post: A sigh of relief: Trusting kids to eat enough.

At first glance, sDOR sounds so simple. Adults’ roles are to decide what food to offer, and when and where to offer it. Kids’ roles are to decide whether and how much to eat from the foods provided. However, using this approach involves some learning! I reached out to dietitian colleagues and asked them to share how they learned to trust their children with eating through sDOR. Their insights are so helpful!

Keeping a regular meal and snack routine

“To trust my toddler to eat as much as she needs, I have to do my part in keeping a good meal and snack routine. When I am not so good at hitting snack times, she is hungry, upset, won’t eat, and just cries until I nurse her. It has also been helpful to remember that, while she might not eat a lot in one sitting, she gets a variety over the course of a few days.”
-Anna Kandola, Mackenzie

A young girl stands in her kitchen, biting the end of a large carrot, while a red heeler dog stands behind her.Being considerate without catering

“It’s challenging when my little one chooses not to eat anything at all at a meal or snack, or when he refuses an item he previously enjoyed. It’s tempting to go to the fridge and cupboard to offer all kinds of things to try to get him to eat. I have learned to stick to the foods I have offered and to not cater to him – this is still hard! I also make a point of always offering a few familiar foods at a meal time, especially when there are new foods.”
-Darcie Bergeron, Prince George

It takes time and patience

“What has helped me the most is seeing how she oh-so-gradually (like painfully gradually) has started to increase the types of foods she eats when she dishes up herself. I knew it could take a LONG time for kids to become more adventurous eaters. In my mind one year was a long time – not nine years! I wish someone could have told me how long.”
-Carmen Maddigan, Fort St. John

Ensuring all caregivers are on board

“The sDOR made sense to me. My husband was on board, too (although he at first believed in the “one bite rule,” but then realized this was not necessary). All care providers need to follow the same feeding philosophy for this to work. In our house, meal times are pleasant; there are no arguments about what the kids have or have not eaten.”
-Christine Geier, Terrace

A young toddler boy sits in high chair with a plate of a various foods in front of him while he munches on a piece of Hawaiian pizza.Responding to criticism

“Some relatives have been critical of our approach. Being a dietitian has helped me to be more comfortable standing my ground on how we choose to feed our daughter. I respectfully remind them that she is capable of letting us know when she has had enough to eat. That can vary drastically from meal to meal, and from day to day.”
-Lindsay Vandermeer, Prince George

Dealing with our own anxieties

“For me, trusting my child to know how much to eat has been directly related to my own anxieties. Instead of fostering trust, anxiety changes the situation to one of trying to control my child’s eating, and this in turn sows seeds of anxiety in her. I am learning to recognize my anxiety, deal with it, and trust that my daughter will find her way. It takes time. I have to forgive myself – I am also a work in progress!”
-Judy April, Dawson Creek

Take-aways

Thank you to these dietitians for sharing their stories about feeding their children! They emphasized focusing on our roles with feeding and trusting kids to do their parts with eating. It takes courage, especially in the face of criticism from others. We also see the value of be consistent, of time and patience, and of dealing with our own anxieties around feeding.

Learn more about Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding:

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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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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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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Northern Table: Canada’s food guide and plant-based proteins

A cauliflower and bean taco is shown.

The new Canada’s food guide suggests eating more plant-based proteins (like this cauliflower-bean taco), and less meat.

There’s been a lot of buzz about plant-based proteins lately! The new Canada’s food guide encourages Canadians to enjoy a variety of foods, and to choose proteins that come from plants more often. This includes foods such as:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Products made from these foods, like hummus, tofu, nut butters, and fortified soy beverages

In a previous blog post, Amelia Gallant shared some great tips and recipes, and discussed the benefits of eating more plant-based proteins. She also pointed out that plant-based eating means different things to different people, and that it doesn’t mean having to forgo all meat or dairy products. For most people, taking small steps to include more of these foods will be a more enjoyable and sustainable approach.

What might this might look like in real life? I asked a few Northern Health colleagues to share what eating plant-based proteins means for them. Here’s what they had to say:

Partial or full substitutes for meat

“For our family, it means adding lentils with our rice in the rice cooker (only split lentils, otherwise it won’t cook in time!), using tofu in saucy dishes, and adding beans and lentils in soups, stews, or pasta to partially or fully substitute for meat. We’ve found that by using plant-based proteins, you can have meat more for flavouring rather than bulk, which helps expenses and the environment.” – Scott Christie, Environmental Health Officer

Not what I grew up with

“I’ve started to use more beans – black bean brownies, mashed black beans with ground meats to add volume, black eyed peas in stews. Most of these were not served when I was growing up in southern Ontario. I remember … meat and potatoes kind of meals.” – Valerie Preston, Regional Administration Support

Not just for vegetarians

“I’m certainly not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy plant-based proteins and serve them for my daughters as well. I started doing this originally for economic reasons, but found that I enjoy the taste and texture differences. I particularly enjoy hummus, natural peanut butter, tofu, chickpea and lentil soups, chia seeds, and hemp hearts.” – Nathan Hoffart, Speech Language Pathologist

An opportunity to try new things

“For me, it means tasty opportunities to be creative and try new things, as well as enjoy some old favourites. One of our current favourites is roasted cauliflower and lentil tacos. We also like modifying family favourites (e.g., lentil shepherd’s pie), making small modifications (e.g., red lentils to spaghetti sauce, beans or nuts on top of salad), and enjoying old favourites (e.g., peanut butter smeared on apple slices, baked beans, pea soup, etc.)” – Flo Sheppard, Registered Dietitian

Learning as a family

“For my family, it involves meal planning and finding inspiration in cookbooks and websites, and asking others for recipe ideas. I like to involve my two children in different ways … as I find this increases the chance that they will try and enjoy a variety of plant-based foods.” – Dana Vigneault, Regional Nursing Lead, Injury Prevention

What strikes me most about these quotes is that people value plant-based proteins for much more than just their nutritional benefits. We heard:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Environmental impact
  • Budget
  • The opportunity to try new things and teach new skills

Now, it’s your turn! Tell us what eating plant-based proteins means to you?

For more blog posts that explore the new Canada’s Food guide, see:

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Northern Table: Plant-based sources of iron

A hand holds a plate of Moroccan lentils on rice and broccoli.

Many health organizations are suggesting that you should eat more plant-based proteins, like this dish of Moroccan Lentils, brown rice, and broccoli.

Do you pay attention to how much iron you consume? Most people don’t, but many health organizations are urging people to choose plant-based proteins more often, and this could mean taking a closer look at where your iron comes from.

Iron is a very important mineral that carries oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency can include fatigue, a weakened immune system, and difficulty regulating body temperature.

There are two types of iron:

  • Heme iron, which is found in animal products like meat and seafood.
  • Non-heme iron, which is from plants.

Non-heme iron doesn’t get absorbed as well, so people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diets need to consume almost twice the recommended amount of iron as people who eat meat. Also, women need more than twice the amount of iron than men, and pregnant women need even more!

The best way to make sure you’re getting enough iron is to include a good source of iron at each meal and snack. Other than the small amount of iron in a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, it’s important not to take an iron supplement unless you’ve received a diagnosis of iron deficiency and have spoken to your doctor.

You can find iron in a variety of plant foods. Some of the staples in my diet include:

  • Dried apricots, tomato paste, and greens (for instance: spinach, kale, and beet greens)
  • Oatmeal, bran, and iron-fortified cereal
  • Edamame, tofu, lentils, beans, chickpeas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and tahini
  • Blackstrap molasses

If you’re trying to increase your iron intake, it’s important to squeeze in extra iron wherever you can:

  • Sprinkle savoury dishes with sesame seeds.
  • Use peanut butter and tahini to create a sauce or dressing.
  • Use blackstrap molasses in place of some of the maple syrup or honey in baking.
  • Include a variety of fruits and vegetables with each meal.
  • Use onions and garlic frequently in your cooking. Onions and garlic can increase absorption of iron.
  • Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron.

There are many factors (other than intake of dietary iron) that can affect your iron levels. If you have questions about how much iron you should be consuming or if you think you might be iron deficient, speak with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian.

Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

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Northern Table: Getting my feet wet in the kitchen

This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 Northern Health: Health and Wellness in the North magazine.

A table, full of Vietnamese dishes.

Lan’s Mom’s cooking — complex and with many different ingredients.

What would you do if you were shooed out of the kitchen?

You might stay out.

Growing up, my place in the house was anywhere but the kitchen. I always seemed to be in the way or, as my mother put it, “doing things too slowly.”

My mom worked full time, but still managed the household and whipped up delicious meals in a jiffy.

My early childhood was spent in Vietnam, and food is an important part of my life; family meals and gatherings define the Vietnamese culture.

Vietnam is a tropical country with an abundance of vibrant, fresh produce that’s available year-round. One of my fondest memories is going to the outdoor markets every morning with my grandmother to pick out food for the day (in Vietnam, daily shopping is popular because it guarantees freshness and minimizes waste).

When we moved to Canada, daily shopping was no longer possible, as time was limited. As well, many of the foods and spices we ate in Vietnam weren’t available.

What did my mother do? She created her own mouth-watering dishes from the ingredients that were available. She called them “Vietnamese-inspired.”

Every time I asked her how she made a dish, she’d shrug and tell me she just threw it together. I assumed cooking came naturally to her, and that I’d never be a cook.

Fast forward to university: I was living away from home and missed Vietnamese food. Not having much experience, I was intimidated by the thought of cooking. I was overwhelmed by the steps and techniques, and by having to familiarize myself with an endless list of spices and seasonings that I couldn’t even pronounce.

However, I learned that if you want it badly enough, almost anything is possible.

It took some time for me to be more comfortable in the kitchen. I started out by stocking my little kitchen with salt, pepper, and fish sauce — the Holy Grail sauce of Vietnamese cooking.

A plate of cucumbers, a omelette dish, and a glass of water are pictured.

Lan’s simpler style of Vietnamese cooking.

Slowly but surely, my time in the kitchen yielded semi-edible foods and a growing confidence. Meals from my kitchen were simple: steamed rice, boiled veggies, and steamed chicken with fish sauce.

In the beginning, I often phoned my mom for help, which, as a by-product, also helped deepen our relationship.

Through many “learning opportunities,” I’m now at a point where I can navigate the kitchen without setting off the smoke detector!

Although my cooking is simple, I enjoy it. I’m still learning and excited to grow through this process.

My goal is to be able to re-create some authentic Vietnamese dishes, because food is such an important part of my identity, and I want to preserve that.

My tips for budding cooks:

  • Start simple – try a recipe with less than seven ingredients.
  • Stock your kitchen with basic ingredients. For me, that included rice, veggies, a few key spices, and fish sauce. It might be different for you.
  • Recognize that things might not turn out the way you’d hoped. One way to get around this is to use recipes from trusted sources. And if you fail, just try again!
  • Ask for help – call your relatives or friends.
  • Make cooking social – cook with friends or family.

Becoming a confident and competent cook doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be too harsh on yourself — you can always try again tomorrow. I know it sounds cheesy, but if I can do it, I really believe that you can too!

Lan Nguyen

About Lan Nguyen

Lan is a dietetic intern at the University of British Columbia who just completed a 10-month internship with Northern Health. She enjoys learning about food and what it means to others. Lan hopes a career in dietetics will allow her to support people to achieve their best health in a culturally respectful manner.

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Moving and eating well on road trips

Lasalle Lake is pictured. There's a floating dock in the lake, and forest and mountains in the background.

The view of Lasalle Lake — a beautiful way to break up the trip between Prince George and Valemount!

Even though it feels like summer is flying by, it’s only mid-August, and there’s still plenty of summer-road-trip time before the weather turns! I love me a road trip: the conversation that arises from being in a car with someone for hours; the tunes and the awful, off-key karaoke; and all of the stops along the way!

Those stops are generally for any combination of food, scenery, or a bio-break, but there’s also a great health benefit. After hours of sitting, it’s important to move! The same concerns that you hear around sedentary workplaces and lifestyles apply to long-distance travel. While it’s great to get to your destination ASAP, sitting less and moving more is always a good choice.

Admittedly, I’m not great at making the kinds of stops that make for positive heath impacts, but my wife loves to get out and enjoy the scenery. Recently, before heading home to Prince George from Valemount, she asked a local if there was a good lake to stop at on our route home. He told us to check out Lasalle Lake, and it was gorgeous! On top of enjoying a stunning view, stopping gave us a chance to get some steps in (time that we counted towards the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week), have a stretch, and take a swim before carrying on. That stop added a nice “bonus” memory to the trip too! And it was as easy as asking someone, followed by a quick search on Google Maps. Just remember to always choose a location that suits your fitness level.

I also find planning to stop at an outdoor location challenges us to pack a lunch in a cooler, which usually ends up being healthier than the fast food options on the side of the highway. We usually do sandwiches, but sometimes we treat ourselves to a little meat and cheese board (nom-nom-nom!). Regardless of how healthy we pack, we always feel less rushed and enjoy our food more when we’ve found a nice spot to relax. As the primary driver, I always feel more refreshed and in a better headspace for driving too.

Do you have a favourite place to stop between destinations? What’s in your picnic basket when you stop for lunch? Let me know in the comments below, and safe travels!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.

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How’s your nutrition quality of life?

A picture of pureed foods, piped to look floral and more appetizing.

Improving the nutrition quality of life of people with swallowing problems, who have to eat pureed foods, can include making their restriction not feel like a restriction. Making eating pleasurable again. Creator of the meal and picture credit: Martina Kaut.

Canada is ranked as one of the best countries in the world to live because of the quality of life we enjoy (and yes, we still have problems to solve so that all Canadians enjoy the same quality life), but have you heard of “nutrition quality of life?”

Nutrition and chronic health conditions

Nutrition quality of life refers to how a person is affected (mentally, physically, spiritually, socially, and culturally) when they have to change their way of eating because of a chronic health condition like:

  • Celiac disease
  • Constipation
  • Diabetes
  • Food allergies
  • Gout
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • Kidney disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Swallowing problems
  • …the list goes on

Food can go from being a pleasure, to a source of worry and concern. As dietitians, we often have people come to us, asking in desperation, “what can I eat?!?”

Changing my way of eating

I developed an intolerance to dairy foods later in life and had to start avoiding many foods I loved, like ice cream, cheese, and chocolate — need I say more!?! This affected my nutrition quality of life in a number of ways:

  • Missing my comfort foods — I love ice cream. I’ve got great memories of going to Dairy Queen as a kid and watching as they dispensed the soft ice cream from the machine and pilled it high on the flat-bottomed cones. Or stopping on a family road trip at a little ice cream shop with flavours like Tiger Tail – something I’d never had anywhere else. What a great licorice flavour! As I write this I am transported back to those moments and can still feel the excitement! I miss being able to spontaneously buy ice cream with my family and re-live some of those good memories.
  • Missing out socially — We gather around food, a lot! Food is a great way to connect, but when you have a food intolerance you have to decline a lot of the food people offer. It can feel uncomfortable because you don’t want to appear “fussy” or hard to please. Sometimes the discomfort may lead me to not participate in events that are centred around food.
  • I’m spending more of my time thinking about food — Because of my condition, I spend extra time meal planning, reading food labels, grocery shopping, and cooking and freezing meals. Having safe food to eat takes time, but this means I have less time to do other things I enjoy, like relaxing and being in nature.

I’ve developed a few strategies that have helped me improve my nutrition quality of life:

  • Finding the positives — I try not to think of my food intolerance as a restriction. As soon as my brain says, “you can’t eat that!” I get frustrated, angry even. Instead, I see it as a choice. I’m choosing foods that will help me feel better, that help me cope with the limitation. In the long run, I know cooking from scratch will likely be a good thing. I also find purpose in helping others with food intolerances by sharing recipe ideas, strategies on cooking ahead, and where to shop.
  • Practicing self-compassion — No one can do this like the textbook tells you to – I’m not always going to plan ahead, and cook and freeze meals. Sometimes I’ll eat very processed non-dairy foods, knowing it’s not the “best” food quality, but I don’t worry about it. I understand that my condition is difficult to manage at times. There is no “perfect” when it comes to eating and life!

Finding support — For me, support from others – my family, friends, and online communities – has been the biggest help for living well. Sharing the burden of the day-to-day challenges is helpful, but finding support is not always easy. If you feel alone and need extra support, why not ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian? BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, or by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.

Judy April

About Judy April

Judy works in Dawson Creek as a dietitian. A true northerner, she grew up just 75 km away in Fort St. John. She still wonders why the winters are so long but seems to forget when the long summer days arrive and she can go out in her garden at 10 o’clock at night without a flashlight! She’s a person who loves variety in life and at the table!

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Northern Table: About those “meaty” veggie burgers…

A hand holds a meaty-looking plant-based burger.

“Meaty” veggie burgers are offered at many popular restaurants and are made by a variety of food companies.

I’ve never really liked veggie burgers. You know the ones I’m talking about? They typically consist of a mixture of mashed vegetables and beans. They can be soggy, lacking in flavour, and leave you wanting more. That’s why I was excited and intrigued to see the recent rise in popularity of the “meaty” veggie burger. These patties are manufactured by a variety of food companies and offered at many popular restaurants. They’re meant to look and taste like meat and appeal to the masses, not just to vegans.

As a plant-based eater, I was very excited to see this trend gaining popularity. I was glad to have more appealing options to choose from when on a road trip or invited to a friend’s house for a BBQ. However, as a dietitian, I’m frequently asked what I think about these new burger options and if a processed veggie patty is really healthier than a less processed meat patty.

The answer can be complicated.

We know a whole food, plant-based diet is healthier for our bodies than a diet rich in animal products. No, this doesn’t mean you have to be vegan. Instead, the new Canada’s Food Guide emphasizes the importance of choosing plant-based protein sources more often.

So, does that mean these new veggie burgers are healthier than their beef counterparts? Not necessarily.

Most patties are heavily processed and contain added salt, oil, and other preservatives to keep them fresh and give them that meaty look and taste. They may contain peas, lentils, or soy, but they’re not considered “whole foods,” which is what Canada’s Food Guide recommends.

From an environmental standpoint, veggie burgers are likely a better choice. Recent studies show that veggie burgers use less land and water, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions during their production.

It’s always difficult to say if a particular food item is healthy or not. If you ask a dietitian, they’ll often answer: “it depends.” Keep these points in mind when choosing the right option for you:

  • Are you looking to make changes in your diet to reduce your environmental impact or are you making changes in other areas of your life?
  • What tastes best to you? What will you enjoy most?
  • What options are available to you in your area?
  • How frequently are you choosing processed foods, prepared outside of the home?

Remember, cooking at home with whole foods is always a healthy choice! So, I’ll wrap up by challenging you to learn how to cook and prepare a plant-based protein for you and your family this week. And feel free to tell me how it went in the comments!

Whichever patty you choose, enjoy it!

Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

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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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