Healthy Living in the North

Making friends with food for your health

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Winter 2018 edition on Healthy Relationships. Read the full issue here.)

Rilla Reardon holding fruit, standing with a photo that says "Celebrating our Natural Sizes."

When we think about healthy relationships, most of us think about our marriage or our relationship with our kids, but do you ever consider your relationship with food? We live in a world where it’s pretty easy to have negative thoughts about what and how we eat. We are bombarded with messages about diets, “good” or “bad” foods, and should/should-nots when it comes to our eating choices. Healthy eating brings to mind visions of perfectly portioned, balanced meals, prepped and packed snacks, and not a cookie or chip in sight.

But what if healthy eating was about more than nutrition? Let’s expand our thoughts on healthy eating to include something that affects our psychological, emotional and social health just as much as our physical health: building a healthy relationship with food.

What is a healthy relationship with food?

This looks different for everyone, but it’s a place where we are at peace with food. Food is more than providing your body with energy and nutrition, it also represents enjoyment, fun, family, culture, and experience. A healthy relationship with food allows us to eat for all of these reasons, without feelings of guilt. It includes ALL foods. It’s where we are practicing self-compassion when it comes to our eating habits, and letting go of perfection.

I’ve worked as a registered dietitian with Northern Health for five years, and seen first-hand the many ways that people struggle with eating. Whether it’s emotional eating, yo-yo dieting, struggling to keep a change, or low self-esteem related to our eating choices, I always encourage moving the conversation past “what I should be eating/not eating” to “why am I eating the way I am?” The majority of our decisions about food throughout the day aren’t necessarily about nutrition and physical hunger; what about habit, cravings, emotions, boredom, reward, etc.? If we only talk about nutrition in discussions about change, we aren’t addressing all the factors that play into our decisions about food. Examining our relationship with food and looking at the reasons behind WHY we are eating allows us to build a foundation for sustainable and positive change to our eating habits and behaviors.

Intuitive eating might be for you!

So, how do you build a positive relationship with food? Start with intuitive eating! Intuitive eating is an approach that helps us listen to our internal cues like hunger, fullness, and satisfaction to make decisions about what, when, and how much food to eat. As adults we are influenced by external cues like time of day, diets, food rules, and other messages about how to eat. Intuitive eating takes the focus off these external cues to help us learn to trust our bodies and be comfortable with our eating. It takes time to learn and master a new way of thinking about food and eating.

To get started, here are the first four principles of intuitive eating:

1. Reject the diet mentality. We live in a world that is obsessed with dieting. However, 95% of diets fail.  Get rid of diet books and magazines, unfollow “fitspiration” Instagram accounts, and opt out of conversations about diets and weight loss.

2. Honour your hunger. Keep your body nourished with regular, balanced meals and snacks. If you let yourself get too hungry, you may trigger a primal drive to overeat and override mindful decisions about food. Eating regularly and adequately helps establish the foundation to re-build trust in your relationship with food.

3. Make peace with food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat what and how much of foods that you like and want. When you tell yourself you shouldn’t eat certain foods, it contributes to feelings of deprivation that can lead to intense cravings.

4. Challenge the food police. Stop labelling food as “good” or “bad.” These labels give us messages that we are “good” for eating “good” foods and “bad” for eating “bad” foods, and sets the stage for having emotional reactions to food that cloud our internal cues for hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Giving ourselves permission to eat for many different reasons (for enjoyment, social interaction, comfort, or just because, etc.) allows us to begin to trust our bodies to be able to make choices about food that make sense for us.

Additional Resources

To learn more about building a healthy relationship with food and intuitive eating, work with a Registered Dietitian, sign up for a program like Craving Change™ (see below), or check out some of these resources:

What is Craving Change?

Craving Change is a free group program offered in Prince George designed to help people build a better relationship with food. It is a five week workshop facilitated by a registered dietitian and nurse that aims to help people understand WHY they eat the way they do, and provides awareness building tools and change strategies to help people change their thinking in order to build positive eating relationships.

Designed for adults who:

  • Struggle to maintain healthy eating habits
  • Say they eat for comfort or in response to strong feelings
  • Want to feel more in control of their eating

How to sign up for Craving Change:

Craving Change is open to the public and sign up is by self-referral. It is currently being offered four times per year in Prince George. Please call 250-565-7479 and ask to be put on the Craving Change waitlist.

Rilla Reardon

About Rilla Reardon

Rilla is a Registered Dietitian working for Northern Health since 2013. Rilla moved to northern BC from the east coast to continue developing her skills as a dietitian in a clinical setting while enjoying all that the north has to offer. Outside of work, she can be found experimenting in the kitchen or navigating the trails around Prince George with her dog, Henry. Rilla channels her passion for nutrition into practice, inspiring others to nourish their bodies, minds and souls with delicious and healthy food!

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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 team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Foodie Friday: Microwave Baking—can you have your cake and eat it too?

The final product for the chocolate mug cake recipe.

The holidays are a festive time. Usually there is no shortage of goodies to choose from: cookies, chocolates, nuts, gingerbread, to name a few. But can sweets be part of a healthy way of eating? When we look at the larger picture of health, I believe sweets can be included. 

The irony of labelling foods as “bad” or “good” is that it can create a strained relationship with food. We can get trapped into feeling great when we’re eating all the “good” food but guilty when we eat something that is identified as less healthy, like sweets. The Ellyn Satter Institute, which is founded on evidenced-informed approaches, suggests another approach, called eating competency.

They list five steps to wellness based on eating competence:

  1. Take time to eat. Have family meals and snacks between times made up of foods you enjoy and give yourself permission to eat. You will gradually get bored with the same-old and seek additional foods to enjoy.  
  2. Eat food you enjoy. Use fat, sugar, and salt to make your meals and snacks tasty and rewarding. You will eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods because you enjoy them, not because you have to. You will also eat less sugar, salt, and fat. 
  3. Include your sugary beverages and “forbidden foods” at meals and snacks. Compared with munching and sipping alone, you will consume less fat and sugar (and be kind to your teeth). 
  4. Address saturated fat by using a variety of fats. This includes things like butter, cream and gravy; margarine and mayonnaise; olive, canola oil, corn, or soybean oil. 
  5. Let your body weigh what it wants to weigh. Evidence shows that weight stability supports health; weight yo-yoing doesn’t. 

It’s in that spirit I am sharing a recipe that can be included as part of a healthy approach to eating, and it continues my series of recipes that I discovered in my search for easy microwave dishes. I found this recipe on the Internet and altered it to be cow milk-free because milk and I don’t get along. For someone who can’t eat all the lovely milk chocolate that’s around this time of year, this recipe gave me a simple, chocolatey dessert to satisfy my chocolate craving! 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mug Cake

Servings: one or share it with a friend!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup white flour
  • 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk or milk substitute – I used oat milk, at room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (or milk free margarine), melted and cooled
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon creamy peanut butter (you only have to hang out with me for a day before you realize I love peanut butter! If you’re not a peanut butter fan, leave it out or add a tablespoon of chocolate or caramel syrup instead)

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and baking powder (I like to put the cocoa through a sieve before I mix it with the flour. This breaks up any lumps that can be hard to break up when you add the wet ingredients).
  • Mix wet ingredients: milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Mix with dry ingredient into a smooth batter. 
  • Now you need to find a mug. It needs to be at least 400 mL (14 oz) so when the cake bakes it does not overflow the edges. You can serve your dessert right in the mug but if you want to serve the cake on a plate, grease the inside of the mug with a bit of oil and choose a mug with straight side so the cake comes out easily after baking.
  • Place the batter into the mug and add the tablespoon of peanut butter. Try to bury the peanut butter into the chocolate batter.
  • Cook in the microwave for one minute on high. Let it sit for one minute and then cook it again for one minute. It will be very hot so take care when removing it from the microwave. Let it cool for at least five minutes. Loosen the sides of the cake from the mug with a knife and turn it onto a serving plate. Cut it open and let the peanut butter melt onto the plate for an impressive look! Serve with a little ice cream, whipped cream, or just as is!

Enjoy the holidays! Give this chocolatey mug cake a try and share it with others! Some of the best memories happen around food!

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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Feeding patients: it’s all about teamwork

When I was younger, certain foods seemed “yucky” to me – brussel sprouts, for example– even though I’d never tried them. I couldn’t explain why, but there was no way I was going to give up prime plate real estate for even a single brussel sprout. Plus, my friends were very vocal about their own dislikes so that didn’t entice me any further.  

Now that I work in the field of food, I notice this attitude a lot when it comes to hospital food; old stereotypes about hospital food are still very commonly referred to and people are still vocal about it. However, what we often don’t consider is how what we say might influence what, or how much, patients eat. Food plays a key part in recovery, and hospital food often takes the blame as the reason for patients not getting enough to eat. But where malnutrition is concerned,there’s a lot at play and how we talk about food may be a stepping stone to lessening its impact.

What is ‘malnutrition’? 


Malnutrition is broadly defined as too little or too many nutrients being eaten. In the hospital setting, we are most concerned with too little being eaten, regardless of weight.

Did You Know?

Canada has a Malnutrition Task Force! Their research from Canadian hospitals shows:

  • Almost half (45%) of patients admitted to hospitals are malnourished when they arrive.
  • Patients who are malnourished have longer hospital stays.
  • Patients who are malnourished are more likely to be re-admitted within 30 days of being discharged.

The Canadian Malnutrition Task Force hosts an annual Canadian Malnutrition Week in September, with the goal of raising awareness of hospital malnutrition and supporting strategies to overcome it. This year, the theme was ‘What’s on the Menu?’, where perceptions of hospital food were put in the spotlight.

Malnutrition Week at UHNBC 


On  September 25, 2018, dietitians from Northern Health’s Regional Diet Office and University Hospital of Northern British Columbia visited patient units as well as the cafeteria to offer a taste-test of the lunch meal being served to patients. Our roving carts were stocked with samples of chicken souvlaki, tzatziki, and pita bread. We had some great conversation with staff and visitors, and collected feedback from taste-testers through a brief survey.


Challenging hospital food stereotypes


Like this year’s theme for Malnutrition Week, our goal was to draw attention to the importance of food and nutrition in the health and recovery of patients. We wanted to challenge staff and visitors to consider their roles in encouraging and supporting patients to eat, by tackling the stereotypical perceptions of hospital food within hospital culture.

What did we find out?

Most people we talked to were surprised to find out that Northern Health has an extensive Food Services department that:

  • Is made up of kitchen managers, superviors, cooks, food serviceworkers, and dietitians from across all of NH.
  • Meets every two weeks to discuss menu changes, review patient and staff feedback, evaluate meals/food items, and develop new from-scratch recipes.

From our surveys…

  • Total surveys: 77
    • Overall improved perceptions pre and post taste-test: 73%
    • Overall worsened perceptions pre and post taste-test: 0%
    • Overall no change to perceptions or question(s) not responded to: 27%

Now What?


Let’s re-think how we talk about hospital food! The language we use in conversation is a subtle yet powerful way we influence what or how much someone eats. Take a moment to reflect: how likely are you to eat a meal or food item if those around you have made negative comments about it? Particularly in the hospital,these types of comments can have significant outcomes and we likely don’t realize it.

Although we’ve wrapped up Malnutrition Week for this year, improving patients’ food intake is a year-round project that takes teamwork. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or in your everyday work, what are some ways you can support patients at mealtimes?

Wondering what contributes to pre-admission malnutrition? Population health dietitian Laurel dives into one piece of the puzzle – food security – in an 3-part blog series. Check it out!

Allie Stephen

About Allie Stephen

Allie works with Northern Health as a dietitian at the Regional Diet Office in Prince George. She grew up in Ottawa and completed her dietetic internship with Northern Health through the UBC Dietetics program. Allie loves all that BC has to offer and her experiences in the North have been no exception! In her spare time, she enjoys sharing food with friends and family, reading, dancing, canoeing, and exploring beautiful BC.

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

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

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

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

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

Cranberry Orange Sauce

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

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

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Foodie Friday: the high protein super snack you should consider

I have to say, I love yogurt – but I’m picky about it! It has to taste good, be creamy and rich, but not too sweet. All my children like yogurt and it disappears from our house at an alarming rate. But I don’t really mind; after all, it’s a good, protein-rich snack.

Bowl of yogurt with cup of tea.

Try eating yogurt with granola or flax seeds for breakfast, mix it with fruit for a smoothie, or enjoy it as a snack by itself!

Yogurt has been around for a long time and is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia around 5000 BCE. It was eaten widely prior to the 19th century in India, the Russian empire, and south east and central Europe. Yogurt is created by heating milk to just below the boiling point and then cooling it slightly and adding bacterial culture. The mixture is then kept warm for 4-12 hours to allow the bacteria to break down some of the lactose in the milk to lactic acid.

I have often been asked how to pick a good yogurt. My first piece of advice: taste matters a lot. My other tip would be to look at the sugar content; it can vary widely from virtually none to the equivalent of nine teaspoons of sugar in a little container! Try to pick a lower sugar yogurt. I often recommend staying away from the 0% fat yogurts because they often add more sugar or sweeteners to them to off-set the lower fat content. When it comes to fat content, I tend not to worry about it that much; dairy fat hasn’t been shown to be much of a health problem, if at all.

After you have found your preferred yogurt –  enjoy! It’s a very versatile food. You can eat it with granola or flax seeds for breakfast, mix it with fruit for a smoothie, or enjoy it as a snack by itself. How do you like your yogurt?

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: microwave cooking 2.0

This summer, when I was trying to beat the heat, I used my microwave more often. It worked well, keeping my kitchen and the whole house a little cooler. I was amazed because I’d never used the microwave to cook things like rice and pasta. Now the temperatures outside are closer to the freezing mark but I’m still exploring what I can cook in the microwave. Today I’m tackling meat.

spaghetti and meatballs on plate

I decided to try cooking spaghetti and meatballs, one of my family’s favourite meals, in the microwave. Besides being quick, the other bonus is there are less pots to clean up after!

When I heat food in the microwave, the meat can dry out a bit, making it a little tough and chewy, so I was worried that cooking the meat from scratch by this method wouldn’t work well. I was also concerned that I wouldn’t cook the raw meat long enough and cause someone to get sick when they eat it! Nevertheless, I decided to try cooking spaghetti and meatballs, one of my family’s favourite meals, in the microwave. I have to say, besides microwave cooking being quick, the other bonus is there are less pots to clean up after. I like that!

Microwave Meatballs

Makes 30 small meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 450 grams (1 lb) ground beef
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup of minced onion or 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons total of any of all of these dried herbs: basil, oregano, parsley
  • ½ cup quick oats or dried bread crumbs or crushed crackers
  • 1 egg

Instructions:

Step 1: Microwave the meatballsUncooked meatballs on plate.

  1. Combine all ingredients until they are well mixed with equal amounts of quick oats throughout the meat.
  2. Create the size of meatballs you like but remember that the bigger the meatball the longer you’ll have to cook it. I made 30 small meatballs using a tablespoon measure as my guide.
  3. Place meatballs in a microwave safe dish. Try to keep them spaced apart from each other (I cooked mine in two batches).
  4. Cover with a microwave safe cover. Cook at 70% power for 6 minutes. (My microwave has 1200 watt power so you’ll need to change the cooking time if your microwave has less or more watts than mine.)
  5. At the end of the cooking time, if you have a meat thermometer you can use it to check the temperature inside the meatball. The temperature should get to 160C (320F). Another way to know if the meat is done is to cut it open; there should be no redness to the meat anymore.

Step 2: Microwave the spaghetti

  1. Measure how much spaghetti to use. I hold the spaghetti between my thumb and forefinger. For about two servings, I measure out an amount the size of a toonie coin.
  2. Break the spaghetti into smaller pieces and put it in a microwave safe dish with about three cups of water on top. The dish should be big enough for the water to boil and the spaghetti to get bigger (My dish holds eight cups of water).
  3. Add ¼ tsp of salt to the water and one tablespoon oil.
  4. Cook in the microwave, uncovered for four minutes on high. Then, use a fork and break up the spaghetti so it can continue cooking without sticking together.
  5. Allow spaghetti to sit in the microwave for two minutes and then cook again for four minutes on high.
  6. At the end allow the pasta to sit for five minutes in the microwave. It will keep cooking and become tender.

Step 3: Put it all together!

  1. Use your favourite spaghetti sauce, add it to the meatballs and reheat in the microwave. I warmed my up for about two minutes.
  2. Pour over the spaghetti and serve! Enjoy!

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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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 works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is a recent graduate of the UBC dietetics program, where she completed her internship with Northern Health. She has experience working with groups across the lifecycle within BC and internationally to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking and travelling. She is looking forward to exploring more of the North!

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Serving up healthy school lunches, salad bar style

Evelyn Meehan with two students and the school's salad bar.

Evelyn Meehan, special education assistant and school meal coordinator at Silverthorne Elementary in Houston, with two of her students and the school’s salad bar.

For Houston’s Silverthorne Elementary, setting students up for success begins with a meal made with love. Until recently, many residents in this small community travelled 120km round trip to purchase groceries, so providing students a healthy lunch at school has been a top priority. Even with the distance, Evelyn Meehan, special education assistant and school meal coordinator, is up for the challenge. She is the driving force behind the school’s daily salad bar and hot meal program.

“Many of our families struggle with accessing healthy foods,” says Evelyn. “Parents, staff and the whole community believe in this program. They see the difference it’s making for all of our students to have access to healthy meals, prepared with love.”

The salad bar spread at Silverthorne Elementary.

Quite the salad bar spread at Silverthorne Elementary.

What’s on the menu at Silverthorne?

Students choose from a selection of fruits, vegetables, green-leafy salad, and salad dressing. Foods from other food groups are also offered, such as whole wheat buns, turkey wraps, pasta salad, boiled eggs, cheese, and milk. The menu is nutritionally balanced, yet simple. This helps keep costs down and meal preparation manageable.

Hands-on learning

The school also has a garden, but it may not be what you’d expect. Due to a short growing season and challenges with maintaining a garden during the summer months, they’ve had to get creative. Students learn to plant and grow seeds in vertical growing systems that use only water and nutrients, rather than dirt.

“We have indoor gardens, which allows us to grow our own food right in the classroom, year-round,” says Evelyn. “We grow a few varieties of lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, tomatoes, herbs, and peas, and use the produce in our salad bar.”

Programs like this provide students with fun hands-on learning experiences, which, overtime, set the stage for life-long healthy relationships with food.

“Not only are we feeding hungry bellies with good food, kids get to see, grow, and taste a variety of healthy foods. You can see the excitement in their faces!”

A wonderful partnership

Two years ago, Evelyn and the school’s principal started looking for ways to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables to students, many of whom did not regularly get access to these foods at home. That’s when they learned about the Northern Health Salad Bar Kit Loan program.

“Borrowing salad bar equipment from Northern Health was a really valuable stepping-stone for our program,” says Evelyn. “It allowed us to try out the salad bar program and decide whether it was a good fit.”

The salad bar kits are valued at $2,600 and include a plastic table top salad bar, plexiglass sneeze guard, stainless steel inserts, serving utensils and salad dressing bottles. Schools can borrow a kit for up to 12 months, for free. After that, they are encouraged to apply for a grant to purchase their own equipment. A number of grants may be available to help cover start-up costs including Northern Health IMAGINE Grants, Farm to School BC grants, and Farm to School Canada grants.

Sustaining success

Last fall, Silverthorne Elementary received a grant from Farm to School BC. With the grant money they purchased their own salad bar kit, as well as new dishware, a toaster oven, and an electric grill for their hot breakfast program. This has allowed them to continue offering the salad bar, as part of their long-term plan for promoting healthy eating.

What advice does Evelyn have for schools interested in trying a salad bar program?

“Go for it! Try different things. Don’t make big amounts at first.”

She also encourages schools to connect with a Northern Health Population Health Dietitian.

“A Northern Health Population Health Dietitian is a great resource that can support you with anything from borrowing salad bar equipment, to connecting with environmental health officers, and helping with grant applications.”

Do you have a salad bar program in your school? We’d love to hear from you! (email below) What advice or message do you have to share with other schools interested in trying the program?

More Information

Have a great idea for a school food program? Farm to School BC is offering grants of up to $3,500 to help bring your idea to life! For more information, or to access to application form, visit the Farm to School BC website. Applications are due November 19.

To borrow a salad bar kit, or for more resources and information about starting a salad bar program, contact a Northern Health Population Health Dietitian at 250-631-4236 or PopHthNutrition@northernhealth.ca.

Granting resources

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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Wellness at Work: Tips from your Recreation Therapist

jaymee webster on a bridge in the woods with her dog.In the world of recreation therapy, we often think of wellness as not the absence of disease, but rather on a spectrum. As such, there are many factors – physical, social and psychological – that have an impact on someone’s ability to reach optimal wellness. Optimal wellness is personal and it changes throughout the lifespan; it looks different for everyone.

As a recreation therapist in the rehabilitation setting, I work with those whose well-being or independence has been compromised due to multiple health or social problems. I provide leisure education opportunities for individuals to learn the benefits of leisure involvement, how it can have an impact on well-being, and what opportunities are available to them in their home community.

My work has an obvious link to wellness and I am passionate about leisure and recreation. In my spare time, I love exploring the many trails in the Prince George area with my dog, Juno. However, focusing on your well-being doesn’t have to stop when you get to work. We spend a lot of time at our work place.

Here are some things that I try to make a priority for keeping well at work:

  1. Pack a lunch and eat it too.
    Bringing food from home tends to be the healthier and the most cost-effective option. And don’t forget to eat it! The only way to give yourself the energy to perform your job effectively is to actually eat the food.
  2. Take the stairs.
    Take any opportunity to get yourself moving during the day.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep.
    I know this one’s easier said than done, but try to make it a priority. When Netflix asks if you want to continue watching… click “No.” It will set you up for a much better work day. Your body will thank you!
  4. Make a list.
    Managing your time and prioritizing tasks helps reduce workload stress. Take a deep breath while you’re at it!
  5. Have a laugh.
    Professional boundaries are important, but so is being yourself. Get to know those around you. If you’re in a helping profession, get to know the individuals you’re working with. Sharing an inside joke does wonderful things for the therapeutic relationship! Smiling and laughing can be contagious but that’s okay, it’s good for you!
  6. Balance.
    Leisure is defined as time free from obligation, an activity that is freely chosen and as a state of mind. Engaging in meaningful recreation and leisure activities in your personal life has the ability to improve overall well-being, which will spill over into your work life as well.

Wellness is a dynamic process that encompasses body, mind, and spirit. I challenge all of you to set an achievable wellness at work goal this spring, because a healthier you leads to a healthier work environment!

You can also view this article in Northern Health Spring 2018 edition of the Healthier You Magazine, Wellness by Professionals.

About Jaymee Webster

Jaymee Webster is a Activity Worker Recreational Therapist at Northern Health.

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