Healthy Living in the North

In focus: Amelia Gallant, Primary Care Dietitian, Fort St. John

Amelia Gallant sitting at a table with a balanced meal and Canada's Food Guide.

From Newfoundland to British Columbia – nutrition has literally brought Amelia Gallant far and wide in her work as a dietitian. Making what she calls a “risky move,” she left the East Coast to pursue nutrition work in B.C. a year and a half ago. She now works, lives, and plays in Fort St. John. Get a sneak peek of what it’s like to work as a primary care dietitian in a health care team setting and learn why she loves the nutrition work she does.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian

I’ve been a dietitian for about five years now. I started in Newfoundland working in food services in a hospital kitchen setting. Later, I moved to the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s to work for a for-profit food services company. It definitely had a different scope than my previous work. I ran a few different programs in the dining hall and across campus but my role was largely around food service management. I decided I wanted to move out of that role and into more of a health services role – that’s how I ended up in Fort St. John! Now I work as a primary care dietitian at Northern Health. I’m part of a health care team which means I work closely with nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, mental health and substance use professionals, as well as doctors and nurse practitioners, to support patients.

What dietitians do: Amelia’s take

I think a dietitian loves food and loves science, and uses both to help people create and achieve health goals. In primary care for example, a dietitian can help people to understand what to eat to manage their chronic disease. Dietitians understand that food is more than nutrients and that the how to eat part is just as important. Dietitians use strategies that can help a patient understand their food environment and how they react to it, or to understand their own attitudes towards food and eating.

A day in the life of a dietitian

No day is the same, really! Some days I work with patients in back-to-back appointments. Some days I’m out in the community visiting patients in their homes. I work with other health care professionals to help them understand what dietitians do and how we can help patients together. I also try and further my own knowledge on new nutrition topics – I may call my other dietitian colleagues at Northern Health with questions or to get their opinion on a topic. I’ve got a great network of support!

What’s one thing someone might not know about your role?

Sometimes people can have expectations about seeing a dietitian that aren’t necessarily true. When you come to see me I won’t ask you to step on a scale or give you a diet plan to follow. Dietitians are invested in the ways we can help a patient improve their health and we try to do that in the most sustainable way. What I will do, is help you identify small changes that you’re ready to make, and offer support along the way to help you meet your long-term nutrition goals. Dietitians ultimately want patients to succeed – whatever that might mean for them.

What part of your role do you find the most rewarding?

Working with people is very rewarding. When I work with someone and they feel supported in their health journey – that’s very rewarding. Sometimes patients feel shameful when it comes to their health or nutrition – I love when someone has a moment of “this isn’t what I expected” and realizes that I’m on their side. It makes them feel more confident in their ability to reach their goals – it’s great to be a part of that!

How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you or your patients could benefit from talking to a dietitian?

  • 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.

Nutrition Month Eating Together contest

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

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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March is Nutrition Month: Eat together to win an Instant Pot or join us for a live Facebook chat with NH Dietitians!

Two people at a table excited to eat pizza and salad.

This March’s Nutrition Month theme is “Unlock the Potential of Food.” Food is so much more than nutrients: it brings us together, fuels us for activity, and is a world of discovery – for children and adults alike. This month we have two exciting features:

Eating Together Contest

During Nutrition Month throughout March, we want to see how you “eat together!” Organize a date to eat together, show us, and be entered to win an Instant Pot! This could mean grabbing a coffee and scone with a colleague, organizing a lunch date with a friend, having a potluck with family – whatever this means to you! Set a date, eat together, and show us to win!

Eating together has so many benefits. It brings us together and allows us to celebrate each other, our relationships, and the food we’re sharing. It also helps create social connectedness which is good for our overall health!

To enter:

See official rules at http://bit.ly/EatTogether2019 for complete details!

Ask an NH Dietitian! Facebook Live Chat March 14

Save the date! On March 14 we’ll be hosting a Facebook live chat during the lunch hour with a panel of two NH dietitians. This is an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about important nutrition topics. Thanks to feedback from our social media followers, topics covered could include:

  • Tips for meal planning
  • Planning around dietary restrictions
  • Feeding infants and children
  • Exploring the new 2019 Canada’s Food Guide
  • Other

Check the NH Facebook page for more information. We hope you’ll join us!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Adulting 101: How to eat properly

A selection of snacks and handouts from the dietitian.
Speaking to a dietitian made me re-think the way I snack. Combinations of protein and carbohydrates help me stay full and focused between meals. These are some of my favorite snacks for at work or on the go.

Most adults will agree: sometimes “adulting” is hard. Day-to-day tasks like walking, running, and eating can be hard to do! During the summer, I was feeling tired all the time which wasn’t the norm for me. Worried something was going on, I went to see my doctor. She recommended I see a registered dietitian (RD). Surprised and a little bit embarrassed, I wondered, was it that simple? Had I failed the most basic of tasks — feeding myself properly?

Learning how to eat — again

So off I went to see a dietitian for the first time. I had no idea what to expect but I figured that it couldn’t hurt. I knew that speaking to a dietitian is free (thanks Canadian health care!) and that they are highly educated on all things nutrition.

My appointment day arrived and I found myself fidgeting in the waiting room. My dietitian came out to greet me and as soon as I walked into her office, all my nerves disappeared. She was warm and non-judgmental and made me feel like she was really listening to my concerns. This helped ease my discomfort. It felt strange to discuss my eating habits and patterns to a total stranger. I’d never realized how personal my eating choices felt.

My experience seeing a registered dietitian

To start, we went through an extensive list of questions, some slightly mortifying. She asked about bodily functions, including the process of food exiting one’s body. I cringed but answered as best I could. She made talking about poop seem like the most normal thing in the world. I laughed later just thinking about it.  

She took a moment to analyze my answers jotting down a few notes here and there. Next she asked what a typical day of eating looked like for me. For the rest of my visit, we discussed some of my eating challenges and some ways to overcome them.

Haylee holding her bike above her head.
Thanks to my dietitian’s advice, I’ve learned that fueling my body properly helps me perform my best – both at work and during activities I love – like cycling!

What I learned

The biggest take away for me was that I wasn’t eating frequently enough. I was letting my body go into starvation mode between meals. I also learned I wasn’t eating the right things to feel full. We talked about protein and carbohydrate balanced snacks and meals. These suggestions seemed obvious but clearly I wasn’t identifying them myself. Having an outsider’s perspective helped me understand my eating patterns better. Plus, my dietitian gave me advice that was tailored to my needs. For these reasons, I found the visit very helpful!

Here are my five reasons why you should consider seeing a registered dietitian:

  1. Seeing a registered dietitian gives you free, evidenced-based advice on nutrition. In the era of information overload, I feel like I’m constantly bombarded on social media with harmful diet culture messages. It’s hard to know who to trust! A dietitian can help set the record straight with evidence-based nutrition advice.
  2. Registered dietitians are highly educated and regulated. The RD designation is protected and regulated in Canada. In BC, they’re regulated under the BC College of Dietitians. For this reason, you shouldn’t trust just anybody on nutrition advice. RD requirements include the following: completing a four year undergraduate degree, doing an approved internship, and successfully writing a registration exam. Plus each year, RDs must complete continuing education that is recorded and submitted to the College of dietitians. Talk about thorough!
  3. Registered dietitians personalize solutions for you. Doctors are amazing champions when it comes to your health but the reality is they’re limited in how much time they can spend with you one-on-one. An RD can spend much more time with you than your family doctor can in a ten minute visit. This means they can look into your case more thoroughly and offer solutions that are personalized to you and your health needs. I’m thankful my doctor recognized this and referred me.
  4. Registered dietitians look at nutrition holistically. One thing that surprised me during my RD visit was the scope of questions. We talked about things I didn’t expect to talk about ­– like my physical activity and bodily functions. I didn’t realize it, but all these things are connected. She never said “thou shall eat this and not eat that,” but instead helped me identify foods I enjoyed and how to enjoy more of them in a way that meets my needs.
  5. Registered dietitians can give you great resources. Another helpful thing I took away from my visit was some great handouts on snacking and fueling before and after exercise. RDs are trained to look at the latest research with a critical eye. In other words, they can help you find good sources of information for your nutrition needs.

How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you or your patients could benefit from talking to an RD?

  • 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.
Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Promoting a positive body image for students

Two young girls cooking food.

In honour of the recent Provincial Eating Disorders Week, registered dietitian Rilla Reardon shared some great tips for promoting positive body image in youth. Building a positive body image helps youth thrive physically, emotionally, and socially, and can protect against the development of disordered eating. Unfortunately, feeling good about one’s body is not always easy in today’s society. The BC Adolescent Health Report, a survey of youth ages 12-19 across the province paints a distressing picture. From the 30,000 students who were surveyed, they found that:

  • 36% of females and 28% of males are unhappy with their bodies.
  • 35% of females and 19% of males have engaged in risky dieting behaviour in the past year.  
  • Disordered eating behaviours are more common among older and larger-bodied students.

Since youth spend a large portion of their time in school, it makes sense that our efforts extend beyond home to include the school environment. Read on to find out what steps schools can take to promote a positive body image and prevent disordered eating among youth.

Focus on health, not weight

Research shows that talking about weight (yours or others) or dieting is harmful for children of all ages. Help children value themselves for who they are and what their bodies can DO. We all have different strengths that deserve to be celebrated. 

Say no to weight-based bullying

Speak up against weight-based bullying and include weight discrimination in your school’s anti-bullying policy. Teach children that teasing someone about their body is never okay and that all bodies deserve to be treated with respect.

Talk to children about their changing bodies

Health class is a great opportunity to let children know that weight gain is a normal part of growing up. Puberty is going to comes at different rates and times for everyone.  Knowing about these changes before they occur can help children feel more at ease, and prevent risky behaviours.        

Avoid the collection of student height, weight, and/or BMI

There are many factors that influence weight, and most are outside of an individual’s control. BMI is not a good measure of health, especially for children, and its collection has been shown to cause harm. Instead, schools can focus on celebrating body diversity and creating environments that make the healthy choice the easy choice for all students.

“Do no harm” with nutrition education

Provide students with hands-on experiences with growing, choosing, and preparing foods, rather than food rules. This type of information (e.g. calorie counting, “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” foods) can promote black-and-white thinking, and does not encourage a positive relationship with food. For curriculum recommendations check out the Northern Health Healthy Eating at Schools page.

Do not provide specific information about eating disorders

Research shows that talking about eating disorders is not effective for prevention, and can backfire. “She ate only X calories a day” or “He took as many as X laxatives at a time” can turn a well-intentioned story into ‘how-to’ instructions for someone to follow. A better approach is talking about body image and promoting media literacy.

Teach youth to be media savvy

Encourage students to be critical of how bodies are portrayed in the media. Getting students to ask, “Who stands to benefit from these messages?” is called media literacy, and can help children reject unrealistic body ideals. In addition, teaching youth to spot nutrition fads, and where to find reliable sources of health information (e.g. Health Services at HealthLink BC), goes a lot further than simply providing information. To get started, check out this list of teaching tools, videos, and lesson plans from Jesse’s Legacy and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Sign up for a free teacher workshop

Consider attending a “Healthy Attitudes, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Schools” workshop designed to help educators become more confident promoting positive body image in the classroom. Workshops are free and available in your local community or virtually. Call 1-800-242-6455 or email nutrition@bcdairy.ca to book a workshop.

We’d love to hear from you. How does your school promote a positive body image for students?

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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Layer up your lunch!

A layered salad in a mason jar, showing multiple layers of vegetables throughout the jar!

I recently spotted this delicious-looking salad in the lunchroom at work – my colleague Melanie was the one who brought it in, and I thought it was brilliant!

There’s something about this presentation that’s just so appetizing – it seems like a great way to get in some of your daily allotment of veggies (Canada’s Food Guide recommends vegetables and fruits make up half your plate).

My interest was sparked, and after researching layered salads a little, I found this helpful post: No More Soggy Salads: A Guide to the Perfect Salad in a Jar. Basically, you put lighter, squishable stuff (like lettuce) near the top, and heartier stuff (like beans or shredded carrots) on the bottom. Add some protein of your choice, spoon on some dressing, et voilà!

Do you ever make salad in a jar? Share your tips and recipes!

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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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 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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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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