Healthy Living in the North

Old wedding custom translates to healthy eating advice

Variety at lunch

Variety at lunch (whole grain crackers, cheddar and havarti cheese, leafy salad with yogurt-based basil dip, sliced kiwi, toasted walnuts and trail mix, dried cherries and other dried fruit).

Recently, my oldest niece walked down the aisle to begin what I hope is a happy life filled with fun, friendship and health. As we made sure she had good luck by having something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, I remember thinking that these four ‘somethings’ work for healthy eating too! In particular, to me, these stand for the value of variety in healthy eating.

Variety, defined as eating many different types of foods from each of the four groups of Canada’s Food Guide, adds interest to our diet (= less boring!), helps kids and adults like a larger range of food and adds a wide range of nutrients for good health. Food companies lead us to believe we are eating variety but simply having multiple flavours isn’t the same thing – plain versus ketchup, salt and vinegar or all dressed potato chips isn’t true variety—where is real food? What practical advice can we take from this old wedding custom?

Something Old: Try old favourites in new ways or pull out some of granny’s recipes and give them a healthy makeover. Try oatmeal topped with a spoonful of peanut butter and sliced bananas, spaghetti sauce made with ground turkey and/or cooked lentils, sandwiches using hummus instead of mayo, pizza made with a base of sliced zucchini or perogies filled with berries and topped with yogurt.

Something New: Try a new food from each of the four food groups of Canada’s Food Guide:

  • Vegetables & fruit – chop some eggplant and add to a mixture of potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and a little oil and roast in the oven until tender or use spaghetti squash as a base for spaghetti sauce—I know I am still working on Swiss chard!
  • Grain products – cook some quinoa with your steel cut oats or use it in place of rice as a side dish or in rice pudding.
  • Milk & alternatives – add kefir (a fermented milk drink found in the dairy section of the grocery store) to your smoothie or use lower fat buttermilk (which makes baked goods fluffier)in baking.
  • Meat & alternatives – nut butters like cashew butter, almond butter or pea butter, or edamame (fresh soy beans found in the freezer section of the grocery store).

Something Borrowed: Try a food, dish or custom from another culture to experience the world while staying at home. For example, add some peeled slices of jicama from Mexico to your veggie plate, enjoy a bowl of dal from India or yam and peanut soup from Africa or try eating with chopsticks or your hands!

Something Blue: Eat colourfully—whether it’s blueberries, kale, purple cabbage, kiwi or tomatoes, the richer and varied the natural colour, the more nutrition you’re putting into your body! I remember once being at a dinner party where each family was given a particular colour to match to their food offering. Dinner that night was colourful and healthy—on the menu was big green salad filled with red beets, tomatoes, peppers and tomatoes and topped with a homemade strawberry dressing, roasted purple potato wedges, large pasta shells filled with orange squash, tofu and feta cheese, and a brown dessert—chocolate covered strawberries. Yum!

While this might seem like a lot of work on top of the challenges and responsibilities of daily life, remember that small steps over time make a big difference. Variety doesn’t mean you need to eat eight different vegetables and fruit each day—variety allows you to take advantage of the changing seasons—you eat more leafy greens as salads in the spring/summer, more root vegetables as soups and stews in the fall/winter; variety isn’t about one meal or one day, it’s your pattern of eating over time. So, take that first step to variety that works for you! My niece’s first step down the aisle led to a day filled with many happy memories, the purchase of a home and much luck thus far! Think about what you will gain from eating a variety of real food from Canada’s Food Guide. What will your first step be?

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “Eat a variety of real food every day from all four food groupsmeans to Flo. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.



  1. Great post Flo! I love the twist on the wedding tradition. Loved it :)

  2. Tracey Courage says

    Wonderful post! Very informative for those of us who are learning all over again how to eat!