Healthy Living in the North

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selection of snacks on a table.

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

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

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

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

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

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health 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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Gathering with food: northern voices

In March, we celebrated Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, dietitians across Canada highlighted food’s potential, including the ability of food to bring us together. In support of this theme, Northern Health held a photo contest, asking northern community members to submit photos of themselves eating together with family, friends, or co-workers, with a brief description of what eating together means to them.

It’s inspiring to see how our communities come together over food and we wanted to highlight the wonderful submissions we received. These posts have some common themes, including:

  • Meal and snack times provide an opportunity to connect with loved ones.
  • Life can be quite busy, so having some time to gather, relax, and celebrate food can improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Food also teaches valuable life skills, such as teamwork, food preparation, sharing, and many more!

In the following pictures, it’s clear that families across the north use mealtime to connect with loved ones. These are some of the responses to our question, what does eating together mean to you?

family eating together.

Food brings us together in many ways. Teaching kids cooking basics, manners, team-work (by setting and clearing the table or unloading the dishwasher), sharing, and serving [the food].  Then there is the conversation while seated together, sharing a meal…conversations are best around the dinner table with 3 boys!” -Colleen from Prince George

family time together.

My husband and I always make a point of sitting down together to eat; we need this time to reconnect.” -Brenda from Dawson Creek

family eating together.

Food brings us unity and strengthens our bond as a family and as a community. We gather and share foods. While eating, we share our happy experiences and concerns.” -Marian from Prince George

family eating together.

Sitting down to eat together gives us a chance to connect, catch up on the day, or start the day together. It helps us bond as a family!” -Michelle from Prince George

family meal photo.

Some of my fondest memories have been centered on food… from social and family gatherings to parties and celebrations… I associate the smiles, laughter, and fun with how food can really bring people together, through simple preparation, eating together or cleaning up the last of the skimmings.” -Pamela from Prince George

Thanks again to all who submitted fantastic entries to our Nutrition Month contest, and a special shout-out to our contest winner, Marian from Prince George! While we enjoyed reading each of the submissions, Marian’s collage of pictures really demonstrated the variety of ways in which food can bring us together, through food preparation, cooking, and eating!

Explore some of our other blog posts to see how food can bring us together:

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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A study in self-care: what’s on the menu?

Imagine your “happy place.” Where are you? What is it about this place that allows you to let go of stress? Now, come back to this reality. What can you do to gain that same feeling of relief?

As a university student, I’ve had ups and downs with stress. The first few years of my degree, I found I was feeling more overwhelmed that I’d ever felt before; I was having difficulty balancing school with life. When I did let myself break away from the books – to skate, hike, share dinner with friends, watch a movie, etc.,  I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I found that I would return to my assignments feeling energized and ready to go. All this is to say: I wasn’t very good at self-care.

Self-care is time we take to intentionally look after the many aspects of our health: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. It’s time to reflect and refresh, and it looks different for everyone. Now, in the final months of my dietetic internship with Northern Health and getting set to launch into the “real world,” I’ve learned what self-care means to me: connecting with food!

three girls eating outside at a picnic table together.

For me, self-care means connecting with food!

I’ve found I feel the most refreshed when I take the time to make and eat a meal or snack I’m excited about. I don’t consider myself a gourmet cook by any means, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I create something from scratch. I choose the dish, I get the ingredients together, I decide which steps to follow and which to skip… it’s a creative outlet that gives my food added value. A successful stint in the kitchen also gives me the chance to share something I’m proud of with friends and family. Heck, even if it wasn’t successful, past triumphs give me the confidence to at least share a laugh!

Socializing around food is something I’ve come to value quite a bit. There are many great benefits to eating together, but what I like most is the opportunity to enjoy the company of others. Gathering around food allows us to come together, catch up, and share stories; it can be a means of self-care in itself. The best part is, it doesn’t need to be complicated! There are lots of ways to socialize around food:

  • Host a potluck
  • Make snacks for the hiking trail
  • Pack a picnic basket for the beach or park
  • Make a snack to share in a blanket fort
  • Share baking with coworkers or your community group
  • Join a local community kitchen or cooking club
  • Berry pick in your favourite berry patch
  • Explore a local farmers’ market
  • Volunteer to cook or serve food at a community dinner

…the possibilities are endless!

March is Nutrition Month, and Northern Health dietitians are encouraging you to share how you gather around food. What food-related activities will give you a break and let you breathe that sigh of relief?

Allie Stephen

About Allie Stephen

Allie is currently a dietetic intern with Northern Health, working with dietitians in a variety of different areas. Allie grew up in Ottawa and came out west to study to be a dietitian at UBC. She loves all that BC has to offer and her experiences in the North are no exception - she is continuously inspired by the beautiful scenery and the wonderful people she has met. In in her spare time, Allie enjoys hiking, canoeing, dancing, biking, eating with friends and family, reading, as well as exploring more of beautiful BC!

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Nutrition Month: Celebrating food’s potential to bring us together

Happy Nutrition Month!

Each year, for the month of March, dietitians celebrate food and nutrition, and what it means for individuals and communities across Canada. Food has the potential to do so many things: it fuels us and supports health and wellness; through food we can discover, whether it’s learning a new recipe or exploring new tastes; and one of food’s greatest gifts is its potential to bring us together. What does eating together mean to you?

I’ve recently moved to northern BC to start a new role as a dietitian with Northern Health’s Population Health team. In the last few months, I’ve been building my social network in Prince George, and many of the connections I’ve been making are over a shared meal. Whether it’s gathering for a weekend potluck, eating lunch with co-workers, or meeting new friends for brunch, coming together often happens over food. Food supports conversation (it’s not often that you find a quiet brunch table!). Gathering over a meal is a time to connect: to share stories, discuss current events, reflect on your week, or maybe even learn something new.

tart on table

Food creates more than social connections.

Even if I’m sitting down to a cozy meal for one, by taking the time to prepare food for myself, I am celebrating meal time, and connecting both to myself and to the food I am preparing.

In these ways, eating together supports our physical, emotional and mental wellness by:

  • Connecting us to our own and other’s land, traditions and cultures
  • Connecting us to our communities
  • Building lifelong memories
  • Creating social connection
  • Teaching and learning new skills (especially true if you prepare a meal with others!)
  • Exploring a variety of foods – (nothing invites variety quite like a potluck!)

…meals are much more than just food and function, facts and figures. Meals are about culture and tradition. Meals are about love and harmony. Meals are about friendship and fun…meals are about family.” – Better Together BC

potluck items on table

Food has the potential to connect us.

Coming together around food can mean many things. If you’re thinking about ways to eat together more, consider starting with small steps:

  • Share a snack with friends during a hike or walk; snacking in nature may lead to interesting discussion!
  • Set aside at least one night or morning per week to eat together as a family, or add one more meal time to your current schedule (e.g. eat three meals together instead of two).
  • Plan a Saturday potluck with friends, and provide the recipe for your dish; this is sure to strike up some conversation!

What does eating together look like for you?

This March, join us in the Nutrition Month Eating Together Photo Challenge: share a picture of yourself eating together with family, friends, or colleagues, along with a short message explaining how you feel food brings you together. Check out the contest page to learn more.

Read how food brings other Northern Health employees together:

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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Are “picky eaters” just “eaters in training”?: Tips to help build kids’ food acceptance skills

Child eating a cherry

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods.

It’s lunch time. You prepare a meal and sit down to eat with your kid(s). They eat all of the [food x] but leave [food y] completely untouched. What’s the deal? Is it always going to be like this? Why can’t they just eat a bit of everything? How do kids go from here (“rejecting” certain foods) to there (accepting a wide variety of foods)?

Come on a little trip with me!

Imagine you take a trip to an unfamiliar place. Somebody presents you with bread, cheese, and a bowl of … green, lumpy, semi-solid something. They gesture for you to eat it. You hesitate. You feel anxious. You don’t know what this is – you certainly don’t feel like eating it!

Stay on this trip with me. Imagine now that you eventually learned to like that green, lumpy, semi-solid something, and now you even look forward to when it might be served again! Whaaaat? How could it be? How did you come to accept, and even like, that food?

It could look like this:

First, you looked to see that other people were actually eating it. But you looked at the “semi-solid something” and decided that you were not yet ready to try it. The next week, it was offered again, and now it was a little less scary. Maybe you poked at it with your spoon. Later, you gave it a sniff. Then, you stuck your finger in it. Maybe someone told you what was in the dish. Maybe you had the opportunity to see it being prepared, and you even got to help. Eventually, you put a little in your mouth but then spit it into a napkin. You decided it was tasty, and that you wanted a little more of this … broccoli soup or green jello or guacamole or whatever this dish is in your mind.

Back to reality. Think of a time when you learned to like a new food. What helped you to learn?

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods. We can help to make this learning process feel safe.

Here are some things to try to support your kids to learn to eat a variety of foods:

  • Make the same meal or snack for everyone. Sit and eat together. Seeing others eat a food is a great way to learn about it.
  • Offer new foods with familiar foods. If they are not yet comfortable with one food, kids can eat from the other items at that meal or snack.
  • Serve new foods over and over, without pressure or praise. Kids may need to see a food 15 to 20 times before they decide to eat it.
  • Be honest about what you are serving. Kids need to experience foods in order to learn.
  • Teach your kids to politely turn down food they aren’t yet ready to eat.
  • Respect tiny tummies. Serve a small amount to start and allow seconds. Kids’ hunger and appetite change from day to day, meal to meal.
  • Involve kids in growing and cooking food, and in packing their lunch.
  • Praise kids on their table manners, not on how much or what they eat.
  • Expect that in time your “eater in training” will learn to accept a variety of food. They will learn at their own pace.

For more information, see: Coaching Kids to Become Good Eaters and The Picky Eater.

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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The sit-down family meal: A thing of the past?

Family eating at a table

Is it really worth it to take the time to eat as a family? The answer is yes!

When I think back on my childhood, some of my best memories involve food: big family gatherings for holiday meals, unplanned barbecues in the summertime, baking with my grandmother. They all revolve around enjoying food together as a family. Even when my sister and I were busy with various after-school activities, my parents almost always made sure we sat down and ate together. Now that I have a family of my own, I make a point of having a sit-down dinner most evenings. Is it really worth it to take the time to eat as a family when we could just eat on-the-go? The answer is yes!

The way in which families dine together has changed from 20+ years ago. People are often distracted by technology and lead fast-paced, busy lives. But what are we missing out on when we don’t sit down to eat together? Research shows that family meals have a big impact on the health and happiness of children. Structured family meals can:

  • Serve as an opportunity to “catch up” with one another and exchange stories.
  • Engage children in trying a variety of foods in a safe setting where others are enjoying the same foods.
  • Teach children to come to the table hungry, and eat with pleasure. They will leave happily satisfied and energized to do other things.

Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. They can be as short or as long as your schedule allows. Even sitting down to enjoy a snack together is beneficial. Some meals might be missing a family member or two for whatever reason – and that’s okay. The key is to have everyone as often as your family can manage. To get started, try these tips:

  • Set a realistic goal. If you aren’t already having family meals, try for 2 or 3 meals a week and build from there.
  • Pick a time to eat that works for most family members, or alternate times so everyone has a chance to participate.
  • Communicate to all family members about the time and place. This avoids the “I didn’t know” excuse.
  • Set aside all distractions. Come to the table gadget-free, ready to eat and connect with one another.
  • Keep the mood positive. Don’t pressure children to eat; provide a variety of food and allow them to choose whether and how much to eat.

Remember: it’s not always about what you eat, but that you are taking the time to eat together. Start making plans for your next family meal today!

More tips and resources on family meals

The Ellyn Satter Institute:

Healthy Families BC:

Tamara Grafton

About Tamara Grafton

Tamara is a registered dietitian currently working with the clinical nutrition team at UHNBC and in long term care facilities in Prince George. Originally from a small city in Saskatchewan, she now lives the rural life on a ranch with her husband and young son. She has a passion for nutrition education, healthy eating and cooking. In her downtime, she enjoys reading food blogs, keeping active, and trying out new recipes on her family and friends

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