Healthy Living in the North

How’s your nutrition quality of life?

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

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

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

Nutrition and chronic health conditions

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

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

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

Changing my way of eating

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

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

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

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

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

Judy April

About Judy April

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

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Foodie Friday: Halloween celebrations – more than just food

One of the many beauties of living in Canada is the dramatic change in seasons, each one bringing something to look forward to. What do you look forward to in the fall?

For many, one of the most exciting days is Halloween, especially for the kids (or perhaps the inner child in all of us adults!). While it might seem odd for some cultures in the world to think about kids going door-to-door asking strangers for candy, Halloween is a huge part of our culture in North America. Do you know how Halloween originated? An ancient Celtic festival called Samhain gave birth to what we now know as Halloween. The Celts celebrated the harvest and the start of the long winter. The festival was celebrated on October 31st, when the boundary between the living and the dead was believed to be at its weakest.

Nowadays many children look forward to dressing up, trick-or-treating around the neighbourhood, and coming home with a huge loot of candy. This means eating foods that may not be the most nutritious. In my family growing up, our Halloween tradition was always having hot dogs before we went out trick-or-treating.  During this time of celebrating, it is important to recognize that food provides more than just nourishment.  Food is a huge part of our culture and celebrations, and Halloween can be used as an excellent teaching opportunity for moderating enjoyable treats.

While trick-or-treating is exciting for the children that can enjoy candy, there are many children that live with severe food allergies who are unable to take part in all of the treats that are handed out. Around 2.5 million Canadians self-report having at least one food allergy. The highest incidence is found in young children, less than three years of age. How do you ensure a fun Halloween for all the kids in your neighbourhood? One initiative that supports making Halloween safe and fun for all children is the Teal Pumpkin Project. This initiative encourages families to place a teal pumpkin in front of their home, which indicates that non-food treats are available for those who either have food allergies or other kids that cannot have candy for some reason.

Learn the details about participating in this initiative at: Teal Pumpkin Project.

Can you see yourself participating in the teal pumpkin project this Halloween? Even if you don’t have a teal pumpkin to display, definitely feel free to give out non-food treats on Halloween – you never know what the little ghosts and goblins will choose.  To make it clear that your house is giving out non-food treats, you can display a poster like this one:

teal pumpkin project poster

The Teal Pumpkin Project is an initiative that encourages families to place a teal pumpkin in front of their home to indicate non-food treats are available for those with food allergies.

If you feel like following my family tradition and possibly having a hot dog before going trick-or-treating with your little ones, check out the Prince George Farmer’s market cookbook called “Cooking with the Market” for a very unique hot dog recipe. The recipe uses zucchini as a bun and is a great way to use up those zucchini’s that you may have leftover from the harvest. The recipe is definitely unique, but it might make getting a few vegetables in before the candy a bit easier.

Lindsay Kraitberg

About Lindsay Kraitberg

Lindsay is a registered dietitian working regionally with the CBORD (a food and nutrition database used in food services) team as well as in complex care. Originally from Vancouver Island, she grew up in the small town of Duncan then lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for four years before relocating to the north. Lindsay thoroughly enjoys her position with Northern Health as she works with many different health care teams and learns something new every day. When Lindsay isn't at work, you can find her snowboarding in the winter and hiking, biking or camping in the warmer weather.

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What can you do to support safe and inclusive school environments for children with food allergies?

The lunch bell rings and Johnny enthusiastically starts to eat his tuna salad sandwich, apple, cookie, and milk. As he is chatting with his friends, he suddenly starts to feel sick. His mouth feels itchy and his tummy starts to hurt. Johnny finds his teacher and tells her he is not feeling well. His teacher is aware that Johnny has a food allergy and recognizes the signs of a serious allergic reaction. She gives him life-saving medication and calls 9-1-1.

Students in classroom

Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job! Students, parents, and schools all have a role to play!

May is Allergy Awareness Month: it’s a great time to talk about how we can create safe and inclusive environments for children with food allergies so they may safely eat, learn, and play.

In Canada, approximately 300,000 children have food allergies. The most common food allergens are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, seafood, wheat, and sulphites. Anaphylaxis is the most serious type of allergic reaction and can be deadly if untreated.

As a dietitian who has supported families with an allergic child, I understand that keeping your child safe at school can seem like a daunting task. I have also come to understand that prevention is not enough. While some schools will ask parents not to send foods with certain allergens like peanuts to classrooms, it is important that students and schools have the knowledge and skills to respond to allergic emergencies appropriately. Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job!

What can schools do?

All school boards are required to develop an allergy-aware policy as well as an individual anaphylaxis emergency plan for each student with a serious allergy. In addition, schools can:

  • Work with parents to develop realistic prevention strategies. For example, some schools have “allergy-aware” eating areas while other schools have specific rules about allergens in the classroom.
  • Support ongoing training for all staff including teachers, bus drivers, and food service staff.
  • Consider non-food items for some class and school celebrations.
  • Take steps to ensure students with allergies are not bullied or left out.
  • Raise awareness about food allergies in the classroom, at school assemblies, or consider running a school-wide allergy awareness challenge.

What can parents and caregivers of children with allergies do?

  • Inform your school about your child’s allergy.
  • Provide your school with epinephrine auto-injectors, if needed.
  • Plan ahead for field trips and special events.
  • Teach your child how to protect themselves and reduce risk of exposure.
  • Read food labels carefully every time you shop and be aware of cross-contamination.
  • Guide your child as they learn to take on more responsibility for managing their allergy.

What can children with allergies do?

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after eating.
  • Do not share food, utensils, or containers.
  • Be careful with food prepared by others.
  • Carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times (by age 6 or 7 children are usually mature enough to do so).
  • Tell your friends about your allergies and what they should do in an allergic emergency.
  • Tell an adult as soon as you suspect an accidental exposure to an allergen.

Looking for more information about food allergies at school?

Here are a few of my top picks for resources and tools for parents, caregivers, or anyone working in and with schools:

Looking for personalized support? HealthLink BC’s Allergy Nutrition Service provides support to families who have concerns and question around food allergies. Just dial 8-1-1 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.

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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