Healthy Living in the North

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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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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Curried Cauliflower-Kale Soup

The final product: Curried Cauliflower Kale Soup.

My husband and I recently enjoyed this savoury soup after a chilly day of outdoor activities. I love it because it’s a great way for us to get a healthy serving of veggies – plus, there’s just something so comforting about a hot bowl of soup!

It’s also dairy-free, and if you use vegetable broth, the soup can be vegan. For meat-eaters, adding shrimp, fish, or chicken is an option. And because you can make it in advance, I’ve found it also works well for potlucks.

If you use the curry powder recommended below, the flavour will be relatively gentle. I prefer offering a milder curry unless I’m 100% sure that everyone likes it hot. Those who want to spice things up can always add a dollop of hot sauce.

Modified from a recipe at Savory Lotus
Makes 4-5 large servings, 6-8 small ones

The ingredients for Curried Cauliflower Kale Soup.

Ingredients

For the soup:

  • 3 Tbsp Madras curry powder (I like Sun Brand)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small head cauliflower, blended or processed into a rice-like texture (detailed instructions below) – a total of 3-4 cups “riced”
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • A 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4-5 cups broth (bone broth or vegetable broth). If using bone broth, I recommend chicken or turkey – beef would overpower the flavours in this dish
  • 2 or 3 large leaves of kale, ribs removed, leaves torn into 2 or 3 large pieces each
  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk. I prefer brands made of only coconut extract and water – no guar gum or carrageenan — but this is just a personal preference. If your coconut milk has guar gum or carrageenan, the recipe will still be fine.
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

For the garnish:

In the well-known vegetarian cookbook My New Roots, author Sarah Britton advises that almost any dish can be improved by the addition of three things: minced fresh herbs, grated citrus peel (lemon, lime, or orange), and toasted nuts or seeds. I’ve taken that advice to heart here; to garnish, you’ll need:

  • About a ¼ cup minced chives
  • Grated peel of ½ a lemon
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds or toasted almond slices
Nutrition Facts table for Curried Cauliflower Kale Soup.

Method

  1. Peel and chop the onion, garlic, and carrot and set aside, keeping them separate – you’ll need them at different points in the recipe.
  2. Stir the curry powder, ground cumin, and pepper together in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Wash the cauliflower and discard the woody stem. Chop the florets into large chunks, then pulse in small batches in a blender or food processor until you achieve a rice-like texture. Repeat until all the cauliflower is riced.
  4. Grate the ginger and set aside.
  5. Heat the coconut oil in a large pot over low-medium heat.
  6. Add the onion and cook slowly, stirring often, until it’s translucent and just starting to brown. This will take 10 – 15 mins.
  7. Add the garlic and spices and cook for 30 seconds to “bloom” the curry powder. Stir constantly – burnt garlic will harm the flavour.
  8. Add the riced cauliflower, chopped carrots, and grated ginger. Stir well to coat them with the spice-onion-garlic mixture.
  9. Add the 3 cups broth and stir well.
  10. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the carrots and cauliflower are tender, about 10 minutes.
  11. Add the kale (don’t chop it), cover the pot again, and simmer for about 7 more minutes until it’s cooked – you may need to push the kale leaves down into the soup. Leaving the kale unchopped makes it easier to scoop out for the next step.
  12. Scoop out the cooked kale leaves, plus about 1/3 of the remaining soup, and pulse briefly a few times in the blender or food processor until the kale leaves are chopped into small pieces (but not pureed).
  13. Add the mixture back into your soup pot and stir.
  14. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice and stir well.
  15. Simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavours, then add salt to taste.
  16. Just before serving, stir in the lemon peel and sprinkle with the chives and toasted nuts or seeds.
  17. Have hot sauce available for anyone who likes a bolder flavour.
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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The kitchen at Parkside Secondary School: More than a place to cook

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

Staff at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace.
L-R: Terri Finlayson (teacher), Jane Aubuckle (principal), David Griffin (teacher), and Laurie Mutschke (meal coordinator).

“However the spirit moves you.”

That’s the cooking advice you will often hear Laurie Mutschke, School Meal Coordinator, share with her students at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace. Among her other roles, she runs the school’s daily hot lunch program that serves meals made from scratch.

The school receives donations from the local Food Share program, Terrace Church’s Food Bank, Donna’s Kitchen and Catering, and Breakfast Club of Canada, along with food from the local community garden where the students help out. Nothing goes to waste – even the food scraps get put into the aptly named “Critter Bin.” The students also get credit for helping Laurie in the kitchen. When fresh produce shows up at the school, they often decide what to make for lunch.                        

I met with Laurie and Terri Finlayson, Foods, Science and Life Skills teacher, to learn more about the program. They recently celebrated the grand opening of their brand-new kitchen, and I was happy to get a tour of the beautiful facility. As we chatted, Laurie and Terri shared many stories. I quickly learned why their school’s kitchen is so much more than just a place to cook.  

Student and teacher cooking together.
L-R: Dakota Gull (student) and David Griffin (teacher).

Tell me more about the staff and students at your school!

Laurie: “[Parkside] is considered an alternate school… there is a lot of flexibility in terms of individual education plans. So, maybe today English isn’t something you want to do, maybe you can work in the kitchen. I think, along with the students being a unique group, we really do have a different blend of teachers with different passions.”

How did you start getting the students involved with cooking?

“Sometime they just come to you and say, “Can I help?” Sometimes I don’t even need the help, but I pull them in because I see that they need to come in. I will go to the teachers, and ask, “Can I have her help? She’s lost today, and she needs something.”

How has cooking helped you build connections with the students?

Terri: “As you’re busy cooking, you can have those conversations. If you’re sitting down, one-on-one, looking at them in the face, [students] will often shut down. But if you’re doing something else and you just casually start talking, you get into these topics that you normally never do.

And because [Laurie] doesn’t have that designated teacher role, a lot of kids feel comfortable talking to [her]. They come into the kitchen and now you’ve built that relationship. It’s a special thing, and you have to be a certain way as a person, not just a cook. You’re a counsellor, you’re a cook, and you’re also dealing with hygiene and teaching life skills.”

What other positive impacts has the cooking program had on students’ mental wellness?

Laurie: “They can feel good about themselves. They have a special job that makes them feel so important. On the lunch line someone says, ‘This is great, Laurie!’, and I say, ‘Don’t thank me – So and So made that!’ Just the connection you get over food, and their sense of their accomplishment.

Sometimes being in the kitchen becomes the reward. Not the eating of the food, but the preparing. We have a young lady who is on a very limited part-time schedule, but on certain days she does the baking… While they wait for whatever to be baked, [she] and her sister work on math in the kitchen. That then becomes her safe spot.”

What other activities are the students involved in?

Terri: “We take the students fishing and hiking, they gather the blueberries from up in Shames [Mountain]. We have an equestrian riding program. One of the teachers does crafts and sewing. I think that’s all part of the health piece too, because it helps them be healthy; not just eating, but in every way. A lot of them find that when they deal with their anxiety,they feel so much better.”

Laurie: “There is something here for everyone. Maybe you’re the kid that wants to go for a hike, or maybe you’re the kid that wants to cook in the kitchen. They do get excited because it’s taking the classroom outside, it’s not just sitting at a desk.”

People often say that the kitchen is the heart of the home. The staff and students at Parkside Secondary could not agree more! Just like at home, their kitchen wears many hats: it’s a place to build relationships, to learn new skills, to enjoy good food with friends, and most importantly, it’s a place to feel safe and cared for. 

Interested in starting a youth cooking program? Contact a Northern Health Population Health Dietitian for suggestions and resources at 250-631-4265 or PopHthNutrition@NorthernHealth.ca. Or visit the Northern Health Healthy Eating at School webpage.

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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IMAGINE granting & cultivating community: The Burns Lake Community Garden

The courtyard and fire pit at the Burns Lake Community Garden.
The courtyard within the Burns Lake Community Garden, where people can gather around the fire to relax, socialize, and learn.

Healthy communities are much like gardens – they don’t just happen. They need to be tended, cultivated, and nurtured to grow to their full potential. Community gardens take this metaphor and turn it into real-world success stories. One of these tales of triumph is the Burns Lake Community Garden.

Like many communities in Northern BC, Burns Lake faces challenges with access to fresh, healthy foods. The Burns Lake Community Garden Society (BLCGS) seeks to address these concerns, and in Spring 2018 they applied for funding through the IMAGINE Community Grants program. The project was approved, and they got to work building an “edible environment” for all community members to enjoy.

In addition to planting a dozen fruit trees and a dozen fruit bearing bushes to provide access to local produce, the BLCGS wanted to create an environment for people to come together and enjoy the literal fruits of their labour. They envisioned a courtyard, surrounded by garden, where people could gather around a fire to relax, socialize, and learn. And it’s safe to say, that vision was realized.

Completed in late summer, the upgraded community garden has already hosted a successful workshop on traditional First Nations use of medicinal plants. The workshop brought together a diverse group of 20 individuals who used plants grown in the garden to explore medicinal applications and receive traditional knowledge. Further workshops are already in the works, and the courtyard has seen frequent use as a social gathering place as well.

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be a barrier to healthy living for residents of our Northern communities, but groups like the Burns Lake Community Garden Society are working to change that. By growing their communities, they make them stronger, healthier, and more resilient. With a new greenhouse installed in 2018 as well, the BLCGS is excited about an extended growing season and the opportunity to provide local food to their community year-round. The IMAGINE Community Grants program is proud to support this and other projects that make our communities healthy! 

Have an idea that could make your community a healthier place? The Spring 2019 intake of the IMAGINE Community Grants program opens March 1, 2019. Visit the IMAGINE Grant page today!

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is the Coordinator of Community Funding Programs for Northern Health. He is passionate about community development, and believes that healthy communities are the result of many people working together toward common goals. Outside work, Andrew loves mountain biking, teaching Ride classes at The Movement, and enjoying art, culture and food with friends and family.

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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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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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Food Security, Part 1: What is household food insecurity?

Today is World Food Day, a day to promote awareness of food security around the globe. In northern BC, almost 1 in 5 households struggle to afford a basic, nutritious diet. When I first read this statistic, I was shocked. In a country as resource-rich as Canada, how is it that 17% of northerners either don’t have enough food, or worry about running out?

Defining food security

Let’s start by defining food security. Simply put, it is the ability to access enough safe and healthy food, at all times. It includes many things such as:

  • Access to food stores and markets
  • Access to land to produce food
  • Getting enough food to support a healthy life
  • Maintaining a healthy food system

But walking through food stores in many northern communities, we don’t usually see empty shelves. If there is so much food available in our stores and markets, how is it that some households worry about running out?

Food security and income

The main reason is that some households do not have enough income to buy food. This is called “household food insecurity” (HFI): when a household worries about, or does not have enough money to purchase healthy food. Since starting my role as food security lead for Northern Health, this has been one of my biggest learnings: household income is the biggest predictor of HFI.

But it’s not just that food can be expensive. Rather, it’s that some household incomes are not enough to support a healthy diet. In fact, households on a fixed income (e.g. social assistance), or who work minimum wage jobs, are at the highest risk of being food insecure. For those on a fixed income, almost half – about 44% – of their income goes to food, compared to 15% of the household income of higher wage earners. This 44% doesn’t include other costs associated with food (e.g. travel to food stores), nor does it include housing and childcare. It’s a tough situation for many households.

Food security is a determinant of health

Given that many households struggle to buy food, it’s no wonder that HFI is a serious public health issue in BC. But why, exactly? To answer this, let’s take a step back and look at what impacts health. There are many things that we don’t often think about, things that go beyond food or lifestyle “choices.” These are social factors, such as where we are born or how much money we make, and they can impact health long before we’re sick. They are often conditions over which we don’t have much control.

Food security’s impact on health may seem obvious: eating nutritious foods can help keep you healthy. But, while this can be true, having enough money to buy food in the first place can have more of an impact on health than food choices alone. In fact, there are many chronic health conditions that are connected to HFI, including mental health.

Addressing household food insecurity

Fortunately, there are many determinants of health that can be addressed through policies and programs. Advocacy initiatives can also inspire change; for example, today is World Food Day, and tomorrow is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Here in BC, one tool we use is monitoring food costs over time, to help determine the household income required to purchase a basic, healthy diet. The Food Costing in BC 2015 report showed that food costs are on the rise. The 2017 data will be available soon; how will the results compare? Stay tuned for the next blog posts in this series:

To learn more about HFI in northern BC, check out this helpful infographic.

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 experienced in 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 loves exploring the North!

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