Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: You, too, can enjoy healthy, home-cooked meals during the work week!

Being both a mom and a dietitian, cooking nutritious meals for my family is definitely at the top of my priority list. But it’s not always easy. During the work week, I find it especially difficult to find enough time to prepare and cook healthy, well-balanced meals. Did I mention I live 30 minutes out of town and have to pick up a toddler on the way home? Or that by the time we get home, my son and I are usually starving, tired, and often hangry*? (*See definition below).

Slow cooker recipes are a fantastic, convenient way to bring nutritious homemade meals to your family dinner table.

I’m only a couple years into this whole working-mom-juggling business, but along the way, I have picked up some tricks that help my family put together yummy meals that include at least 3 out of 4 food groups most nights of the week.

Here are some tips I’d like to share:

  • Plan out your protein options for the week. I have found that taking stock of the proteins in my freezer/fridge and having a general idea of what I will make each night takes away a lot of stress. Proteins like beef, pork, moose, chicken, and turkey take 2-3 days to thaw in the fridge (depending on the cut) and require a bit of forward-thinking. Fish and seafood thaw much quicker, usually in a day or less. Eggs are always my go-to if I don’t have anything thawed and ready to go.
  • Prep vegetables on the weekend (or on your days off if you work weekends). Chop up a variety of your favorite vegetables, place in them in a container or bag, and store in the fridge. Now they’re ready to throw into your recipe or eat raw. Our favorite vegetables include bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers and spinach (bought pre-washed, no prep required). I usually chop up onions, too, because I cook with them a lot.
  • Keep an assortment of frozen vegetables on hand. Especially in the winter, I make sure to have a variety of vegetables in the freezer. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh ones and can be steamed or microwaved in 5-10 minutes. Season with olive oil plus lemon pepper (or other herbs) and voila!
  • Invest in a slow cooker. If you haven’t yet discovered or purchased a slow cooker, I highly encourage you to consider it. I like to toss whatever it is I’m making into the slow cooker insert the night before, store it in the fridge overnight, then just plop it into the cooking vessel and turn it on before I leave for work. I also use it to cook just the protein portion of our meal, like a whole chicken and then add vegetables and a side dish separately. Or I use the protein for making soups and stews (see recipe below for one of my favorite slow cooker stews).
  • Plan for leftovers. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of leftovers. But I have to admit that having them at least one night out of the week makes good sense. I also like freezing individual portions of leftovers to pull out for last minute/emergency purposes.
  • Keep it simple. Life is hard enough – let’s keep cooking during the work week simple, colourful, and fun.

I personally feel that if we are eating homemade food most of (and not necessarily all of) the time, then we’re on the right track. Not only will your wallet thank you for cutting down on take out and eating out, but you’ll be setting a great example for your loved ones.

Have some tips to add to my list? Please share by commenting below!

Recipe: Slow Cooker Sausage, Bean and Pasta Stew

Adapted from the Food Network

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3-4 carrots, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 oz dried white beans, such as cannellini, rinsed and picked over OR one 28-oz can of white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with a piece of kitchen twine
  • 454 g (1 lb) of your favorite sausage (4-6 links)
  • One 14.5-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
  • One 4 oz chunk Parmesan rind (optional) plus grated Parmesan, for serving
  • 1/2 cup ditalini pasta (or other small pasta such as orzo)
  • 2-3 large handfuls of spinach
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crusty bread, for serving

Instructions:

  1. Spread the onions over the bottom of a 6- to 7-quart slow cooker and top with the carrots, garlic, white beans, thyme bundle, and sausage links. Mix the diced tomatoes with the broth and 3 cups water and pour over the sausages. Add the Parmesan rind if using.
  2. Cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours. Uncover the slow cooker, remove and discard the thyme bundle and Parmesan rind and transfer the sausage links to a cutting board. Stir the pasta into the stew and continue to cook, covered, until the pasta is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat. Cut the sausages into bite-sized pieces and stir into the stew along with the spinach, parsley, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side for sprinkling on top and crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

Tamara’s notes: I do step #1 the night before by placing the ingredients in the insert portion of the slow cooker and keeping it in the fridge overnight. Before I leave for work in the morning, I put the insert into the cooking vessel and turn it on.

*Hangry is defined as “being irritable or angry as a result of hunger”. It’s a real thing.

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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Ditching the can opener: Tools, services, and tips to make healthy, homemade meals accessible

This article was co-authored by Rebecca Larson, registered dietitian, and Valerie Pagdin, occupational therapist.


Person cutting apple with one hand.

A rocker knife and cutting board with pins and suction cups makes cutting fruits and vegetables safe and accessible.

When you have a disability, making healthy meals at home can present additional challenges. Fatigue and difficulty with jars and utensils can create barriers to cooking. But there are ways to make cooking a bit easier so that everyone can enjoy healthy, homemade meals:

  • Buy frozen or pre-cut vegetables or fruit so that the preparation is already done.
  • Look for items that don’t require a can opener. Containers with screw tops (like some fruit and peanut butter) or those that are in pouches (yogurt or tuna) are easier to open.
  • Get your milk in a jug. Two litre plastic jugs with handles are easier to hold and pour than a milk carton.
  • Buy cheese and bread that are pre-sliced or have the deli or bakery slice them for you.

There are also many tools that can help you maintain your independence in shopping and cooking tasks. Using utensils with larger handles, cutting boards with suction cups to hold them to the countertop, or a mobility device to help you walk or carry items more easily can make a big difference in your ability to buy what you want and cook it the way you like it. An occupational therapist can assess your needs and help you find solutions that work for you in the kitchen. Ask your physician or primary care provider for a referral to an occupational therapist.

Accessible eating utensils.

Contact an occupational therapist to learn more about tools to make homemade meals more accessible – tools like weighted spoons, high-rimmed plates, and tremor spoons.

If transportation is a challenge, many grocery stores and service groups have grocery delivery options. Meals on Wheels is available in many communities and can provide meals if meal preparation is difficult or if you need a break. Food boxes, which contain fresh vegetables delivered on a regular basis, are available in some communities and may be an option to consider. Your local home and community care department can connect you to these programs.

If you need additional suggestions or help to make homemade meals more accessible, contact HealthLink BC Dietitian Services by dialling 8-1-1.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: Keep cool this summer with homemade frozen treats

Strawberry ice pop on a plate with strawberries

Foods you make in your kitchen are going to be more nutritious (and delicious!) than the store-bought alternative. This summer, try making your own ice pops with your favourite fruit!

What a wonderful summer it has been in northern B.C.! How are you keeping cool this summer? Heading to the beach? Jumping in the pool? Enjoying a refreshing treat?

Kids love ice pops and frozen treats. They sure do hit the spot on a hot day! Have you ever tried making your own? They take only a few minutes to make and are guaranteed to be a hit! Ice pops are a fun and creative way for kids to get more fluids in the hot summer months.

Foods you make in your kitchen are going to be more nutritious (and delicious!) than the store-bought alternative. This rule applies for Popsicles and icy treats as well. The cost savings can be significant and you know exactly what ingredients are in there! It’s even better if you are able to use locally grown ingredients such as fresh B.C. fruit.

All you need are some ice pop moulds and a freezer! These moulds can be found among all the festive summer plates and glasses for under $5 at your local dollar store or larger grocery store. If you can’t find any, you can also use ice cube trays and cut pieces of firm drinking straws to use as handles.

When you have your own ice pop moulds, you can freeze whatever you like! Here are just a few ideas:

  • Blend up juicy watermelon with a squeeze of lime juice
  • Purée ripe peaches, nectarines or strawberries with a splash of water
  • Freeze your favourite smoothie. Try berries, milk, and Greek yogurt!
  • Throw some crushed raspberries or other berries into the moulds with diluted pineapple or orange juice

Here is a super easy strawberry ice cream inspired treat that is made with coconut milk, instead. The coconut milk makes this really rich, creamy and delicious.

The recipe below makes enough for twelve ¼ cup-sized ice pops (as seen in the picture) or six ½ cup ice pops.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cup strawberries, washed, core removed and chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 can of regular coconut milk
  • 2-4 tbsp maple syrup or honey

Instructions:

  1. Wash and prepare the strawberries. Place in blender.
  2. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over strawberries, careful not to add any seeds.
  3. Add the coconut milk and maple syrup or honey to the blender.
  4. Blend together until smooth.
  5. Pour smooth mixture into ice pop moulds, snap on the lids. Remember that if you don’t have ice pop moulds, you can use ice cube trays and firm straws.
  6. Freeze for at least 3-4 hours, until solid.
  7. When ready to eat, run under hot water for 10 seconds to easily remove the ice pop from the mould.
Amy Horrock

About Amy Horrock

Born and raised in Winnipeg Manitoba, Amy Horrock is a registered dietitian and member of the Regional Dysphagia Management Team. She loves cooking, blogging, and spreading the joy of healthy eating to others! Outside of the kitchen, this prairie girl can be found crocheting, reading, or exploring the natural splendor and soaring heights of British Columbia with her husband!

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Foodie Friday: Back to basics – scratch cooking

A whisk in a pot with chocolate pudding

Scratch cooking can be simple, quick, low cost, healthy, and tasty!

Many Novembers, I have stood in biting cold or sloppy wet snow to watch the local Remembrance Day parade process to the Terrace Cenotaph. I’m always moved to tears by our veterans, who serve as very visual reminders of the contributions made to keep Canada safe and free.

November 11th always adds perspective to my life and helps me reflect on what is important. It calls to mind the efforts of those at home during early war efforts, when food was scarce and the emphasis was on local production, preparation, and preservation. I think about how reliant we’ve become on convenience foods, supposedly for the sake of ease and saving time. However, I only have to pull out the old cookbook handed down to me by my mother to access simple and low cost recipes that are tasty and healthy. Homemade pudding is one example.

Store-bought puddings are often heavily packaged, list sugar as the ingredient present in the largest amount, include fillers and preservatives, and are made with milk that, unlike regular fluid milk, typically isn’t fortified with vitamin D.

Making your own pudding is quick. In fact, you can assemble the dry ingredients in the following recipe to make your own pudding mix to use later or, because it’s so quick, you can make it on-demand when the need for a tasty and healthy snack or dessert occurs. If you do make the mix, store it in a cool and dry place until you are ready to add the wet ingredients, as per the recipe.

Chocolate pudding topped with bananas

Adding fresh fruit makes this a balanced snack that includes two food groups from Canada’s Food Guide.

Chocolate Pudding

Makes four ½ cup servings

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

1. Add sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and flour to a pot. Whisk in 1 cup of milk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Whisk in the rest of the milk. Continue to stir over medium heat until thickened.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.

2. Cool in the refrigerator or enjoy while still warm.  To make a balanced snack that includes two food groups from Canada’s Food Guide, top the pudding with some sliced bananas, pears, or strawberries!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo’s commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!

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