Healthy Living in the North

Planning and hosting healthy meetings, events and conferences

health foods in the candy dish

Celebrate good food together and take the war out of your workplace by sharing food that is a healthy choice for everyone.

One of the biggest themes that has come up in this challenge is the foods we eat in the workplace. To learn more about the ‘science’ of food in the workplace, I talked to a few of those who help us decide what to eat when food is provided in meetings. Ardelle Bernardo and Roxane Griffith provide administrative support in Public Health at Northern Health. In this, they plan most of the meetings for leadership, including day-long meetings, events and conferences. I had the chance to ask them about how they plan the food part of such events.

What is it like to order food for a whole group?

Ordering food for a group of people can be very intimidating. Before, I would order whatever the group wanted (e.g., lasagna, Caesar salad, pizza). I noticed that the pop and juice were taken before the water. By the middle of the afternoon – everyone seemed to be very tired and not really into finishing the meeting. Even for myself, I was less alert for taking the minutes.

Working with Public Health, I now take the catering part of my job more seriously and with more thought so that – by the end of the day – everyone is still awake, aware, and going home feeling a lot better.

Where did you learn about ordering smarter food choices for meetings?

The Eat Smart, Meet Smart guidelines provide lots of helpful suggestions to help you plan your menu so that participants will remain alert, productive, and engaged throughout the day. Menu planning tools are also available on the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Eating Resources site.

Based on your experiences, what are your top tips for ordering smarter food choices?

Ask participants about any food allergies before you order, and provide options for those participants.

Ask the caterer or chef to:

  • Prepare all foods with as little added fat, salt and sugar as possible; avoid fried foods.
  • Provide smaller portions.
  • Avoid processed foods – ask for “real” cheeses and meats rather than processed alternatives.

When choosing food for your meeting, consider ordering:

  • Water, coffee and tea, rather than pop and fruit juices (which are high in sugars).
  • Whole grain, low fat, low sugar muffins – they are still yummy but much healthier!
  • Clear broth soups (rather than cream-based) – include beans and chopped vegetables.
  • High-protein foods – include low fat meats, yogurts and cheeses.
  • Bean-based dips like hummus with whole grain crackers for snacks.
  • Individual cups of trail mix or healthy wrapped snack bars for snacks.

When putting the food out:

  • Offer more healthy choices than unhealthy choices.
  • Serve protein with carbohydrates – e.g. order a small cheese tray or low-fat yogurt with the fruit or muffins.
  • Do not put bowls of candy or mints on the meeting tables.
  • Reducing portion sizes can sometimes make those yummy foods and treats do-able – provide small, healthy cookies, or cut pastries in half, and never offer more than two dessert options.

Remember – everything is okay in moderation! 

What about the fact that people sit so much in meetings?

Include walking breaks or activity breaks in your meeting agenda – bring along a prop or two to promote physical activity in the meeting room on breaks (e.g., a Fit Deck).

Your turn: What do you do to promote health during work meetings and events?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.


Getting to know you…on a walking break!

[Editor’s note: Last month, Theresa Healy introduced the idea of walking meetings. Here’s an NH staff member putting the advice into action!]

walking break

Candice (left) and her teammates on a walking break outside their office, downtown Prince George.

As a newcomer to Northern Health’s quality & innovation team, I’m building new relationships and getting to know my team. Inviting my colleagues for a mid-day walking break has given me the chance to get to know them a bit better and share ideas. It’s also a great way to stay fit without cutting into family time at the end of the day!

Getting your team out for walking breaks has all sorts of benefits. Northern Health’s guidelines on “getting moving” (position statement on sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity) suggest any form of physical activity is important and beneficial. Adding more activity into our work day also supports Northern Health’s strategic directions to foster a safe and healthy workplace, which has been shown to both attract and retain staff. BCRPA Walk BC suggests workplace walking has been shown to decrease staff turnover, lower absenteeism, and improve productivity. From a quality improvement perspective, it makes sense to promote walking breaks to see these overall benefits in our staff and our productivity! For me, getting out for a mid-day walk makes me feel a bit more energetic and alert, improving my work efficiency in the afternoon.

Next time you’re ready for a break, take a look around your workspace and ask if any of your colleagues want to head out for a walk. Use that time to get to know your team while improving your health, along with your workplace efficiency!

I also found some great information online about starting a walking program for your community or workplace, on the BCRPA ‘Walking Program Resources’ page.

Have you tried walking breaks or walking meetings yet?

Candice Manahan

About Candice Manahan

Candice is the regional manager, decision support tools for Northern Health’s quality and innovation team. Candice works to build a culture of evidence-informed practice, ensuring our staff have access to meaningful policies, procedures, protocols and guidelines to inform their work. Candice is originally from Prince George and obtained both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Northern BC. With over a decade of experience coordinating and managing projects in health services research in our region, Candice has taken a special interest in improving health care services and accessibility for those living in northern B.C. When she’s not at work, she loves spending time with her family, going for walks and checking out all that Prince George has to offer.


Moving more: Demystifying the walking meeting

Walking meeting

Theresa (far right) with some of her population health teammates on a walking meeting.

Sometimes you do something because it works. After a while, you learn that there are theories, recommendations, and guidelines that tell you that you should do what you’ve already been doing. That’s what happened for Nancy Viney, Northern Health tobacco reduction coordinator, and me.

About a year ago, Nancy and I started walking together. We wanted to get some fresh air and to take some breaks away from our desks. As colleagues, Nancy and I also had to address some challenging work-related issues together. Unintentionally, we found that walking together seemed to help us think and problem solve together. So, the planning became easier and – oddly enough – the walking was less of a chore than if we had done it by ourselves.

More recently, we learned that those who sit more than six hours a day are sedentary. Between going to the gym, finding time for exercise at home, walking, gardening, and maintaining our houses, Nancy and I thought we were pretty active. However, we are sedentary. The culprit? Sitting all day at work.

Walking meetings – like Nancy and I enjoy – can be a useful way to get more activity into our day. More importantly, it breaks up how much we sit. The research behind walking meetings supports that they get us out of our chairs, can make us more creative, and can improve group dynamics.

The idea sounds simple: I know how to participate in a meeting and I know how to walk. How hard can it be to combine the two? However, walking meetings won’t work for everyone in every situation, but they do work for some in a variety of situations. They seem to work best for:

  • Networking meetings – are you just getting to know someone, or giving someone a less formal update?
  • Small groups – think how many people can walk side-by-side so that all can hear?
  • “Outside of the box” thinking – the environment change may be good for problem solving, brainstorming, team building, or planning.

And where you can’t make a walking meeting work, there are ways to still move more at work. Some situations where a walking meeting may not work include:

  • High traffic – the goal is to have everyone hear the discussion. (Option: find a quieter route.)
  • Poor weather – think about appropriate footwear and jackets, etc. This is important for preventing injuries. (Option: walk the hallways indoors.)
  • Formal meetings – if full minutes are required, this may not be the best option (though, you could audio record). (Option: build activity or standing breaks into the agenda.)
  • Is everyone in the group able to walk the terrain safely and comfortably? (Option: have a more traditional meeting with stretch breaks.)

Ultimately, every move counts when it comes to getting out of your work chair. For more guidelines on living a healthier life, visit our position papers.

Have you ever tried a walking meeting?

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.