Healthy Living in the North

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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Nutrition and breastfeeding: Are we sending the right message?

As a dietitian, I aim to stay abreast of up-to-date nutrition information. Some topics surprise me, and cause me to rethink my approach. I am realizing that information about nutrition and breastfeeding can send the wrong message, even though it might be well intentioned.

breastfeeding mom on picnic bench

There is no need for a special or restrictive “breastfeeding diet.”

Does breastfeeding require a special diet?

Online, we can find suggestions for foods that moms should or shouldn’t eat when they are breastfeeding. Mothers probably hear this advice from family, friends, and others, too. Unfortunately, this suggests that moms need to follow a special diet in order for their milk to meet their babies’ needs. Not only is this untrue, this myth can cause stress for mothers and families. It can also create a barrier to breastfeeding. Mothers want the best for their babies, and this informs the choices they make. And some mothers wonder, “Is there is enough nutrition in my breast milk?”

Mothers’ milk is amazing

I am happy to share good news. Even if she isn’t always eating well, a mother’s milk will generally be nutritious and the best choice for her baby. Did you know that the level of many nutrients in a mother’s milk are not affected by what she eats? What’s in her milk primarily comes from her body’s nutrient stores. As a result, her milk is a reliable source of calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and other nutrients, despite day-to-day variability in her diet. Her milk also offers so much more than just nutrients. It also supplies unique immune factors, stem cells, hormones, and enzymes – and her baby can’t get that from any other food. Amazing!

What guidance can we offer breastfeeding mothers?

There aren’t a lot of dietary do’s and don’ts for breastfeeding mothers; no special diet is required. As with other women of childbearing age, with the goal of supporting their own health, breastfeeding moms are encouraged to:

  • Choose foods from each of the food groups of Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Aim for two servings per week of fatty fish that is low in mercury, such as salmon, herring, and sardines. Canned fish can be a nutritious and economical choice.
  • Continue to take a multivitamin supplement, such as a prenatal vitamin.
  • Follow cues of thirst, hunger, and fullness to decide how much to eat and drink.

Some breast milk nutrient levels do fluctuate with mom’s food intake, namely certain vitamins and fatty acids. This is where the multivitamin and attention to fish intake can be helpful. Also, because we live in the north, we recommend a vitamin D supplement for breastfed children.

Other things that might be helpful to know:

  • You don’t have to drink milk to make milk.
  • A cup or two of coffee or tea each day is just fine.
  • Teas made from food products or the following herbs are generally safe: bitter orange/orange peel, echinacea, peppermint, red raspberry leaf, rose hip, and rosemary.
  • There’s no need to avoid spicy foods, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, citrus fruit, fish, sushi, soft cheeses, or other dairy products.
  • Avoiding specific foods for the purpose of preventing allergies in infants is not advised. For more information, see HealthLink BC’s resource: Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in Your Baby.
  • In cases where mothers or babies have unique nutritional concerns, a dietitian or other knowledgeable health care provider may be able to help.
  • Some families may benefit from additional supports to access food (see General & Health Supplements or BC211).

The bottom line

Breastfeeding moms can feel confident that their babies are getting great nutrition, and there is no need for a special or restrictive “breastfeeding diet.”

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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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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Dietitians share their Pro Tips!

To celebrate Nutrition Month this March, my colleagues and I had a potluck. The theme was “Throwback Thursday,” where we prepared foods that were important to us during our childhood. During the potluck, we gathered and shared stories about the different foods and their significance in our lives.

This Nutrition Month, Northern Health dietitians are highlighting the potential of food. This includes celebrating food’s potential to bring us together; exploring food as an important part of a child’s discovery of the world; and in  one colleague’s case,  reflecting on the dietitians she has met throughout the years and how they have influenced her (and others) both personally and professionally.

group shot of dietitians together.

Dietitians from across Northern Health at a meeting in Prince George; September, 2017: a group of passionate advocates for the role of food in health!

We are lucky to have a group of dedicated and passionate registered dietitians who work for Northern Health in a variety of capacities. Whether it’s in the hospital, in food service, or population health, dietitians are committed to their work in supporting the health and well-being of the people and communities they serve.

Celebrating Registered Dietitians across our northern BC region!

Officially a Northern Health tradition, March is when we ask our dietitians for nutrition “pro tips.” So, what did they have to say about food and nutrition?

This #nutritionmonth, what pro tips would you like to share with northerners?

Judy (Dawson Creek):  Grow a little food in your yard, balcony, or a sunny window sill in the winter! Discover the joy of nurturing the food that can nurture you!

Flo (Terrace): Be a good eater. Be aware of and respond to, your body’s cues of appetite, hunger, fullness, and satisfaction; be open to trying new foods and expanding the variety of foods you eat and feel good about eating. Good eaters have good health!

Allie (dietetic intern): Frozen vegetables can be a great alternative to fresh vegetables. They’re just as nutritious, keep well in the freezer, and can be cost-effective!

Lise (Terrace): Consider activities that allow kids to see, touch, smell, taste, and talk about food. This helps them to build familiarity with a variety of foods.

Laurel (Prince George): Spring is coming! Consider sharing a meal with family or friends at your local park or picnic site. 

Emilia (Terrace): Consider healthy school fundraising! Some ideas include seedling sales or school-made calendars. Check out the Fresh to You Fundraiser to sell bundles of locally grown produce!

Christine (Terrace): All foods can be part of a healthy eating pattern. Refrain from labelling foods; food is not inherently “good” or “bad.”

Flo (Terrace): Eat well and be active for the sake of health, pleasure, and well-being. Care for your body at whatever size you are now. All bodies are good bodies!

Laurel (Prince George): Food has the potential to connect us! Whether it’s a quick snack at coffee break, on a road trip with friends, or a Saturday morning family breakfast, mealtime is a chance to tune in and connect with loved ones.

Lise (Terrace): Preparing food and eating it together can be fun for all! Have you considered cooking with kids?

Interested in reading pro tips from years gone by?

  • Nutrition Month 2016: Dietitians share their knowledge in the first-ever “Pro Tip” blog.
  • Nutrition Month 2017: Dietitians contribute to the second annual “Pro Tip” blog!

Food has so much potential. It connects us all. Through food, we can discover so much: new tastes, new traditions and cultures, new stories and new relationships. Registered dietitians promote health through food and nutrition, but we also recognize that there is so much more to food than nutrients. Food shapes us all. Happy Nutrition Month!

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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What does introducing solid food mean for breastfeeding?

Infant eating chicken and peas.I am the mother of an energetic and impish toddler, and have experienced many humbling lessons in my short parenting career. One of my biggest lessons so far is, “You figure something out, and then it changes.”

Take feeding, for example. After an initial learning curve with breastfeeding, my daughter and I got to the point where we were doing really well with it. I appreciated how convenient it became to feed her. Time passed quickly, and around six months of age, it was time to start offering solid food – a whole new chapter with new questions and new learnings.

Good things to know about starting solids:

  • There are no hard and fast rules about how to start solids. Pick a couple of times per day to offer solids, either before or after breastfeeding. It can help to include babies at the table during meal and snack times, so that they can learn by watching other people eat.
  • Focus on iron-rich foods to start, and offer these foods twice per day (for more information, see pumping iron: first foods for building strong babies).
  • When starting solids, babies will likely only eat small amounts. Offer a few small amounts of food a couple of times per day; follow their lead, and offer more if they seem interested.
  • At first, more might come back out of their mouth than goes in! It will take some practice before they figure out how to use their tongues to move food into the back of their mouth for swallowing.
  • Changes in inputs will result in changes in outputs! Poops will look (and smell) quite different, and the frequency of these outputs will also likely change.

What does starting solids mean for breastfeeding? In short, the beginning of solids is not the end of breastfeeding.

  • When starting solids, mama’s milk continues to be the main source of nutrition. Babies six to eight months of age get about 80% of their calories from breastmilk.
  • As they get older, food plays a bigger role. By nine to eleven months of age, babies typically get just under 50% of their calories from breastmilk.
  • By one year, toddlers do well with a predictable routine of three meals and two or three snacks per day. Breastfeeding can fit into the day depending on interest and family schedules.

In our case, my daughter started solids at around six months, and by nine months, she was nursing about five times per day (in the morning, after each of her two naps, at bedtime, and once in the night). At eleven months, we stopped nursing at night. Over the next few months, in preparation for my return to work, we dropped the feeds after naps, too. For the past nine months, we have maintained a nice pattern of nursing in the morning and again when I get home from work. It’s a nice way for us to connect.

Everyone’s breastfeeding journey will be unique. I have found it helpful to learn from other breastfeeding moms; I love hearing their stories. Check out a few more stories about breastfeeding on our blog:

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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Breastfeeding: a cultural approach can make all the difference

In 1977, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Plains Cree woman from the Piapot reserve, appeared on Sesame Street explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird as she breastfed her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild. This was the first time breastfeeding had been shown on a major television station. At the time, this was quite radical. Mothers had been taught since the early 1900s that they should rely on experts for advice and they were recommending formula. In 1977, to push back against “experts” to promote breastfeeding was groundbreaking.

Creating cultural connection through breastfeeding
Since then, we’ve learnt a lot about about the importance of culture in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and we’re beginning to understand the role breastfeeding plays in connecting to culture. Breastfeeding creates a strong physical bond between mothers and babies that carries the cultural values and beliefs of the mother to the child, connecting the child to the past and future. Research shows that Indigenous moms who have strong cultural and spiritual resources to turn to, take up and keep up breastfeeding, at rates better than the overall population of nursing mothers. For example, Rhodes (2008) found Indigenous women most connected to traditional ways were sixteen times more likely to breastfeed.

The valuable contributions culture can bring to breastfeeding and health has been weakened by colonization. Widespread disruption of home, family and cultural connections has harmed generations of Indigenous people in Canada through Residential Schools, Indian Hospitals, and other high level policies.The widespread disruption caused by colonization meant the loss of mothers, aunties, and grandmothers who were crucial to the success of young mothers’ breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding & child health
Not breastfeeding has a high price.The report on child health released by Northern Health’s Chief Medical Health officer last year, showed rates of early childhood dental caries/cavities (ECC) in northern BC five times the provincial average, and children living in northern regions undergo surgery for dental issues at three times the provincial average. The risk for early childhood caries is greater in some Indigenous communites with higher rates of bottle feeding and, in these cases, a cultural approach to breastfeeding is an effective protective factor against ECC.(See: Cidro et al. Breast feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities, 2015.)

Creating healthy cultural practice
Supporting Indigenous mothers will require extra care from health care providers. Understanding the importance of culture in supporting breastfeeding can reduce the specific and systemic barriers that exist for Indigenous mothers. Many mothers are hungry for the connection between themselves, their children, and their culture. Many loved ones and community members may also want to understand and reclaim their roles in supporting breastfeeding as a cultural practice.

You could be an important bridge for reclaiming these connections. Questions to ask a breastfeeding mother could include:

  • Would you like an Elder or trusted loved one to be part of the visit?
  • Are there any cultural and traditional practices that would be helpful for you?
  • Is there anything special that would help you in breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding, supported as a healthy cultural practice, promises much for improving and restoring health and well-being within Indigenous communities. Providing culturally safe services is a call to action: what can we do to promote breastfeeding in a culturally safe way for the Indigenous mothers in our care? What is it you can do?

Overall,  being aware of the underlying impacts of past negative experiences and how they’ve influenced Indigenous people’s encounters with the health care system is most important. If you can do this, you will send the message that you know about and are ready to respect the cultural bonds of breastfeeding.

We know that discussion of sensitive topics like this may cause distress. Please ensure you or the people you are working with have access to the supports you need.

Want to learn more? Check out:

 

Citations:

  • Rhodes et al. American Indian Breastfeeding Attitudes and Practices in Minnesota Maternal and Child Health Journal July 2008, Volume 12, Supplement 1, pp 46–54
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie started CradleBoard a site to improve curriculum. You can access this interactive web site at http://www.cradleboard.org/2000/mission.html though not all links work.
  • Cidrio, et al. feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409764/
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.

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Foodie Friday: fish preservation is good for the soul

woman cutting fish

Sabrina cuts and prepares halibut

Salmon and halibut are important staples in the diet of many people in BC and continues to be a food of significance to coastal First Nations peoples. Sabrina Clifton, the Programs Manager at the Gitmaxmak’ay Prince Rupert and Port Edward Nisga’a Society is actively involved in programming that supports local Nisga’a members in preserving salmon. Sabrina has been smoking salmon and making k’ayukws (smoked & dried salmon strips) for about 25+ years.

“There are different ways that Indigenous people prepare foods for preserving. The best teachers are our Elders. For 3 years classes have been held where our Elders mentor our youth and members. We have two smoke houses at the ‘Rupert Lawn & Garden’ available to our Gitmaxmak’ay Members. I think it is very important to continue to teach how to preserve traditional foods as the seafood is ‘our back yard’. Our Elders have so much to offer us; the knowledge they have is amazing. There are always tricks and different ways of preparing. We always learn something new. There is always a lot of laughter and when preparation is all finished you get a sense of accomplishment which is good for the soul.” -Sabrina Clifton

In addition to providing opportunities for Elders to share their knowledge and skills with youth and community members, Sabrina also works with Elders to organize traditional feasts twice a year for residents of Acropolis Manor-the local long term care facility. The feasts include locally prepared, seasonal foods such as fish chowder, moose soup, and roe on kelp. Local First Nations cultural entertainment is a highlight of the feasts.

salted salmon filets

Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, which is important in keeping bones strong and protecting from arthritis and cancer.

Salmon and halibut are important sources of nutrition. They are high in protein and B vitamins. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids that help protect against strokes and heart disease. Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, which is important in keeping our bones strong as well as protecting us from arthritis and cancer. Fish heads have been an important source of calcium for keeping one’s bones and teeth strong. Fish head soup is one way of getting these nutrients. Canned salmon is another but be sure to mash up the bones and not take them out, as they are high in calcium!

In addition to nutritional benefits, fishing and processing fish is good for the mind, body, and spirit. These activities have been and continue to be an important part of culture, connecting families, physical activity and mental wellness!

Here’s a recipe submitted by Sabrina for Fish Hash, a traditional way of preserving salmon:

Fish Hash

  1. Layer fresh or thawed frozen salmon with coarse salt in tightly covered air tight container and store for one month in a cool (below 20 degrees) dry place to cure. Both sides of the fish should be salted. Remove skin or place skin face down.
  2. To use it, soak salmon in water over night to remove most of the salt & salty taste; by this time it is firm in texture.
  3. Crumble and mix with mashed potatoes, diced onions and oolichan grease (optional)
  4. Bake in the oven until the top is toasted.
  5. Serve fish hash with toasted seaweed (hlak’askw) on top

Note: you can also use jarred salmon, smoked black cod, or jarred smoked salmon. Salt in appropriate concentrations inhibits the growth of bacteria. Use about a quarter the weight of seafood by weight.

Resources:

First Nations Traditional Food Fact Sheets

How to preserve seafood by dry and wet salting

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: flexible recipes make cooking easier

If I asked you the following questions, what would your answers be?

  • Do you value being able to cook meals for you and your family?
  • Do you try to buy and cook the best possible food for your family?
  • Do you struggle sometimes to match your expectations of a family meal with what ends up getting served at your table?
trifle ingredients on the table

One way I make cooking easier is that I use “ish” recipes. “Ish” recipes are basic recipes that can handle a lot of playing around with ingredients and still turn out tasty!

There’s a pretty good chance you replied “yes” to all. As a dietitian I have chatted with many families over the years and consistently through their stories and questions, I have heard them express both their enthusiasm for and challenges with getting food on the table. As the main cook in my family, I too would answer “yes”.

Many things can get in the way of getting home-cooked food on the table. One way I make cooking easier is that I use “ish” recipes. What do I mean by this? “Ish” recipes are basic recipes that can handle a lot of playing around with ingredients and still turn out tasty! These recipes let me use what I have on hand, substitute foods that my family likes, and simplify the process of following a recipe. Some of my favourite “ish” recipes include:

In this blog post, I’d like to share a recipe I’ve made so many times and in so many ways that I know it by heart: trifle! What is trifle? Trifle is a dessert I grew up with and has its roots in England. My family’s trifle was served at all holidays and special events, and consisted of a glass bowl lined with slices of jelly roll cake and filled with layers of Jell-O, Bird’s Custard, and canned fruit cocktail. I’ve made a few adaptations to the recipe but trifle is still my go-to dessert. I love that it is so easy to make, flexible in terms of what and how much of the various ingredients you use, and can be made ahead. My trifle typically changes throughout the year:

  • Summer: angel food or lemon pound cake, custard and berries and/or peaches
  • Fall: gingerbread or carrot cake, custard and pears
  • Winter: chocolate cake, chocolate custard and home canned cherries
  • Spring: white cake, custard or lemon curd, canned mandarin oranges and frozen berries

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

trifle on a table with spoon

I hope you enjoy this Trifle recipe as much as I do!

Flo’s Flexible Trifle

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups cubed cake
  • 3-4 cups fruit (cut in small pieces if large berries, peaches, bananas, etc. and you can used canned fruit like mandarin oranges, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, etc.)
  • 1 can evaporated milk (original recipe used 1 ¼ cups of cream)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup vanilla Greek yogurt (I use full-fat yogurt >5% as the original recipe called for whipped cream)
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds

Instructions:

  1. Cube cake and set aside.
  2. Heat, but do not boil, the evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. While the milk is heating, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow and smooth. Pour the hot milk into the egg yolks and beat vigorously. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook, over low heat, stirring until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Prepare fruit so that it is in bite-sized pieces.
  4. Placed almonds on a baking sheet and toast in a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes until golden.
  5. Assemble ingredients: layer cake cubes, fruit, custard in a glass bowl, ending with a custard layer. Smooth the vanilla yogurt over the entire top. Add toasted almonds. Chill for 2 hours before serving. Makes 8 generous servings.
Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Feeding our babies: at what age can we start offering solid foods?

The question

As a mom, I know it can be hard to get straight answers to parenting questions. Websites and discussion boards offer so many conflicting opinions (right?). Even professional recommendations sometime vary. This can be confusing… and frustrating!

baby eating solid foods in high chair

At six months, my daughter let us know she was ready for solids. Here she is eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food!

As a dietitian, I also know people have a LOT of questions about feeding their babies. Here’s an important one: “When is the ‘right’ time to start offering solid food?”

The recommendation

Northern Health supports the following recommendations from World Health Organization, Health Canada, Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, and Perinatal Services BC:

  • Infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life
  • With continued breastfeeding, complementary solid foods and other fluids are introduced around the age of six months of life
  • Continued breastfeeding is recommended for up to two years and beyond

Well, now that’s a mouthful! Let’s simplify that:

“Breastmilk is the only food a baby needs for the first six months. After that, keep breastfeeding and offer nutritious foods, too.”

The details

Since there are some variations in when babies are ready to eat food, we see the language of starting foods at about six months of age. Some babies will be ready for food a few weeks earlier than six months, some a few weeks later. Your baby will give you signs, not just that they are interested in food, but also that they are developmentally ready. Your baby may be ready for solids if they can:

  • Sit up, unsupported
  • Open their mouth for food
  • Turn their head when they are full

Our daughter let us know when she was ready, which, for her, was just before six months (I have proud mama pictures of her eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food. So cute!).

More questions

“Don’t some people say, ‘Food before one is just for fun’?”

Red flag! This phrase is concerning because we know how important food is for babies, starting at about six months. One big reason is the increased need for iron at this age. Other reasons include involving babies in family meals and supporting the development of their eating and food acceptance skills.

“What about children at risk for food allergies?”

You may have seen some media stories about the prevention of peanut allergy, where “four-to-six months” is sometimes mentioned. To clarify, the majority of families (98-99%) can introduce peanuts, at home, when baby is about six months old (for more information about safely introducing peanuts and other common food allergens, see Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in your Baby). For a baby with egg allergy or severe eczema (this is not common), their doctor can help make an individualized plan that may involve testing for peanut allergy before introducing peanut-containing foods.

Want up-to-date information on first foods for babies? Check out the following resources:

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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