Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Canada’s food guide and plant-based proteins

A cauliflower and bean taco is shown.

The new Canada’s food guide suggests eating more plant-based proteins (like this cauliflower-bean taco), and less meat.

There’s been a lot of buzz about plant-based proteins lately! The new Canada’s food guide encourages Canadians to enjoy a variety of foods, and to choose proteins that come from plants more often. This includes foods such as:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Products made from these foods, like hummus, tofu, nut butters, and fortified soy beverages

In a previous blog post, Amelia Gallant shared some great tips and recipes, and discussed the benefits of eating more plant-based proteins. She also pointed out that plant-based eating means different things to different people, and that it doesn’t mean having to forgo all meat or dairy products. For most people, taking small steps to include more of these foods will be a more enjoyable and sustainable approach.

What might this might look like in real life? I asked a few Northern Health colleagues to share what eating plant-based proteins means for them. Here’s what they had to say:

Partial or full substitutes for meat

“For our family, it means adding lentils with our rice in the rice cooker (only split lentils, otherwise it won’t cook in time!), using tofu in saucy dishes, and adding beans and lentils in soups, stews, or pasta to partially or fully substitute for meat. We’ve found that by using plant-based proteins, you can have meat more for flavouring rather than bulk, which helps expenses and the environment.” – Scott Christie, Environmental Health Officer

Not what I grew up with

“I’ve started to use more beans – black bean brownies, mashed black beans with ground meats to add volume, black eyed peas in stews. Most of these were not served when I was growing up in southern Ontario. I remember … meat and potatoes kind of meals.” – Valerie Preston, Regional Administration Support

Not just for vegetarians

“I’m certainly not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy plant-based proteins and serve them for my daughters as well. I started doing this originally for economic reasons, but found that I enjoy the taste and texture differences. I particularly enjoy hummus, natural peanut butter, tofu, chickpea and lentil soups, chia seeds, and hemp hearts.” – Nathan Hoffart, Speech Language Pathologist

An opportunity to try new things

“For me, it means tasty opportunities to be creative and try new things, as well as enjoy some old favourites. One of our current favourites is roasted cauliflower and lentil tacos. We also like modifying family favourites (e.g., lentil shepherd’s pie), making small modifications (e.g., red lentils to spaghetti sauce, beans or nuts on top of salad), and enjoying old favourites (e.g., peanut butter smeared on apple slices, baked beans, pea soup, etc.)” – Flo Sheppard, Registered Dietitian

Learning as a family

“For my family, it involves meal planning and finding inspiration in cookbooks and websites, and asking others for recipe ideas. I like to involve my two children in different ways … as I find this increases the chance that they will try and enjoy a variety of plant-based foods.” – Dana Vigneault, Regional Nursing Lead, Injury Prevention

What strikes me most about these quotes is that people value plant-based proteins for much more than just their nutritional benefits. We heard:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Environmental impact
  • Budget
  • The opportunity to try new things and teach new skills

Now, it’s your turn! Tell us what eating plant-based proteins means to you?

For more blog posts that explore the new Canada’s Food guide, see:

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!


How’s your nutrition quality of life?

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

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

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

Nutrition and chronic health conditions

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

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

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

Changing my way of eating

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

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

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

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

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

Judy April

About Judy April

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


The Northern Table: Farm to School BC blossoms in the Northwest

People creating a garden.

Students working the school garden at Smithers Secondary School.

How do you get students excited about healthy, local food? According to Farm to School BC, the winning formula is simple: get students involved by providing opportunities to grow, prepare, taste, and explore healthy, local food!

Established in 2007, Farm to School BC (F2SBC) is a diverse and expanding provincial program that works to support healthy eating and sustainable regional food systems. This is done by working to have local food in schools, providing hands-on learning activities, and building school-community connections. Farm to School BC programs are tailored to the interests and needs of each school and community.

To date, F2SBC has supported 33 Farm to School initiatives across Northern BC, and is committed to supporting and inspiring even more programs across the region. Recognizing the need to provide on-the-ground support, the Northwest Regional Hub was launched, with Margo Peill as the Hub’s Community Animator.

A tray of sprouting plants.

A classroom project at Ecole Mountainview in Terrace, BC.

The Northwest Hub includes the geographic areas of the Coast Mountains School District (#82) and the Bulkley Valley School District (#54). Margo will be working with schools, farmers, and community partners to strengthen local partnerships and networks that will support sustainable F2SBC programs in the years to come.

I caught up with Margo to learn more about Farm to School BC in the Northwest, and some of the exciting opportunities she is supporting! Here’s what Margo had to say!

What are some examples of current Farm to School initiatives in the region?

We have some fantastic projects happening in the Northwest region! Each school develops their own unique projects that work within their school and community. Some projects include:

  • Cultivating bountiful school gardens
  • Experimenting with tower gardening and microgreens in the classroom
  • Incubating and hatching chicks
  • Dehydrating fruit gathered from their community for school snacks
  • Salad bar programs
  • Field trips to forage traditional and wild foods

The projects really do look different in each school, and so far, that is something we’ve seen the Northwest Hub really excelling at — coming up with creative solutions to incorporate Farm to School BC projects into the curriculum and classroom!

Can you tell me more about your role and the role of the F2SBC Northwest Regional Hub?

We’re really excited to take a community development approach to growing Farm to School BC programs in the Northwest region. Through the Northwest Regional Hub, we’ll be building networks, growing strong relationships with community partners, supporting their initiatives, and working to secure additional funding and support for the Northwest Hub.

One of our core values is to support school and community connectedness, so we really want to ensure that teachers and school champions have a strong network around them to help support the sustainability and growth of their projects. We’ll be hosting learning circles, professional development days, networking events, and an annual spring celebration to highlight and share the inspiring work that is happening here in the Northwest region.

How can local community members and groups get involved in Farm to School activities?

We are always looking for collaborations, even unlikely ones! On May 22, we’ll be hosting an official Northwest Hub launch and networking event at Cassie Hall Elementary (2620 Eby St., Terrace). Everyone is welcome to attend, share, and learn more about Farm to School BC programs while making community connections. The event will take place from 4:30 pm to 6 pm and some light refreshments will be provided. We look forward to seeing you there!


Note: Farm to School BC is administered by the Public Health Association of BC and supported by the Province of British Columbia and the Provincial Health Services Authority.

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!


The Northern Table: It sat on my kitchen counter for a year – and then I ate it

An opened spaghetti squash and the inside 'noodles' in a dish.

Spaghetti squash will keep on the counter for a lot longer than you might think!

I love vegetables that keep. I’m thinking of things like cabbages, onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, and other root vegetables. These hearty vegetables can live in our kitchens for a long time without spoiling, giving us more chances to fit them into recipes and our busy lives.

Last year I discovered that spaghetti squash can be added to the list of foods that last a REALLY long time. We had gotten quite a few squashes from our local community supported agriculture project, but I’ll admit it: I was not well versed in how to use these foods. Therefore, they sat on my counter, tucked away behind the fruit bowl, and were neglected for quite some time. Some got eaten, some spoiled, and some continued to patiently wait for their fate to be decided.

Then fall rolled around again, and with that came more freshly harvested squashes. It was then that I realized that some of the previous year’s spaghetti squashes were STILL sitting on my counter! Embarrassing, I know. So one day I thought, “Well, these can’t possibly be good anymore,” but I sliced one open just to be sure.

To my great surprise, it was… pristine. So I put it upside down in a baking dish with about an inch of water, and baked it in the oven for about 40 minutes. When I sampled it, it had a lovely texture and tasted great! I used a fork to pull the “meat” out of the shell, breaking it apart into its tell-tale “spaghetti” strings. I served it with dinner, simply dressed with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Yum!

What a forgiving, hearty vegetable! You can bet that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more spaghetti squash in the future. In the meantime, there are still two left on my counter from last fall, one of which will likely be used for a spaghetti squash “pasta” dish.

How do YOU like to eat spaghetti squash?

Read more about squash in past posts:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.


Milk and young children: what you need to know

A child with a cup of milk.In a recent post, I explored how milk and fortified soy beverages fit into the new food guide. Did you know that Canada’s food guide is intended for Canadians two years of age and older? Guidance for feeding infants and toddlers is more specific. Today, let’s take a closer look at feeding advice related to milk and young children.

Breastfeeding is recommended to two years and beyond

For as long as children continue to receive breast milk, they don’t need milk from cows (or goats) or other alternatives. Moms can be assured that their own milk is the best choice for their child, for as long as they and their child wish to continue breastfeeding.

Formula? When to switch to cow’s milk

Older babies who do not receive breast milk can usually switch from a store-bought infant formula to cow’s milk between 9-12 months of age (if you have questions about infant formula, speak with your healthcare provider).

Introducing animal milk

Do you want to offer your child cow’s or goat’s milk? Consider these tips:

  • Wait until your baby is 9-12 months of age and eating iron-rich foods
  • Choose a pasteurized, full-fat (homogenized or 3.25% M.F.) milk that is not flavoured or sweetened. Goat’s milk should be fortified with vitamin D.
  • Offer milk in an open cup, at meal or snack times.

Beverages to avoid for children less than two years old

Lower fat milks (i.e. 2%, 1%, and skim milk) are too low in fat and calories for young children. Plant-based beverages, such as soy, almond, rice, coconut, and hemp drinks, are also low in calories and other important nutrients. The Canadian Pediatric Society and Dietitians of Canada released a statement advising parents against providing these drinks to young children.

Fortified soy beverages are an option for older children

For children two years and older, fortified soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be an alternative to milk. If your child doesn’t drink milk, consider offering about two cups per day of an unsweetened, fortified soy beverage.

Be cautious with other plant-based beverages

Beverages made from rice, almond, coconut, oat, hemp, cashew, etc. are low in protein and many other nutrients, though some store-bought products have vitamins and minerals added into them. If you choose to provide these drinks to children two years and older, make sure that they are eating a variety of nutritious foods and are growing well. Also, choose products that are unsweetened and fortified.

The bottom line

That’s a lot of nitty-gritty details about milk and young children! The table below organizes information by age group.

Age Recommendations
0-9 months · Breastfeed your baby.

· If you do not exclusively provide breast milk to your baby, offer a store-bought infant formula.

9-24 months · Continue to breastfeed your toddler.

· At 9-12 months of age, non-breastfed toddlers can transition from formula to pasteurized whole cow’s milk (3.25% M.F.) if they are regularly eating iron-rich solid foods. Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups). Full fat goat’s milk fortified with vitamin D is also an option.

· Vegetarian babies who drink formula, who will not be receiving cow or goat’s milk, should continue to receive a follow-up soy formula until 24 months of age.

2+ years · Continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your child wish.

· Children that no longer breastfeed or who don’t breastfeed very often can be offered pasteurized cow’s milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim) or goat’s milk (fortified with vitamin D). Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups).

· Fortified soy beverages (unsweetened) also become an option at this age.


A dietitian can help you find ways to support your child’s nutritional needs.

  • 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.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.


Something old is new again! Using an Instant Pot at 80

Adele's mom standing with her Instant Pot.

Food traditions are an important part of healthy eating. Here, Adele’s mom finds the joy in modernizing her traditional baked bean recipe with her new Instant Pot!

I remember, as a child, watching my mother make baked beans in an old brown bean pot that stayed in the oven from morning until suppertime. She would soak the navy beans overnight in water and baking soda, rinse them, and then add all the ingredients into the pot to cook “low and slow” for at least 8 hours. The smell permeating through the house was fabulous and she would usually have fresh baked buns or bread to accompany them. As kids, we could hardly wait for those beans to be ready! Today, with the busy lifestyles of working families and multiple commitments, it’s difficult to prepare foods using traditional methods that are so time consuming. But now, we can have the best of both worlds, using new technology in the kitchen!

New technology makes a great gift

I got my mom an Instant Pot for Christmas because I loved mine so much and she was quite curious about it. After a couple of lessons, she felt comfortable enough to cook with it on her own and she did remind me, “I might be 80 something years old, but I’m not stupid and I have used a pressure cooker all my life!” Uh…sorry Mom. But I digress. So after trying her hand at cooking a couple of roasts using the searing function, and following my instructions to deglaze the pot to avoid the dreaded burn message, she wanted to branch out in her repertoire of Instant Pot skills.

Traditional baked beans: the Instant Pot version

I told my mom that I had made baked beans in my own Instant Pot a couple of times and that they were as good as the original version, but she seemed very skeptical that you could get the same great results in so little time. She was willing to give it a go though! Mom still insisted on soaking the beans overnight, not actually necessary for the Instant Pot, but she believes adding the baking soda helps to “de-fart” them (disclaimer: this cannot be proven!).

Here’s how we made the beans:

  • Dump beans in the pot, add water to just cover.
  • Throw in whatever other ingredients you like best in your baked beans. For us that was ketchup, onions, a bit of cut up pork, salt, pepper, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and a squirt of hot sauce (my mom didn’t see me do that and would probably not have allowed it otherwise!). We sometimes add molasses too.
  • Put the lid on and make sure your lever is pointed towards the back (non-venting) and hit the “bean/chili” button which sets your timer for 30 minutes. If your Instant Pot doesn’t have that function, hit “pressure cook” and set the timer for 30 minutes. It takes about 10 minutes to come up to pressure, 30 minutes cooking time, and another 10 minutes on natural release.
  • After cooking, quick release the rest of the pressure and voila!

We got yummy, fully cooked, but not mushy, home baked beans that are every bit as good as those that have been baked in the old fashioned way. My dad ate three helpings, so I guess they turned out pretty good!

Lifelong learning in the kitchen

Mom and I have such fun learning new things in the kitchen together, with Dad overseeing and then critiquing our work! They are quickly becoming Instant Pot aficionados, and look forward to learning new ways to make traditional family recipes, that will save time and energy.

FYI, she still packs my lunch in a brown paper bag when I stay in Prince George for work. Sheesh!

Adele Bachand

About Adele Bachand

Adele has been in Operations Management for over 15 years. Prior to starting her career as a Long Term Care Manager, she was a Human Resources Management Professional in a variety of industries including retail, tourism, finance, and manufacturing. She is professionally educated and trained in the human resources field, and has a Bachelor of Administration and Management Certificates from Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology. She continues to improve her education and skills through a variety of methods including communications and team building through the BC Patient Safety Quality Council. Adele has completed the Core Linx Leadership program with Northern Health and the Patient Safety Officer training program through Healthcare Canada. Currently she has taken on a one-year relief position in Population and Preventive Public Health as the Regional Manager for Healthy Settings. This is providing her with a significant challenge learning about Healthy Communities, Healthy Schools and upstream thinking! One of Adele’s goals is to help provide our patients, residents, family, and community members with the safest care possible, while honouring their participation in person and family-centred care. She is also an advocate for mentoring and challenging staff to reach their full professional potential. Adele’s personal interests include gardening, her two dogs, and just about any kind of crafting where she can be creative! She has also become a fan of the adventures of side-by-side rides in the back woods of Quesnel.


Canada’s new food guide: where did milk go?

The Canada's Food Guide and a jug of milk.In the lead up to the release of Canada’s new food guide, there was much chatter about milk, particularly around whether milk would be removed or not.

The food guide, which provides eating advice for healthy Canadians two years of age and older, was launched in January 2019 with a brand new look. The rainbow with the four food groups was replaced with a plate with three food categories: vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein foods. Something else appears to be different – a glass of water is shown with this plate. So, the question still remains: was milk wiped from the food guide?

Milk: still got it!

The new food guide features a section on the plate called protein foods, which combines foods from the older meat and alternatives, and milk and alternatives food groups. Protein foods include lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and poultry. This is also where we now find milk and products like cheese, yogurt, and kefir (fermented milk), as well as unsweetened fortified soy beverages. As the name implies, these protein foods are all good sources of protein and various related nutrients.

Milk: a nutritious beverage

So, for those of you who enjoy milk, rest assured that this nutritious beverage can continue to have a place in your diet. There are good reasons that milk has stayed in our federal dietary guidance:

  • Milk is a great source of various nutrients, such as protein, vitamin B12, and calcium.
  • In Canada, cow’s milk is also fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that is available in only a few foods.
  • Milk is also widely available and can be enjoyed with many other foods, making it an easy and versatile source of these key nutrients.

Unsweetened fortified soy beverages: also an option

What if you don’t drink milk? No worries – you can get similar nutrients from other sources. The most nutritious non-dairy drink is fortified soy beverage; in the older version of Canada’s food guide, soy beverage was listed in the milk and alternatives food group, along with milk. In the new food guide, soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be grouped with the protein foods. Unsweetened fortified versions are recommended and these are an option for Canadians two years and older (note: soy beverages are not recommended for children under two years of age).

Other plant-based beverages: not so nutritious

You might be wondering, “what about other plant-based beverages?” These include drinks made from almonds, cashews, hemp, coconut, rice, potatoes, and others.

It’s important to know what these beverages offer in the way of nutrition – it varies! In general, these drinks are poor sources of protein, containing as little as 0 or 1 gram of protein per cup. Compare that to 9 grams of protein from cow’s milk and 7 grams of protein from soy beverages. Plant-based beverages are also naturally low in many other nutrients, though some vitamins and minerals are added into commercial products that are fortified (check the labels). For some nutrient comparisons, check out this related article: Understanding Non-Dairy Beverages.

Since even fortified versions of plant-based beverages are low in protein (except soy) and many other nutrients, these drinks are not recommended for infants and toddlers. If they are offered to children over two years, careful meal planning is required to ensure that they are meeting their nutrient needs through other sources. Are you wondering what is recommended for children? Stay tuned for another blog post, coming soon: Milk and young children: What you need to know.

The bottom line

Milk continues to be a hot topic! Hopefully this article has provided clarity on how milk, fortified soy beverages, and other plant-based beverages fit within the updated food guide. That said, our diets are deeply personal, and a lot affects how and what we eat. A dietitian is a great resource and can help you choose beverages to meet your family’s nutritional needs.

  • 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.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.


The Northern Table: A balancing act with processed foods

A selection of canned foodsWhen you hear the term “processed foods,” what’s your first thought? Does it bring to mind memories of canning salmon or making jam? What about a childhood comfort food (like that bowl of mac and cheese with hot dog wiener slices) or visiting the carnival? Does it evoke positive or negative feelings? My guess is that “processed foods” is more likely to be seen in a negative way.

What are processed foods? 

A simple definition is that processed foods are foods that are purposefully changed before eating. This broadly includes three different types of processing:

  • Primary processing, which changes raw materials into food products. For example, when tomatoes are cleaned, sorted, and packaged into cartons.
  • Secondary processing, which turns ingredients into food products. For example, when tomatoes become tomato sauce.
  • Tertiary processing, which includes commercial production of ready-to-eat and heat-and-serve foods. Often extra sodium, sugar, fat and additives like colour and flavour are added in this step. An example of tertiary processing is when tomatoes become ketchup. The food products that result from tertiary processing are often called highly processed or ultra-processed.

A selection of processed foods.What does the new Canada’s food guide say about processed foods?

Given these different types of food processing, we can see that “processed foods” represent a wide variety of foods. How do we determine if and how we should include processed foods in our diet? The new Canada’s food guide makes two relevant statements:

  • Nutritious foods to consume regularly include fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.” Examples include apple slices, frozen broccoli, canned chickpeas, or dried pasta.
  • Limit highly processed foods.” Note that Health Canada doesn’t say “avoid” or “never.” I think this reflects an effort to balance the benefits that Canadians may experience by including processed foods in their diets with the potential drawbacks. For example, processed foods may be lower in nutrition quality, and there is an association between eating frequent amounts of highly processed foods and risk for disease. That said, processed foods, especially in the broadest sense, may have a place in your diet.

What are some advantages associated with processed foods?

  • Convenience: Pre-cut vegetables, a pack of tofu, a ready-to-serve sauce, and ramen noodles help a stir-fry come together quickly for a weeknight dinner.
  • Variety: Grocery store shelves and freezers are filled with a tremendous amount and range of tastes and types of foods. Some of this variety is perceived versus real; for example, whether it’s all dressed, buffalo wings, loaded baked potato, or black pepper and lime, they’re all potato chips, which is one type of food.
  • Access: Locally grown and seasonal foods can be put away to enjoy later in the year. Our ancestors used dried oolichan, moose jerky, canned peaches, dehydrated cherries, pickles, and many other foods before the time of full-service grocery stores, refrigerators, and freezers.
  • Cost: Processed foods may appear to be lower in cost. For example, a frozen lasagna that is on sale for $6.99 is economical, compared to the cost of the individual ingredients, including noodles, vegetables, sauce, cheese, and ground beef.
  • Shelf life: Processing can extend the life of a fresh food, through canning and/or the use of salt, sugar, or vinegar.
  • Portability: Commercial or home dried meals may make sense on a longer hike or canoe trip.
  • Traditions: Celebrate traditions and connections to our environment by making sausage, smoking fish, pasteurizing juice, and canning pie filling, or participating in a multitude of other food traditions.

How do you balance the risks and benefits associated with processed foods?

If you’re considering whether and how to include processed foods in your meal planning, here are a few things to think about:

  • Consider your personal definition of healthy eating. How much and how often do processed foods fit within that definition?
  • Which processed foods offer you the most value and enjoyment? Make room for these.
  • Use food labels to compare processed foods and make informed choices.
  • Does your grocery store offer nutrition tours? These are led by a registered dietitian and can be a great support.
  • Experiment with traditional recipes to modify the salt, sugar, and fat. Be sure to keep it food safe!

Healthy eating isn’t “one size fits all.” YOU get to decide if and how best to incorporate processed foods into your usual way of eating. For me, that means having a few ready-to-eat meals and pizza in the freezer, a jar or two of ready-made sauce to pull together spaghetti or butter paneer, and a box of KD, for those nights when there is no time or energy to cook. It also means enjoying cultural foods like blood pudding and salt beef when I visit family in Newfoundland. What does healthy eating look like for you?


Editor’s Note: We have transitioned our old “Foodie Friday” series to the new “Northern Table” series. We hope you’ll be as excited as we are to read this series, which will feature stories on nutrition, recipes, food & lifestyle, and more!

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.


Following up with past Community Health Star Seamus Damstrom

Seamus and his parents posing at graduation.

Seamus with his parents, Scott and Jenny, at his graduation from the College of the Rockies.

Four years ago, Seamus Damstrom was a grade 12 student in Terrace, with a passion for healthy eating and creating healthy change among his classmates. We were so impressed with the food revolution he brought to his school that we recognized him as a Community Health Star, and although several years have gone by, I’m happy to report that his interest in nutrition hasn’t wavered, but has only grown stronger.

I recently reconnected with Seamus to learn more about what he’s up to and hear about his plans to become a registered dietitian – and have found out he’s still an amazing health advocate, living up to his Community Health Star status!

You were recognized as a Community Health Star in December 2014 – what did that mean to you?

When I was recognized as a Community Health Star, I was very shocked, as I had never been recognized for a project that I had done. After the initial shock of the recognition I was truly honoured and humbled to have my story shared and I hoped that it could inspire other youth to find creative solutions to local issues. I look back at this recognition as a motivating factor that provided me with more evidence that a career in food and nutrition is the right thing for me to pursue. I think the whole process of being on the Healthy Living Youth Council of BC, to developing and conducting a project was extremely important for my personal and professional development.

Seamus at a long dinner table.

Seamus at the Farm to Fork Dinner, a fundraiser for the Cranbrook Food Action Committee, for which he worked with for the last three summers.

What have you been up to since graduating high school?

Shortly after graduation, I decided to take two years of prerequisite courses at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook. Life always has a funny way of changing your course and that happened to me as I actually ended up staying there for three years. At the time I was frustrated as I wanted to get to UBC to get underway with my Dietetics program but now I wouldn’t change a thing. I graduated from College of the Rockies last April with a certificate in Arts and Science and now I am currently attending UBC in the Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Health program.

One awesome thing about being in Cranbrook for three years was the connections and opportunities I found. Over the last three summers, I‘ve had the honour of working at a local public produce garden conducting various work groups, student classes, and other food literacy activities, as well as distributing and organizing our local BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program for both Cranbrook and Kimberley Farmers’ Markets.

For the last three years, I also volunteered with the Canadian Mental Health Association Senior Assisted Shopping Program, a program that pairs volunteers with senior citizens in the community to help them grocery shop and carry their groceries in every week. These experiences helped me get involved in the community when I first moved there – and it was fun listening to each senior’s unique story!

I also have had the pleasure of being on the College of the Rockies Board of Governors and Education Council, and two years ago I was nominated by Canadian Mental Health as a local Game Changer in the categories of Health and Wellness and Youth for my work in the community. I love to stay busy and try to give back to my community in any way I can.

How has your passion for food and health developed or evolved since high school?

With all the opportunities I have had the pleasure to participate in, my passion for food and health has grown even larger. One thing I love about food is how it can tell one’s story in it. When I was at the College working as an International Activities Assistant, we would do an event every two weeks called “International Cooking,” where we got groups of students to cook and serve a traditional cultural dish. This activity brought students together and, in my opinion, created a stronger community at the College.

I have really developed a keen interest in food policy and its importance in providing the framework for positive change in our food system. Furthermore, I am very passionate about food and nutrition education especially with youth and children as you can really leave an impression on them when it comes to food. By creating a positive environment to learn about, taste, and share food, youth can be inspired to further explore food and this excites me. We can never forget how important educating youth is especially when it comes to food and health.

A really cool opportunity I am involved in now is as a Nutrikids Ambassador. Nutrikids is a club at UBC that focuses on improving food literacy in elementary and primary school students in Vancouver. I am the leader for my pod and we conduct nutrition/food workshops for a kindergarten/grade 1 class. To date, we have done four 80 minute workshops to a class of 30 students with each workshop focusing on a specific food (e.g. beet, corn, dragonfruit, and apple). These workshops focus on developing the kids’ food identification skills, ways to describe food through their senses. The workshops are filled with fun hands-on activities for the kids to use their senses and explore the ‘food of the day’ further. It’s been a blast and I have really found my love for teaching in this position!

I understand you are still interested in becoming a dietitian – tell me about your plans.

I am finally at UBC to continue my education and career goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian. I am applying for the Dietetics Major this January with an intended fall intake into the program if my application is successful. After that, I would have two years of course work at UBC and a 36-week Practice Education at a registered health authority in BC. I would prefer to conduct my Practice Education in a rural community like the communities Northern Health and Interior Health support. I want to be able to use my knowledge to not only help improve our healthcare system but to improve the lives of those who are marginalized through food!

Do you know someone who is helping to improve the health of their community? Nominate them as a Community Health Star today!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)


In focus: Robyn Turner, Clinical Dietitian, Vanderhoof

Robyn Turner standing on a hill above a valley and river.Robyn Turner never thought she would have the career she’s had working as a clinical dietitian in Vanderhoof. Learn what it’s like to work in a rural Northern BC community and what kind of work she’s most passionate about.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian.

I never really anticipated coming to the North, let alone a rural community. My career turned out different than what I first had in mind. Nonetheless, it’s been very exciting!

By taking the opportunity to come North, I’ve been able to be myself as a dietitian and get my feet wet in a lot of areas – including working with individuals admitted to hospital through one-on-one nutrition counselling, and those living in complex care.

I’ve been able to use creativity and initiative to improve nutrition in my area, and because it’s not as congested here in Vanderhoof, I can do more things than I could in a bigger centre. When I was just starting as a dietitian, I thought I would be working casual for a few years, filling temporary roles, and then naturally work in a specific area. That’s definitely not the case with my work now, which I enjoy. I like being able to do a little bit of everything.

What’s your take on what dietitians do?

A dietitian supports individuals where they’re at in reaching their health goals. Doesn’t matter if they’re told to go see a dietitian or are self-motivated to change something about their health. Wherever they’re at, a dietitian is there to help support them and achieve their goals to improve their overall health.

Could you describe a day in your life as a dietitian?

There is no “regular” day. Generally my day starts with rounds, or I might go to another community. In a day I may see someone for a diabetes consultation, or modify a tube feed or do a swallow assessment. Sometimes I see children who are having challenges with eating or chronic constipation. My day always varies!

I pull a lot of areas of nutrition together when I’m working. I never know if I’m going to be doing acute care, or focusing on quality and enjoyment of life in complex care, or advocating for someone. I have to be ready to use all my nutrition knowledge. Sometimes I’m pulled into community practice meetings, quality improvement initiative meetings with the hospital kitchen staff, or community projects with schools or local First Nations.

For example, I was working on a family food skills project at the Men’s Shed in Vanderhoof. The Shed is a space for men in the community with a kitchen and a place to hang out. I was part of a food skills program there for men who were living alone for the first time or had partners with a change in health. These men were all of a sudden having to cook for themselves for the first time and didn’t know where to start. If people don’t have food skills, it’s something they need to build. Building those food skills is something I’m really passionate about.

Basically in my job you never know what hat you’re going to be wearing – it could be a counselor or advocate hat or a clinical dietitian hat. It’s always different, which keeps it exciting.

What’s one thing someone might not know about your role?

People often don’t realize that advocacy is a big part of my job. I’m not always seeing individuals one-on-one. I spend a lot of time helping people understand nutrition issues. My role involves a lot of nutrition awareness and advocacy. There’s a lot of collaboration and quality improvement involved in the different health improvement projects I’m a part of. If there’s a primary care community project focused on health and I don’t go – that’s a big part of health that’s not present. I represent nutrition and health and can provide education to other people on my health care team.

What part of your role is the most rewarding?

When you have those moments of success – those clients who are dedicated to change, who come to all their appointments with you, and take your recommendations and apply them to their life and see positive results in their health – that’s rewarding. It might take six months or a year for them to see those results. When you have clients who can get off medications or see their numbers come down – that’s when you know the stuff you’re saying and the recommendations you’re giving are working.

It’s nice too, when there are people in the community that show appreciation for my work, especially in a small town. I’ve had people recognize and draw on the importance of my role. There’s also a lot of doctors I work with who are appreciative and will advocate for me. When I came to the North I didn’t expect to have as much interaction with doctors as I do. They’re present and invested and actually want to hear my opinion. Overall, it’s been great being in Vanderhoof. Three years later and I’m excited to see where else I can go in this job!


How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you, your patients, or someone you know could benefit from talking to a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health – you might need a referral. 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 talk to a dietitian.


Nutrition Month Eating Together contest

During Nutrition Month throughout March, we want to see how you eat together! Organize a date to eat together, show us, and be entered to win an Instant Pot! This could mean grabbing a coffee and scone with a colleague, organizing a lunch date with a friend, having a potluck with family – whatever this means to you! Set a date, eat together, and show us to win! See our Eating Together contest page for complete details.

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)