Healthy Living in the North

In focus: Allie Stephen, CBORD Quality Improvement Dietitian, Prince George

Allie Stephen sitting at her desk with a mug that says "Dietitians (heart) food."

After interning with Northern Health in June 2018, Allie Stephen, originally from Ottawa, worked in many different areas of nutrition. I recently talked to her about why she loves being a dietitian and how food services and quality improvement projects can create positive change for staff and patients.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian, and what is CBORD? 

After my internship, I started working at UHNBC [the University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George] as a casual clinical dietitian, and got to work in different areas of the hospital with inpatients and outpatients.

In September, I started at the Northern Health Regional Diet Office in my current role as the CBORD Quality Improvement Dietitian.

CBORD is a food and nutrition computer system used in healthcare – it’s used to facilitate food services in all our hospitals and long term care facilities. Using CBORD, the Regional Diet Office maintains menus, patient/resident diet and allergy information, and supports other CBORD users (including Food Services staff, dietitians, speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists) in managing patient/resident dietary needs.

I really enjoy the variety this position offers, from training CBORD users to enhancing dining experiences in long term care, to implementing international safety standards.

What’s your take on what dietitians do?

There are so many places you can find dietitians! They’re in food service, public health, on primary care teams and in hospitals, but also in grocery stores, private practice, education, and government.

In food services, a dietitian uses scientific evidence to build/manage menus and meet general nutrition needs, with the understanding that there will be (and should be!) adjustments made to further meet individual needs.

No matter where they are, dietitians help make nutrition information practical and meaningful. Being a dietitian comes down to being an advocate for wellness through food.

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

Every day is different. Usually my day-to-day involves some troubleshooting with CBORD users to make sure patients and residents are receiving meals that are appropriate and safe, while aligning with their preferences and recommendations made by their dietitian or health care team. Often I’m trying to think like the computer – it’s kind of like detective work!

Another big part of my day is regional food/nutrition project work. Right now, for example, my team is working to implement the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative (IDDSI).  Dysphagia means “difficulty swallowing,” and IDDSI is a global initiative to standardize how food and beverages used in dysphagia management are named and described. This will help make sure we’re classifying them consistently, which ultimately promotes mealtime safety and quality of care.

A constant in my role is working alongside the Regional Diet Office, food services, and dietitian teams to look at innovative ways of providing enjoyable meal service to residents and patients.

Food is, after all, a big part of our lives and being able to enjoy our favourite foods is important!  

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

I support a lot of the day-to-day use of CBORD, but I also support teams to take on food and nutrition related initiatives and projects. Most of these initiatives have to do with improving services and patient experiences. I love seeing all the initiatives that come to fruition.

What part of your role is the most rewarding?

At every Northern Health location there are people and team members who are so invested in the services they provide to patients and residents – they’re proud of the work they do. At the Regional Diet Office, we support them so they can take on projects that are important to their teams and communities.

For example, in Masset, they recently transitioned to a core menu where they’re doing more scratch cooking and home-made recipes. A lot of care was put into the transition – their dietitian, kitchen staff, recreation staff, and residents were all on board. The change was very well received and everyone involved was very excited to be a part of it.

It’s a great example of how our people are invested in providing the best care they can for patients and residents. I’m really happy to be able to support these kinds of projects and interact with different people across the North. The dietitian and food services teams in particular are great – I have a lot of respect for everyone I’ve been able to learn from and work with. I’m proud to be a Northern Health dietitian!

~

How to see a registered dietitian

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

  • 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.

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)

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Healthy eating: the pressure is on

Tagine in an Instant Pot.
Chickpea and chicken tagine in the Instant Pot.

You’ve likely heard the expression “knowing and doing are two different things.” I think this is especially true when it comes to healthy eating. Most people have a good sense of what healthy eating is – and it’s recently been simplified with the new Canada’s Food Guide. The challenge is how to actually practice healthy eating in your life.

While there may be a few potential barriers to healthy eating, the one I relate to the most is lack of time. Recently, I was sharing dinner with a group of work colleagues and the conversation turned to balancing work commitments with getting a meal on the table. A common strategy emerged – the trendy Instant Pot, which is an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, and so much more, in one appliance. As a relatively new and slightly reluctant owner of this kitchen tool, I appreciated hearing and sharing tips on how the Instant Pot can simplify mealtime.

Here are five benefits to using the Instant Pot, from a variety of Northern Health staff:

Eggs and an Instant Pot.
Pressure cook a dozen eggs in the shell for 3-4 minutes to get easy-to-peel, soft boiled eggs.

One pot cooking = less clean up

The Instant Pot allows you to do multiple types of cooking in the same pot. For example, you can brown beef, pork, or chicken before adding vegetables to make a stew. Just remember to deglaze the pot by adding a little liquid to remove any meat bits stuck on the pan. This helps avoid getting the dreaded “BURN” message! Depending on your timeline, you can choose to slow cook or pressure cook your stew.
-Adele Bachand, Regional Manager, Healthy Settings

Put all your ingredients in the pot and forget it = no watched pot

I like that I can put all the ingredients for Moroccan soup in the Instant Pot, set the timer, and leave it. While it’s cooking, I take my dog for a walk around the neighbourhood. By the time we get back, I have a tasty bowl of soup waiting for me.
-Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner, Regional Manager, Healthy Living & Chronic Disease Prevention

Cook once and eat twice = time saved

Pressure cook a dozen eggs in the shell for 3- 4 minutes to get easy-to-peel, soft boiled eggs. These make a great addition to breakfast, as a portable snack or lunch, or deviled eggs for your next work potluck.
-Emilia Moulechkova, Population Health Dietitian / Regional Lead – School Age Nutrition

Soup in an Instant Pot.
Mexican chicken soup.

Pressure cooking = soup broth in a fraction of the time

Normally turning a chicken carcass into broth requires a few hours of simmering. In the Instant Pot, it takes about 30 minutes of pressure cooking to yield a tasty broth, which you can transform into soup or use in other recipes. Best of all, you don’t get the moist chicken smell throughout your house!
-Rhoda Viray, Regional Manager, Public Health Practice

No need to soak dried beans before cooking = time and money saved

Since it only takes 35 minutes on the pressure function to cook dried chickpeas to tender, it’s easier to include plant-based proteins in my menu planning. I often cook a big batch of chickpeas on the weekend – these become hummus, a chicken and chickpea tagine (also cooked in the Instant Pot), or a chickpea and sweet potato soup (also cooked in the Instant Pot). I also appreciate that I’m reducing the number of cans I add to the recycle bin.
-Flo Sheppard, Chief Population Health Dietitian

Looking for more ideas? Check out Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram for online communities dedicated to Instant Pot support and tips! Do you have an Instant Pot? If so, what’s your favourite way to use it? If not, consider entering Northern Health’s Nutrition Month contest for a chance to win one!

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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In focus: Amelia Gallant, Primary Care Dietitian, Fort St. John

Amelia Gallant sitting at a table with a balanced meal and Canada's Food Guide.

From Newfoundland to British Columbia – nutrition has literally brought Amelia Gallant far and wide in her work as a dietitian. Making what she calls a “risky move,” she left the East Coast to pursue nutrition work in B.C. a year and a half ago. She now works, lives, and plays in Fort St. John. Get a sneak peek of what it’s like to work as a primary care dietitian in a health care team setting and learn why she loves the nutrition work she does.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian

I’ve been a dietitian for about five years now. I started in Newfoundland working in food services in a hospital kitchen setting. Later, I moved to the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s to work for a for-profit food services company. It definitely had a different scope than my previous work. I ran a few different programs in the dining hall and across campus but my role was largely around food service management. I decided I wanted to move out of that role and into more of a health services role – that’s how I ended up in Fort St. John! Now I work as a primary care dietitian at Northern Health. I’m part of a health care team which means I work closely with nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, mental health and substance use professionals, as well as doctors and nurse practitioners, to support patients.

What dietitians do: Amelia’s take

I think a dietitian loves food and loves science, and uses both to help people create and achieve health goals. In primary care for example, a dietitian can help people to understand what to eat to manage their chronic disease. Dietitians understand that food is more than nutrients and that the how to eat part is just as important. Dietitians use strategies that can help a patient understand their food environment and how they react to it, or to understand their own attitudes towards food and eating.

A day in the life of a dietitian

No day is the same, really! Some days I work with patients in back-to-back appointments. Some days I’m out in the community visiting patients in their homes. I work with other health care professionals to help them understand what dietitians do and how we can help patients together. I also try and further my own knowledge on new nutrition topics – I may call my other dietitian colleagues at Northern Health with questions or to get their opinion on a topic. I’ve got a great network of support!

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

Sometimes people can have expectations about seeing a dietitian that aren’t necessarily true. When you come to see me I won’t ask you to step on a scale or give you a diet plan to follow. Dietitians are invested in the ways we can help a patient improve their health and we try to do that in the most sustainable way. What I will do, is help you identify small changes that you’re ready to make, and offer support along the way to help you meet your long-term nutrition goals. Dietitians ultimately want patients to succeed – whatever that might mean for them.

What part of your role do you find the most rewarding?

Working with people is very rewarding. When I work with someone and they feel supported in their health journey – that’s very rewarding. Sometimes patients feel shameful when it comes to their health or nutrition – I love when someone has a moment of “this isn’t what I expected” and realizes that I’m on their side. It makes them feel more confident in their ability to reach their goals – it’s great to be a part of that!

How to see a registered dietitian

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

  • 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.

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)

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March is Nutrition Month: Eat together to win an Instant Pot or join us for a live Facebook chat with NH Dietitians!

Two people at a table excited to eat pizza and salad.

This March’s Nutrition Month theme is “Unlock the Potential of Food.” Food is so much more than nutrients: it brings us together, fuels us for activity, and is a world of discovery – for children and adults alike. This month we have two exciting features:

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!

Eating together has so many benefits. It brings us together and allows us to celebrate each other, our relationships, and the food we’re sharing. It also helps create social connectedness which is good for our overall health!

To enter:

See official rules at http://bit.ly/EatTogether2019 for complete details!

Ask an NH Dietitian! Facebook Live Chat March 14

Save the date! On March 14 we’ll be hosting a Facebook live chat during the lunch hour with a panel of two NH dietitians. This is an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about important nutrition topics. Thanks to feedback from our social media followers, topics covered could include:

  • Tips for meal planning
  • Planning around dietary restrictions
  • Feeding infants and children
  • Exploring the new 2019 Canada’s Food Guide
  • Other

Check the NH Facebook page for more information. We hope you’ll join us!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Adulting 101: How to eat properly

A selection of snacks and handouts from the dietitian.
Speaking to a dietitian made me re-think the way I snack. Combinations of protein and carbohydrates help me stay full and focused between meals. These are some of my favorite snacks for at work or on the go.

Most adults will agree: sometimes “adulting” is hard. Day-to-day tasks like walking, running, and eating can be hard to do! During the summer, I was feeling tired all the time which wasn’t the norm for me. Worried something was going on, I went to see my doctor. She recommended I see a registered dietitian (RD). Surprised and a little bit embarrassed, I wondered, was it that simple? Had I failed the most basic of tasks — feeding myself properly?

Learning how to eat — again

So off I went to see a dietitian for the first time. I had no idea what to expect but I figured that it couldn’t hurt. I knew that speaking to a dietitian is free (thanks Canadian health care!) and that they are highly educated on all things nutrition.

My appointment day arrived and I found myself fidgeting in the waiting room. My dietitian came out to greet me and as soon as I walked into her office, all my nerves disappeared. She was warm and non-judgmental and made me feel like she was really listening to my concerns. This helped ease my discomfort. It felt strange to discuss my eating habits and patterns to a total stranger. I’d never realized how personal my eating choices felt.

My experience seeing a registered dietitian

To start, we went through an extensive list of questions, some slightly mortifying. She asked about bodily functions, including the process of food exiting one’s body. I cringed but answered as best I could. She made talking about poop seem like the most normal thing in the world. I laughed later just thinking about it.  

She took a moment to analyze my answers jotting down a few notes here and there. Next she asked what a typical day of eating looked like for me. For the rest of my visit, we discussed some of my eating challenges and some ways to overcome them.

Haylee holding her bike above her head.
Thanks to my dietitian’s advice, I’ve learned that fueling my body properly helps me perform my best – both at work and during activities I love – like cycling!

What I learned

The biggest take away for me was that I wasn’t eating frequently enough. I was letting my body go into starvation mode between meals. I also learned I wasn’t eating the right things to feel full. We talked about protein and carbohydrate balanced snacks and meals. These suggestions seemed obvious but clearly I wasn’t identifying them myself. Having an outsider’s perspective helped me understand my eating patterns better. Plus, my dietitian gave me advice that was tailored to my needs. For these reasons, I found the visit very helpful!

Here are my five reasons why you should consider seeing a registered dietitian:

  1. Seeing a registered dietitian gives you free, evidenced-based advice on nutrition. In the era of information overload, I feel like I’m constantly bombarded on social media with harmful diet culture messages. It’s hard to know who to trust! A dietitian can help set the record straight with evidence-based nutrition advice.
  2. Registered dietitians are highly educated and regulated. The RD designation is protected and regulated in Canada. In BC, they’re regulated under the BC College of Dietitians. For this reason, you shouldn’t trust just anybody on nutrition advice. RD requirements include the following: completing a four year undergraduate degree, doing an approved internship, and successfully writing a registration exam. Plus each year, RDs must complete continuing education that is recorded and submitted to the College of dietitians. Talk about thorough!
  3. Registered dietitians personalize solutions for you. Doctors are amazing champions when it comes to your health but the reality is they’re limited in how much time they can spend with you one-on-one. An RD can spend much more time with you than your family doctor can in a ten minute visit. This means they can look into your case more thoroughly and offer solutions that are personalized to you and your health needs. I’m thankful my doctor recognized this and referred me.
  4. Registered dietitians look at nutrition holistically. One thing that surprised me during my RD visit was the scope of questions. We talked about things I didn’t expect to talk about ­– like my physical activity and bodily functions. I didn’t realize it, but all these things are connected. She never said “thou shall eat this and not eat that,” but instead helped me identify foods I enjoyed and how to enjoy more of them in a way that meets my needs.
  5. Registered dietitians can give you great resources. Another helpful thing I took away from my visit was some great handouts on snacking and fueling before and after exercise. RDs are trained to look at the latest research with a critical eye. In other words, they can help you find good sources of information for your nutrition needs.

How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you or your patients could benefit from talking to an RD?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Promoting a positive body image for students

Two young girls cooking food.

In honour of the recent Provincial Eating Disorders Week, registered dietitian Rilla Reardon shared some great tips for promoting positive body image in youth. Building a positive body image helps youth thrive physically, emotionally, and socially, and can protect against the development of disordered eating. Unfortunately, feeling good about one’s body is not always easy in today’s society. The BC Adolescent Health Report, a survey of youth ages 12-19 across the province paints a distressing picture. From the 30,000 students who were surveyed, they found that:

  • 36% of females and 28% of males are unhappy with their bodies.
  • 35% of females and 19% of males have engaged in risky dieting behaviour in the past year.  
  • Disordered eating behaviours are more common among older and larger-bodied students.

Since youth spend a large portion of their time in school, it makes sense that our efforts extend beyond home to include the school environment. Read on to find out what steps schools can take to promote a positive body image and prevent disordered eating among youth.

Focus on health, not weight

Research shows that talking about weight (yours or others) or dieting is harmful for children of all ages. Help children value themselves for who they are and what their bodies can DO. We all have different strengths that deserve to be celebrated. 

Say no to weight-based bullying

Speak up against weight-based bullying and include weight discrimination in your school’s anti-bullying policy. Teach children that teasing someone about their body is never okay and that all bodies deserve to be treated with respect.

Talk to children about their changing bodies

Health class is a great opportunity to let children know that weight gain is a normal part of growing up. Puberty is going to comes at different rates and times for everyone.  Knowing about these changes before they occur can help children feel more at ease, and prevent risky behaviours.        

Avoid the collection of student height, weight, and/or BMI

There are many factors that influence weight, and most are outside of an individual’s control. BMI is not a good measure of health, especially for children, and its collection has been shown to cause harm. Instead, schools can focus on celebrating body diversity and creating environments that make the healthy choice the easy choice for all students.

“Do no harm” with nutrition education

Provide students with hands-on experiences with growing, choosing, and preparing foods, rather than food rules. This type of information (e.g. calorie counting, “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” foods) can promote black-and-white thinking, and does not encourage a positive relationship with food. For curriculum recommendations check out the Northern Health Healthy Eating at Schools page.

Do not provide specific information about eating disorders

Research shows that talking about eating disorders is not effective for prevention, and can backfire. “She ate only X calories a day” or “He took as many as X laxatives at a time” can turn a well-intentioned story into ‘how-to’ instructions for someone to follow. A better approach is talking about body image and promoting media literacy.

Teach youth to be media savvy

Encourage students to be critical of how bodies are portrayed in the media. Getting students to ask, “Who stands to benefit from these messages?” is called media literacy, and can help children reject unrealistic body ideals. In addition, teaching youth to spot nutrition fads, and where to find reliable sources of health information (e.g. Health Services at HealthLink BC), goes a lot further than simply providing information. To get started, check out this list of teaching tools, videos, and lesson plans from Jesse’s Legacy and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Sign up for a free teacher workshop

Consider attending a “Healthy Attitudes, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Schools” workshop designed to help educators become more confident promoting positive body image in the classroom. Workshops are free and available in your local community or virtually. Call 1-800-242-6455 or email nutrition@bcdairy.ca to book a workshop.

We’d love to hear from you. How does your school promote a positive body image for students?

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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Canada’s new food guide: What Northern Health dietitians have to say

Lise Luppens holding a copy of Canada's new food guide.
Lise Luppens, Population Health Dietitian, with Canada’s new food guide.

No doubt you’ve heard: Canada’s new food guide has finally been released. With a brand new look (bye-bye rainbow!) and recommendations going beyond food choices, it has already caused quite a bit of conversation!

Wondering about Northern Health’s (NH) take on all the excitement? We polled NH dietitians to hear what they like about the new resource. Read on for what they had to say:

“I like that the new food guide emphasizes the importance of how we eat. Our relationship with food and how we enjoy our meals is as important as the nutritional quality of the foods we’re eating.” -Courtenay Hopson, Prince George

“I appreciate the clear picture on the guide. The fruits and vegetables are easily recognizable and are available in Canada. It features canned and frozen options, in addition to fresh, as at certain times of the year these can be cheaper and easier to find.” -Rebecca Fraser, Vanderhoof

“Canada’s new food guide is simple, to the point, and leaves room for each of our own unique diets – how fresh! It promotes a more normalized way of thinking about food and nutrition, and helps reassure Canadians that if they’re cooking at home and enjoying food, then they are likely eating fairly well. My takeaway? Let’s make meal times important again!” -Olivia Newton, Quesnel

“I love that the new food guide emphasizes plant-based proteins. This will have positive results for personal health, but also supports eating patterns that are more environmentally sustainable.” -Danielle Billey, Terrace

“The new food guide is practical and focuses on HOW to eat by supporting a positive eating environment. It’s important to cook and eat with others, be mindful around your eating habits, and truly enjoy your food.” -Erin Branco, Prince George

Olivia Newton holding Canada's new food guide.
Olivia Newton, NH Dietitian, with Canada’s new food guide.

“I like that industry-funded research did not inform the development of the guide. This goes a long way to increase the trust the public has in the recommendations.” -Judy April, Dawson Creek

“The new food guide focuses on how we eat, more than how much we eat, supporting clients to tailor actions based on their preferences and lifestyle. It’s about implementing small changes to enjoy a variety of healthy foods in meaningful ways.” -Amelia Gallant, Fort St. John

“I like that the new food guide emphasizes food skills and ways to minimize food waste. It also considers other environmental impacts of the foods we choose and encourages more plant-based proteins, such as pulses [the family of plants that include dried peas, dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas].” -Hannah Orfald-Clarke, Fort St. John

“The new food guide supports people to start where they are at and to make small sustainable changes. For example, ‘cook more often’ will mean different things to different people – it might mean starting to cook, cooking on the weekend, cooking every day, or cooking with your kids or grandkids more often, depending on your current practices and available resources and opportunities.” -Flo Sheppard, Terrace

“The new food guide reflects that there is no one way to eat. Enjoying food with others is important, and a wide variety of foods fit within a healthy eating pattern.” -Laurel Burton, Prince George

Well, there you have it – Northern Health dietitians think there’s quite a bit to like about the new food guide! We might also take this opportunity to remind folks that it’s a guide, and that dietitians can be great support for individuals with unique nutritional needs who would benefit from tailored recommendations.

Are you looking for support from a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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The kitchen at Parkside Secondary School: More than a place to cook

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

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

“However the spirit moves you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you start getting the students involved with cooking?

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

How has cooking helped you build connections with the students?

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

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

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

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

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

What other activities are the students involved in?

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

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

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

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

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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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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