Healthy Living in the North

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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We asked, you answered: Northern Health staff weigh in on how to eat together

Family meals. Eating together. Sharing food. We know it’s important – in fact, a variety of previous posts on this blog discuss how eating together supports overall health. However, busy schedules can make it hard to gather at meal times. For some of us, a mention of “family meals” can lead to feelings of guilt. What to do?

A screenshot of a Northern Health staff poll about eating together.In a recent post, dietitian Laurel describes how food connects us, and she emphasizes that we can achieve this in small, baby steps. In honour of “Eat Together Day” (June 22nd), we polled Northern Health staff about how they could fit eating together into their busy schedules. An amazing 171 staff members responded – check out their responses on the right.

Breakfast is not where it’s at … or is it?
As the results trickled in, it became clear that getting together for breakfast was not the top pick; only 5% of respondents chose this option. Mornings can be hectic, and if that’s your reality, you might like Carly’s take on busy morning breakfasts or Marianne’s grab-and-go breakfast ideas. However, for some families, gathering in the morning might be easier than at dinnertime, with less pressure to accommodate kids’ activities or early bedtimes.

It’s snack time!
People are looking for realistic ways to connect around food. This might explain why the most popular response to our poll was “bring a snack to share,” with 25% of respondents choosing this option. Sharing a meal may not always be possible, but sharing a snack could be; it can be nutritious, quick to prepare and support connections with others. It might be a simple plate of cheese and crackers, or veggies with hummus dip, and an invite to those who can to join together for 10 minutes. If this appeals to you, check out healthy snacks for adults or Carly’s take on summertime patio snacking.

Shall we do lunch?
The first runner up in our poll, at 23%, was “gather with work colleagues for lunch.” We have meal breaks built into our work days and can use that time to gather. Even when we each bring our own lunches, there is value in eating together. The occasional work potluck would allow for sharing the same food as well. For inspiration, see Flo’s tips for eating well at work.

A selection of snacks on a table.

A selection of snacks that staff at the Terrace health unit recently shared on a morning break – a great example of bringing a snack to share and gathering around food during the workday!

Your turn or mine?
What about sharing the work of meal preparation? In our poll, 19% of respondents selected “take turns hosting with friends or neighbours.” If you’re thinking about hosting, consider one-pot meals like chili, casserole, or lasagna, where leftovers can be used for lunches or quick dinners. Consider asking others to make a salad, side dish or dessert. Alternatively, throw meal planning to the wind and host a potluck instead!

Let’s get outside
A few respondents were keen on gathering outside for a meal or packing dinner “picnic” style. These options allow us to enjoy the warmer weather and work around summer activities. If that’s up your alley, check out Marianne’s summer salads for sharing and Laurel’s delicious thirst quenching drinks.

The verdict
Eating together doesn’t need to be elaborate; it’s really just about gathering together at a meal or snack time. It can look different from day to day, and from person to person. Our poll of Northern Health staff emphasized that different things will work for different people. What about you? How do you make time to eat together with others?

Feeling inspired? Read more about fitting meals into busy schedules:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

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

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Dietitians share their Pro Tips!

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

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

group shot of dietitians together.

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

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

Celebrating Registered Dietitians across our northern BC region!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interested in reading pro tips from years gone by?

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

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

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is experienced in working with groups across the lifecycle, within BC and internationally, to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking, and travelling. She loves exploring the North!

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A study in self-care: what’s on the menu?

Imagine your “happy place.” Where are you? What is it about this place that allows you to let go of stress? Now, come back to this reality. What can you do to gain that same feeling of relief?

As a university student, I’ve had ups and downs with stress. The first few years of my degree, I found I was feeling more overwhelmed that I’d ever felt before; I was having difficulty balancing school with life. When I did let myself break away from the books – to skate, hike, share dinner with friends, watch a movie, etc.,  I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I found that I would return to my assignments feeling energized and ready to go. All this is to say: I wasn’t very good at self-care.

Self-care is time we take to intentionally look after the many aspects of our health: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. It’s time to reflect and refresh, and it looks different for everyone. Now, in the final months of my dietetic internship with Northern Health and getting set to launch into the “real world,” I’ve learned what self-care means to me: connecting with food!

three girls eating outside at a picnic table together.

For me, self-care means connecting with food!

I’ve found I feel the most refreshed when I take the time to make and eat a meal or snack I’m excited about. I don’t consider myself a gourmet cook by any means, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I create something from scratch. I choose the dish, I get the ingredients together, I decide which steps to follow and which to skip… it’s a creative outlet that gives my food added value. A successful stint in the kitchen also gives me the chance to share something I’m proud of with friends and family. Heck, even if it wasn’t successful, past triumphs give me the confidence to at least share a laugh!

Socializing around food is something I’ve come to value quite a bit. There are many great benefits to eating together, but what I like most is the opportunity to enjoy the company of others. Gathering around food allows us to come together, catch up, and share stories; it can be a means of self-care in itself. The best part is, it doesn’t need to be complicated! There are lots of ways to socialize around food:

  • Host a potluck
  • Make snacks for the hiking trail
  • Pack a picnic basket for the beach or park
  • Make a snack to share in a blanket fort
  • Share baking with coworkers or your community group
  • Join a local community kitchen or cooking club
  • Berry pick in your favourite berry patch
  • Explore a local farmers’ market
  • Volunteer to cook or serve food at a community dinner

…the possibilities are endless!

March is Nutrition Month, and Northern Health dietitians are encouraging you to share how you gather around food. What food-related activities will give you a break and let you breathe that sigh of relief?

Allie Stephen

About Allie Stephen

Allie works with Northern Health as a dietitian at the Regional Diet Office in Prince George. She grew up in Ottawa and completed her dietetic internship with Northern Health through the UBC Dietetics program. Allie loves all that BC has to offer and her experiences in the North have been no exception! In her spare time, she enjoys sharing food with friends and family, reading, dancing, canoeing, and exploring beautiful BC.

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