Healthy Living in the North

Celebrating the work of dietitians in the north: Dietitians Day 2018

Did you know that March 14th is National Dietitians Day in Canada? On this day, we celebrate registered dietitians (RDs) as healthcare professionals who support health through food and nutrition. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on the contributions of the approximately 35 passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated RDs that work all throughout Northern Health. In particular, I started to think about those dietitians that have served in the north for many years and how things have changed over the years.

Linda’s story

 I first met Linda McMynn in the fall of 1996. She interviewed (and subsequently hired) me via videoconference for a job at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. It was my first experience with videoconference, a very new technology at the time. Linda’s willingness and courage to use this brand new technology really speaks to her openness to seek out new challenges. Linda was the first dietitian to work in Terrace, moving here in the 1970s:

I got to write my own job description and develop the job the way I wanted. I felt very isolated in the beginning, but the job turned out to be a huge opportunity. I was able to explore and work in many areas of the profession that I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed in Vancouver.”

Working in the north helped shape Linda’s preferences and career path. She says that during her training, she enjoyed clinical work, but intensely disliked food service and administrative dietetics. However, in the past two decades with Northern Health, Linda has immersed herself in the food service world. She pioneered the development of high quality food service practices and policies that have improved food service in all Northern Health facilities.

Two dietitians cooking pasta together.

Left: Linda McMynn and Right: Flo Sheppard; circa 2010 in Smithers at a Northwest Dietitian gathering, making pasta.

When I asked Linda what she believed to be at the core of her work as a dietitian, she was quick to say ‘food first’:

The best way to ensure good nutrition is by preparing, eating, and enjoying good food  . . . ideally with others.”

Certainly, I recall her efforts to make this real for the residents of Terraceview Lodge, a residential living facility in Terrace. I’ve always been struck by how deeply Linda cares about the people she serves. Certainly, many dietitians, including myself, prefer to be working behind the scenes to make things better, like Linda.

Wendy’s story

 Wendy Marion-Orienti is a dietitian based out of Smithers. Like most northern dietitians, she is a generalist, working across the spectrum of care: health promotion and prevention, treatment, and long-term care. She is best known for her expertise in person-centred care, especially with clients with diabetes and disordered eating. When I first met Wendy in 1996, I was struck by her passion for food and her focus on providing whole-person care.

Two dietitians standing together on rock over looking valley near Smithers, BC.

Left: Wendy Marion-Orienti and Right: Shelly Crack; taken near Smithers circa 2010.

Wendy didn’t start out wanting to be a dietitian. Initially she was enrolled in a degree in interior design at the University of Saskatchewan. The program had set courses for the first two years. While taking a required nutrition course, she was struck by the professor’s impassioned description of nutrition and its ability to make a profound difference at the local, national, and global level. It was this discovery that motivated Wendy to switch career paths. Her upbringing on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan, where “we ate what we grew and very few foods were purchased (sometimes macaroni)” is what “planted [her] in nutrition,” so this switch to a career as a dietitian was an easy one.

When asked what she loves most about her work, Wendy said:

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with clients, families, colleagues, and community . . . to walk with them, and to support them in making informed choices about their health.”

 I, along with many other dietitian colleagues, have been on the receiving end of Wendy’s warm and nurturing support and friendship.

Reflections of nutrition: then and now

Collectively, Linda and Wendy have offered almost 100 years of quality service to northern BC.  When asked about changes in the nutrition landscape, both of them reflected on how the field of nutrition has continued to grow.

Linda noted that there has been a growth in the interest in food and nutrition:

When I first started working as a dietitian, nutrition was not a frequent topic of discussion in the media. I don’t remember there being the prevalence of food fads, supplements, and diets being promoted. There wasn’t much interest in where our food comes from. Now there is so much more interest in all aspects of food.”

 Wendy agreed. She reflected that, throughout the years, there are cycles of food fads – the “miracle” food was once broccoli, then kale, cauliflower, and coconut, to name a few. In truth, there are no magic foods, rather the wisdom of variety and balance prevail.

Wendy also appreciates the ever-expanding variety of foods that can be enjoyed. She remembers when yogurt and granola were rare, found only in health food stores. Now, an increasing number of people enjoy diverse eating patterns that incorporate foods from a variety of cultures and those locally grown or produced. Wendy incorporates influences from Korea, China, and Thailand into her cooking, as a result of travel to these countries. However, she occasionally enjoys a traditional meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, and fresh greens from the garden, which is a meal from her youth. Although the foods we eat and our understanding of healthy eating has grown over time, the basic understanding that food means more than nutrients, is key. Food celebrates who we are and where we come from.

This year’s Dietitians Day, I’d like to honour the RDs that have come before me, those I work with now, and those who will come next. I feel honoured to share in the work that dietitians do. RDs have a strong scientific knowledge base, and promote person-centered health, not only through food and nutrition, but also through their passion, commitment, and advocacy for the health and wellness of the communities they serve.

Do you have a story about how a dietitian has made a difference for you?  If so, we’d love to hear about it. Happy Dietitians Day!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!


Nutrition Month: Celebrating food’s potential to bring us together

Happy Nutrition Month!

Each year, for the month of March, dietitians celebrate food and nutrition, and what it means for individuals and communities across Canada. Food has the potential to do so many things: it fuels us and supports health and wellness; through food we can discover, whether it’s learning a new recipe or exploring new tastes; and one of food’s greatest gifts is its potential to bring us together. What does eating together mean to you?

I’ve recently moved to northern BC to start a new role as a dietitian with Northern Health’s Population Health team. In the last few months, I’ve been building my social network in Prince George, and many of the connections I’ve been making are over a shared meal. Whether it’s gathering for a weekend potluck, eating lunch with co-workers, or meeting new friends for brunch, coming together often happens over food. Food supports conversation (it’s not often that you find a quiet brunch table!). Gathering over a meal is a time to connect: to share stories, discuss current events, reflect on your week, or maybe even learn something new.

tart on table

Food creates more than social connections.

Even if I’m sitting down to a cozy meal for one, by taking the time to prepare food for myself, I am celebrating meal time, and connecting both to myself and to the food I am preparing.

In these ways, eating together supports our physical, emotional and mental wellness by:

  • Connecting us to our own and other’s land, traditions and cultures
  • Connecting us to our communities
  • Building lifelong memories
  • Creating social connection
  • Teaching and learning new skills (especially true if you prepare a meal with others!)
  • Exploring a variety of foods – (nothing invites variety quite like a potluck!)

…meals are much more than just food and function, facts and figures. Meals are about culture and tradition. Meals are about love and harmony. Meals are about friendship and fun…meals are about family.” – Better Together BC

potluck items on table

Food has the potential to connect us.

Coming together around food can mean many things. If you’re thinking about ways to eat together more, consider starting with small steps:

  • Share a snack with friends during a hike or walk; snacking in nature may lead to interesting discussion!
  • Set aside at least one night or morning per week to eat together as a family, or add one more meal time to your current schedule (e.g. eat three meals together instead of two).
  • Plan a Saturday potluck with friends, and provide the recipe for your dish; this is sure to strike up some conversation!

What does eating together look like for you?

This March, join us in the Nutrition Month Eating Together Photo Challenge: share a picture of yourself eating together with family, friends, or colleagues, along with a short message explaining how you feel food brings you together. Check out the contest page to learn more.

Read how food brings other Northern Health employees together:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

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


Are “picky eaters” just “eaters in training”?: Tips to help build kids’ food acceptance skills

Child eating a cherry

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods.

It’s lunch time. You prepare a meal and sit down to eat with your kid(s). They eat all of the [food x] but leave [food y] completely untouched. What’s the deal? Is it always going to be like this? Why can’t they just eat a bit of everything? How do kids go from here (“rejecting” certain foods) to there (accepting a wide variety of foods)?

Come on a little trip with me!

Imagine you take a trip to an unfamiliar place. Somebody presents you with bread, cheese, and a bowl of … green, lumpy, semi-solid something. They gesture for you to eat it. You hesitate. You feel anxious. You don’t know what this is – you certainly don’t feel like eating it!

Stay on this trip with me. Imagine now that you eventually learned to like that green, lumpy, semi-solid something, and now you even look forward to when it might be served again! Whaaaat? How could it be? How did you come to accept, and even like, that food?

It could look like this:

First, you looked to see that other people were actually eating it. But you looked at the “semi-solid something” and decided that you were not yet ready to try it. The next week, it was offered again, and now it was a little less scary. Maybe you poked at it with your spoon. Later, you gave it a sniff. Then, you stuck your finger in it. Maybe someone told you what was in the dish. Maybe you had the opportunity to see it being prepared, and you even got to help. Eventually, you put a little in your mouth but then spit it into a napkin. You decided it was tasty, and that you wanted a little more of this … broccoli soup or green jello or guacamole or whatever this dish is in your mind.

Back to reality. Think of a time when you learned to like a new food. What helped you to learn?

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods. We can help to make this learning process feel safe.

Here are some things to try to support your kids to learn to eat a variety of foods:

  • Make the same meal or snack for everyone. Sit and eat together. Seeing others eat a food is a great way to learn about it.
  • Offer new foods with familiar foods. If they are not yet comfortable with one food, kids can eat from the other items at that meal or snack.
  • Serve new foods over and over, without pressure or praise. Kids may need to see a food 15 to 20 times before they decide to eat it.
  • Be honest about what you are serving. Kids need to experience foods in order to learn.
  • Teach your kids to politely turn down food they aren’t yet ready to eat.
  • Respect tiny tummies. Serve a small amount to start and allow seconds. Kids’ hunger and appetite change from day to day, meal to meal.
  • Involve kids in growing and cooking food, and in packing their lunch.
  • Praise kids on their table manners, not on how much or what they eat.
  • Expect that in time your “eater in training” will learn to accept a variety of food. They will learn at their own pace.

For more information, see: Coaching Kids to Become Good Eaters and The Picky Eater.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise started her career as a dietitian with Northern Health in 2004 when she moved to Terrace "for a year." More than 10 years later, she is now part of the regional population health registered dietitian team and she continues to love living, working and playing in B.C.'s northwest. Lise enjoys playing outside with her husband and friends and you might find her skiing, biking or kiting. She’s passionate about local food, keeps a garden, enjoys local community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers market goodies, and carries out food preservation projects.


2nd annual Dietitians Day pro tips!

Group photo

Northern Health dietitians from Haida Gwaii to Fort St. John gather together!

With Nutrition Month in full swing, it’s time to celebrate the people who bring credible, evidence-based nutrition information to the public: today is Dietitians Day!

Registered dietitians (RDs) are university-trained food and nutrition experts who work in a variety of settings like health care, the community, with business, and in private practice. We translate scientific research into practical solutions for individuals, families, and communities. We love to share our tips on healthy eating while celebrating the social and cultural roles that food plays in our lives!

Did you know that registered dietitians are the only regulated nutrition professionals in British Columbia? This means we are accountable to our regulatory college (College of Dietitians of BC), where we are required to follow professional codes of conduct and ensure our training is kept up to date. The regulatory college is there to protect the public and is your point of contact if you have questions or concerns around an RD’s conduct.

In what is quickly becoming a yearly tradition for Dietitians Day at Northern Health, I’ve once again reached out to my fellow Northern Health dietitians (and a few of our dietetic interns) to share their “Pro Tips” for Nutrition Month. Check them out below and if you are hungry for more, be sure to follow Northern Health on Twitter for nutrition information all month long. Happy Dietitians Day!

What’s your Dietitians Day pro tip?

  • Emilia (Terrace): Enjoy family meals often. People who eat together, eat better!
  • Kelly (dietetic intern, Prince George): Try roasting your veggies. It’s an easy way to bring out their natural sweetness!
  • Lise (Terrace): Jazz up your water! Try cucumber, berries, or mint. Kids can help too!
  • Emilia (Terrace): Make your own take-out. Try pizza or taco night & let everyone pick their own veggie toppings!
  • Marianne (Prince George): Be passionate about food. Grow, cook, or taste something new!
  • Flo (Terrace): Diets don’t work. Eat & enjoy a variety of foods for health & pleasure.
  • Laurel (dietetic intern, Terrace): All foods fit! Eat for your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
  • Tamara (Prince George): Get the kids involved. Let them choose a new recipe & make it together.
  • Olivia (Prince George): Bored with plain water? Try flavoured herbal teas – they are good hot or cold!
  • Flo (Terrace): Behaviour determines health, not weight. Eat intuitively, move joyfully & love your body today.
  • Darcie (Prince George): Dietitians are passionate about food & nutrition! We help translate nutrition science for everyday life.
  • Marianne (Prince George): Enjoy regular meals & snacks. Feed yourself – provide, don’t deprive!

Looking for more information on registered dietitians? Check out Dietitians of Canada.

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.