Healthy Living in the North

Back to school… to the kitchen?!

Salad bar

Chetwynd Secondary School students with their salad bar.

When I was in high school, cafeteria food was a lot different than it is today! We didn’t have nutrition guidelines that I knew of, our pop machines were well stocked with what is now contraband pop and every Friday was (deep fried) fish and chips day. Nowadays we recognize that having healthy food in schools is important for students’ growth, learning and their health later in life. Some may argue that it’s too complicated or expensive to feed kids healthy choices in schools, but there are schools that are making it work and they are glimmers of hope across the north!

This week I went back to school, to Chetwynd Secondary School, to see how they’re making food skills a priority and getting the students involved in their cafeteria. Vice Principal and Foods Teacher Helen Toppin filled me in on some of their offerings, which includes a daily breakfast program (free to all students), daily hot lunch service, and a twice weekly salad bar. They also have vending machines that are filled with water, milk, juice, sandwiches, yogurt and granola bars. The best part? The students prepare all of the food daily in a credited cafeteria class led by Diane Mallia. As well, Ms. Toppin’s foods classes are mandatory for Grades 8 and 9, and her three optional senior foods classes are well attended.

Salad bar prep

Prepping for the salad bar at Chetwynd Secondary School.

I was never even encouraged to take a foods class (or home economics, as we called it) in elementary or high school. At the time I didn’t miss it, but I was also fortunate to learn those food skills in my home, from my parents and grandparents who knew how to cook and bake. If today’s parents are like me and didn’t get that educational opportunity, then it is even more important to ensure that their children are taught these skills at school! I’m happy to see that across B.C., foods courses are making a comeback and that schools are again recognizing the value of food skills for life.

When asked what they thought of the cafeteria class, the students had a lot to say. Some admitted that they only took the course because they needed the credit, but others shared that they now cook more at home with their families and enjoy eating the foods that they help prepare. It brought a smile to my face when one male student marvelled that making pizza is actually really easy and cheaper than buying it!  Another student told me that the food tastes better because it is homemade and she feels better knowing who has touched it.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say! Ms. Mallia informed me that they usually sell out of everything they make and the students know to get there early so that they don’t miss out. On the day I visited, the salad bar was offering Greek ribbon salad, Caesar salad, and white bean and vegetable soup. And yes, believe it or not there was a student excited about white bean soup, but I was told that “he’ll eat anything.” J

Did you take foods classes in school? Are your kids taking foods classes now? Do you live in northern B.C.? We’d love to hear your experiences!

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “Healthy eating supports healthy individuals, families and communitiesmeans to Holly. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.


Remember: Every move counts!

Every move counts

Every move counts!

The majority of us feel guilty while sitting at home watching individuals on TV being active. But you don’t have to beat yourself up if you can’t keep up with David Beckham or Serena Williams. The truth is, every move counts! Whether it’s parking in the farthest parking spot or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, these little changes over time can make a difference. Eventually it won’t seem like a task anymore, but a part of your everyday life.

Increased physical activity can improve your health status, even if it’s just a small amount; getting active doesn’t have to be a marathon event. Having a scheduled exercise time every day doesn’t have to be the only way to be active. Basically, if you’re off your couch and moving around, you’re engaging in physical activity, even if it may not seem like it. Physical activity is anything that increases your heart rate and breathing. This can include:

  • Walking
  • Playing with your kids
  • Gardening
  • Dancing
  • Even doing household chores.

By increasing the duration and amount of time that you are engaging in these activities, you can improve your stamina, and eventually work your way up to more time or joining others in physical activity, like a local running group, for instance.

There are a lot of components to a healthy lifestyle; diet, exercise and your environment can all play a role in your health. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing – you don’t have to go to the gym every day of the week. The World Health Organization recommends that you get 150 minutes of physical activity per week, which is around 22 minutes a day. Every time you do something physical, count that towards your time because every move does count. You can add to that time by making strategic choices. At the end of the day you may only have 10 minutes left to exercise, and this can be completed easily by going for a walk, or sweeping/vacuuming your floors.

Next time you think about getting active, forget about the traditional treadmill and consider the daily activities you engage in that can contribute to improved health. Just remember, every move counts!

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “Every move counts” means to Jasmine and Meghan. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Men's Health Nursing Students

About Men's Health Nursing Students

Jasmine Ford is a fourth year nursing student currently doing a practicum with the men’s health program. Jasmine grew up on Vancouver Island and has been living in the north for five years while completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her passions include working in physical rehabilitation and long term care. Meghan McQuhae is a fourth year nursing student currently doing a practicum with the men’s health program. Meghan grew up in the Fraser Valley, and has been living in Prince George for five years while completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her passion is working in the acute care field of nursing.


Healthy eating is more than just the food

Oolichan drying in the wind

Oolichan fish drying in the wind. Historically, oolichan, known as the candle fish, were prized for their oil and were one of the most valued trade items, and are a key component to traditional food.

Sometimes in the work I do, I never quite know what to expect or where I’ll end up. Last week I called Florence, one of the cultural community health representatives in the Nass Valley who is very passionate about her work caring for the elders and creating greater food security in her community. I wanted to know a little more about the oolichan fish run that is happening right about now and she offered to take me to some of the camps to see what it is all about for myself. I admit that I was super excited to go, but hesitated for a brief moment because I still remember the last time I went out with her; I fell in a bog while picking Tiim laxlax’u (aka Labrador tea). Still, eager for the opportunity to get away from my desk, I accepted her offer.

Usually the oolichan are ready for harvesting right after Hobiyee, the celebration of the Nisga’a New Year. The story of Hobiyee is that during the celebrations they look at the moon and if it is facing upwards, similar to the shape of the bowl of wooden spoon, called a Hoobix, it means there will be plenty of traditional foods available to the people in the Nass Valley.

Oolichan is important to the people of the Nass Valley because it’s the first fish to come after the long winter, which is a time when most of the food put by for the winter is almost gone. Oolichan then fills the gap as a source of food fish until the salmon and other fish, berries and wild game are available in the summer months. Oolichan is also preserved by drying in the sun and wind, smoking or rendering for grease.

Most of us know that access to traditional food increases food security in Aboriginal communities and contributes to the overall health of individuals, their families and the communities that they live in. This is true – traditional food is packed full of nutrition. These foods are key sources of protein, essential fatty acids, iron, calcium and vitamin D, zinc, fibre and antioxidants, all of which are known prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, anemia, obesity, and, importantly, they are naturally low in salt, saturated fat and sugar.

But that’s not all of it. Satisfying immediate hunger needs and improving physical health is only part of it. The whole process of gathering, preserving and sharing the food is just as important because it contributes to spiritual and emotional well-being through the social and cultural connections that are strengthened through these traditions. In other words, traditional foods have both nutritional and cultural significance, and that’s what the oolichan run is all about. I saw this first-hand on my outing with Florence. The oolichan were not out yet, but there were men setting up the camps, where they will stay for the next two months harvesting the fish. They will then distribute the harvest to their various family networks that will process and preserve the fish and share it further within their communities. I know Florence will go down with her young grandchild and harvest and process some of her own and share it among the elders that she cares for.

I didn’t fall in a bog this time, but I did gain a greater perspective of food security in Aboriginal communities and saw how access to traditional foods improves health and well-being. How does healthy eating contribute to your overall health?

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “Healthy eating supports healthy individuals, families and communities” means to Beth. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Beth Evans

About Beth Evans

As a registered dietitian, Beth is dedicated to helping individuals, families and communities make the healthiest choices available to them, and enjoy eating well based on their unique realities and nutrition needs. Juggling work and a very busy family life, Beth is grateful for the time she spends with her family enjoying family meals, long walks and bike rides. She also loves the quiet times exploring in her garden, experimenting in the kitchen, and practicing yoga and meditation.


Announcing the Picture YOU Healthy Challenge

Chapman vs Bowering

Dr. Chapman (on the right) as he faced off with Dr. Bowering (left) in the March MANness competition 2012.

March is here and with it brings new opportunities to become active in your community. Last year, Dr. Bowering and I took part in a healthy competition during the March MANness 2012 campaign, competing in ping pong, Wii Golf, and a final race around the track at the Northern Sports Centre. While the ending was controversial, the message was not: getting active is fun and easy!

We have been on a journey to raise awareness about our position papers on modifiable risk factors on topics including healthy eating, active living, and healthy communities. During September we issued the September Healthy Living Challenge to find out how northerners apply these principles to their everyday lives by submitting pictures, sharing stories, and getting active in their communities. It was a great success with people from across our region participating and getting involved.

This month, we are looking for northerners to get involved again for the Picture YOU Healthy campaign. We want you to tell us what certain key messages mean to you – in a picture! Visit the Picture YOU Healthy contest page for rules and new key messages released each week. This is a fun way to show us how YOU live an active and healthy life in our beautiful region.

We look forward to hearing from you!

[Editor’s note: The first week’s key messages have been revealed on the Picture YOU Healthy contest page. For the rest of the week, we’ll be sharing staff member’s blog posts and pictures about their ideas!]

Dr. Ronald Chapman

About Dr. Ronald Chapman

Ronald Chapman is a physician with a fellowship in community medicine, and extensive experience in the leadership and management of health services with a focus on community health. Dr. Chapman joined the Northern Health team in 2007 as regional director of the Northern Cancer Control Strategy. Dr. Chapman assumed the role of the chief medical health officer of Northern Health in June 2011, and in February 2013, he transitioned to Vice President, Medicine in Northern Health.