Demystifying Healthy Eating

March is Nutrition Month! This year’s theme is “good for you” and emphasizes that healthy eating looks different for everyone. 

What does healthy eating mean to you? You might think that healthy eating means having to eat certain foods or having to restrict foods you enjoy. Rather, it is about finding a pattern of eating that works for you and your family. Healthy eating looks different for each family and can depend on grocery budgets, busy schedules, cooking skills, food preferences, culture and food traditions, health conditions, and many other factors. 

Here are 3 tips to demystify healthy eating:

  • It can be affordable. There are many ways you can save money and shop on a budget at the grocery store while still eating nutritious and filling foods. 
  • It can be simple. You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen making a meal. Meal planning and prepping can help save you time getting meals on the table. 
  • It starts in the kitchen. Knowing how to cook and navigate your kitchen is a great way to develop healthy eating habits and be able to customize your food to your liking. If you would like to brush up on your skills, you might consider taking a cooking class or watching a tutorial video. 

Culture and Food Traditions 

Food and culture often go hand in hand. Traditions may impact what foods are enjoyed, how they’re prepared, and where or when it’s eaten. Expressing culture through food choices is also a great way to enjoy a variety of foods and pass on meaningful traditions to kids. If you’re unsure how to involve kids in the kitchen, learn about cooking skills by age level.

Foods that are enjoyed often can be adapted to make them healthier while maintaining the traditions behind them. Some ideas to boost the nutrition-profile of traditional dishes are: 

  • Substituting animal fats with vegetable oils, such as olive oil 
  • Adding more fruits or veggies 
  • Swapping refined grains with whole grains
  • Replacing excess salt with natural flavours from herbs or spices 

It may seem new, but making food more healthy is often easier than we think! Some examples of saving traditional aspects while giving them a nutrition boost include: 

  • Incorporating the tips above to add a twist to special occasions such as Thanksgiving
  • If baked goods rich in added sugar and refined flour are a staple at family gatherings, consider a reduced sugar or whole grain substitute such as whole grain banana bread
  • Trying a chocolate avocado mousse if your family is used to a rich and creamy dessert during special holidays 

It is important to know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating. If you require additional help or if you are concerned about a family member with an allergy or health condition, it is best to work with a dietitian to discuss you and your family’s unique nutrition needs. To access a dietitian call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm for free from anywhere in the province. You can also visit www.healthlinkbc.ca for reliable and accurate nutrition information. For more Nutrition Month tips and ideas check out https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/NutritionMonth-2021.

A Family Snapshot

Just as we love introducing our fantastic team members, we want to highlight one of our amazing families from Generation Health. And what better time for that than Family Day! This program is all about family—building connectedness, sharing time together in healthful pursuits and taking care of each other so we are all thriving. Here is one family’s inspiring story:

Amber (age 8) and her parents Amanda and Jeff from Burnaby.

1. How did you hear about Generation Health?

I believe it was from one of the posters at a local rec centre. Pre-pandemic, Amber was quite active so it was common for us be at a rec centre. I usually snoop around at the bulletin boards for new updates and programs.

2. Was the time commitment manageable and worthwhile for your family?

This program filled the Sunday afternoon spot just beautifully. If it was any other time it would have been in conflict. Back then Amber was busy every night except Monday nights. Her friend joined dance so that took up the weeknights. Chinese school and SFU science are half days on Saturday and piano and swim on Sunday mornings. She said she was bored on Sunday afternoons so Generation Health was a nice find.

3. Was the content new for you and your family? Did you learn some things?

The concept of eating healthy and exercising, etc was not new to us but it was the first time we enrolled in this type of program.

4. What was your one biggest takeaway from the program?

This takeaway is more about self discovery. This was the first course we took together. As much as we are mindful about eating healthy, family time, exercising, etc, as a parent I need to be more focused but more importantly tune out the distractions and get Amber to be more focused as well. We needed to live, breathe, eat and sleep the program for the duration of the program. In order to truly change our habits we first need to change ourselves. In marathon training we were told the body normally doesn’t want to run (human nature) but after 3 times a week for three weeks the body will not want to stay home. I would encourage others to live, eat, breathe and sleep the program when taking the program.

5. Would you recommend Generation Health to other BC families?

Oh definitely! Being an active person and hearing less active people saying things like, “Are you nuts?”, and “Why do you want to work so hard?”, it just feels good to live life– that includes eating healthy. As a young dad, my purpose of trying to stay active is to introduce Amber to all these beautiful activities. It could be something both of us can be passionate about knowing the activity is a vehicle that provides us bonding time.

6. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your family?

We are parents in training and forever will be. After Amber was born, as parents, we have been guided by that principle since day one. ‘Life is hard, everything else is easy’, is my personal slogan.

At the age of two she wanted to butter her own bread. Giving her a butter knife and butter was easy enough. We just had to keep cool when it was time to clean up. By three she wanted to cut fruits and veggies. It was concerning as the stakes got greater but we just learned to be more cautious. We gave her the sharpest dull knife in the drawer. She complained about how it doesn’t cut like our knives. We simply told her she needed to learn how to better utilize the knife.

By four she wanted to use the stove. Now we really started sweating. We started with eggs, oatmeal, noodles to fried rice. We bought a long spatula, got her an apron and a chair with a high back. She was reached the frying pan with her spatula just fine. I would have one arm around her and one hand on the frying pan. The stove wasn’t pretty but experience was priceless. Every one of these activities she wanted to learn was a teachable moment (according to Oprah Winfrey) not just for Amber but also for us. The more she can demonstrate her confidence with each too the more we gave her freedom to explore. The beautiful surprise came last year on a weekend morning. She came into my room and woke me up just to tell me breakfast is ready. I had egg and toast with avocado and a glass of milk. She is now comfortable with cooking her own simple meals and even added baking to her repertoire.

Two years ago, I wanted to get back into long distance running. Amber asked if she could come along. I knew I shouldn’t say no but I also knew I wouldn’t get far if I said yes either. Because we lived by the principle, I reluctantly invited her along. We jogged no more than two blocks before the walking started. Crappy thoughts ran through my mind until she started telling me her stuff. You know, things that parents are always curious about but didn’t really know, like her friends, how their friendships are and the things they enjoy doing together at school. We grabbed a snack along the way just to make sure she had more energy to keep on sharing and those lips moving. After that experience and what I learned from reluctantly inviting her on my run I will never say no to her joining me on a run.

Hobbies and Habits

The start of the new year is a time when we often feel the need to better ourselves. From eating healthy to moving more to sleep routines, resolutions abound, but we can often lose steam after a week or two and that can leave us feeling down on ourselves.

Consider another approach to building healthy habits and breaking the less healthy ones by starting a new hobby! This can add a new focus and inspiration to our lives. It may also help us stay occupied so are minds are distracted from falling into our routines of sedentary behaviour, unhealthy snacking or excess screen time. And during a pandemic, we all need different things to do at home to minimize boredom.

The key is to choose a hobby for which a S.M.A.R.T goal can be created. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Based which means setting a specific time target that is realistic to achieve each day or week. See our post on Family Goal-Setting for more detail. 

Here are some hobby ideas to choose from:

  • Learn a new instrument. Ukuleles and keyboards are more affordable introductory instruments than guitars and pianos and are great for kids! There are now fantastic new apps that turn learning into fun, like Simply Piano®
  • Learn a language. We are all missing travel! Think about a place you might like to visit in the future and consider learning the native language in preparation for your trip. Even better if you do it as a family so you can all practice together. There are also great programs available, like Rosetta Stone® or Dua Lingo® to help you along.
  • Sewing, knitting or embroidery. A great way to occupy your hands and create something with your efforts! 
  • Painting, drawing, photography or writing. There are simple tutorials available in print or online that can walk you through introductory painting and drawing. Writing can be as simple as journaling to trying your hand at poetry or a short story.
  • Gardening. Late winter is the time to plan your garden. Get seeds started inside in late February so the starts are already to plant in the spring. Growing food like vegetables and herbs is a fantastic way to build food literacy in children—watch them munch their way through the garden.
  • Woodworking or scale modeling. For those with a little more space around the house, these traditional hobbies can be very meditative in their need for focus and patience.
  • Jewelry making or papercraft. Create beautiful pieces to wear or give to others.
  • Juggling and magic. Build coordination and dexterity, not to mention multi-tasking and presentation skills, if you entertain others with a performance.

The Holidays in Isolation

We will all remember 2020 as the year of the pandemic and the changes it made to our society, our communities, our families and our day-to-day routines. It will be especially different at this time of the year when we are used to gathering indoors around the hearth or the table with our family and friends and we are now unable to do so. Rather than focus on what we cannot do or what we may have lost, try to prioritize the positive aspects of life we can all still share in:

1. Family time. Most of us will agree that we have had a lot more time together as an immediate family this year. Although this can be stressful at times, we may eventually realize it was the best part of this year and change forever how connected we are to each other. Consider gifts that families can have fun doing together like board games or DIY projects.

2. Getting outside. We hear this recommendation a lot these days, as the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and support our physical and mental health. Whether a walk in the woods or neighbourhood or a trip to the ski hill, the benefits of getting out in nature have not changed a bit! Check out our blog on getting Merry with Movement for ideas on getting active outside and inside on drearier days.

3. Decorating. Stringing lights, using candles and lots of colour is common in cultures around the world during the dark days of winter to give our homes a bright, inspiring boost!

4. Eating well. Although we might not be cooking and baking for as many, we can still celebrate with our favourite family recipes. Check out our blogs on Healthifying Your Holiday Recipes and maintaining the focus on eating lots of veggies to balance the treat foods common at this time of year.

5. Staying connected. Unique ideas are springing up for ways to stay connected to family, friends and community. From online dance parties, religious services, book clubs or eating a meal together over Zoom, we can still see and support each other. Be sure to check in on those who are living alone during this difficult year.

6. Giving back. If you and your family have been spared the financial complications of COVID-19 or another financial crisis, consider supporting those less fortunate. It may be more challenging to volunteer our time in person this year, but we can donate money, food, gifts, survival supplies and so much more to those in need in our communities and around the world.

Dark Days

We all tend to feel differently based on the weather outside. If it’s a sunny day, we feel more energized and optimistic. On a rainier day and during the darker months of the year, we may feel more dreary, demotivated or downright depressed. When these emotional states make you feel like a completely different person, it may be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder and the need for support.

Seasonal Affective Disorder tends to set in as we head into the darker, winter months when we have less exposure to sunlight. Not everyone is affected by this in the same way, but Seasonal Affective Disorder does seem to have a familial component with approximately 15% of sufferers having immediate family members experiencing the same issues.

What are some of the symptoms?
• sleeping more, or having trouble getting a good night’s sleep
• fatigue, and difficulty carrying out daily tasks
• appetite change, particularly more cravings for sugary and starchy foods
• weight gain
• feeling sad, guilty and lacking confidence
• feeling hopeless
• irritability and feelings of stress
• avoiding people or activities, including physical contact

Tips to Ease Your Winter SAD Symptoms:
• Spend more time outdoors during the day being active. Physical activity relieves stress, builds energy and increases both your physical and mental well-being and resilience. Try a noon-hour walk!
• Arrange the spaces you spend time in to maximize sunlight exposure, like keeping blinds open and moving furniture so you sit near a window.
• Trim tree branches or hedges that may be blocking some of the light from getting into your home.
• Install skylights and add lamps.
• Try to resist the carbohydrate and sleep cravings that come with SAD. Focus on balanced meals and snacks filled with vegetables, fruit, protein and whole grain foods. Try to create a sleep routine of 8 or 9 hours per night.

For some people, more significant support is needed. Don’t diagnose yourself—speak to your doctor or visit the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division www.cmha.bc.ca or call 1-800-555-8222 (toll-free in BC) or 604-688-3234 (in Greater Vancouver) for information and community resources on mental health or any mental illness.

Spooky Supper

Halloween is going to look a little different this year, but rather than feeling down about trick-or-treating, develop some new traditions. You can still decorate and dress up in costumes and have a fun family evening with some celebratory and spooky foods!

Serves 4

Creepy Fingers

8 medium carrots, peeled

8 medium parsnips, peeled

¼ cup hummus

16 sliced almonds

1 Tbsp beet juice (optional)

After peeling carrots and parsnips, slice a small piece off the thinner end to create a flat surface the size of the almond, as well as some ‘knuckle marks’ by making small, shallow cuts horizontally along the carrots and parsnips. Then place a small dollop of hummus on the flat surface and adhere an almond slice ‘fingernail’. Lay out as creepy fingers on a platter. Drizzle with beet juice ‘blood’ as desired.

Spidery Deviled Eggs

8 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and halved

1 Tbsp mustard

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

8 large black olives, pitted and halved

¼ cucumber

Scoop the cooked yolks out of the eggs and mash in a bowl with mustard and mayonnaise. Spoon or pipe this mixture back into the egg whites and lay on a platter yolk side up. Top each egg with an olive half as the spider body. Cut cucumber into tiny slices for spider legs then add 8 slices around each olive.

Jack-o-Lantern Quesadillas

4 large whole grain tortillas

1 can refried black beans

1 cup shredded orange cheddar

Preheat oven to 350F. Lay out two tortillas on a greased baking sheet. Spread each with refried beans and top with cheese. Cut a jack-o-lantern face out of the other two tortillas and place on top of the cheese. Brush with oil. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and tortillas are lightly crisped.

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

Giving Thanks!

Although the crowd gathered around our table this Thanksgiving may be a little smaller than usual and missing some of those far away family members, the spirit of this occasion can remain strong. Despite everything we’ve faced in 2020, we are so fortunate that our food supply has remained intact. And that is thanks to all of the hard-working farmers, ranchers, producers, harvesters, transporters and front-line workers.

The tradition of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest goes back centuries on the traditional and unceded ancestral lands and gatherings and rituals of our indigenous communities. These celebrations vary widely between different nations, but many involve feasting, dance, prayer and potlatch. The food also varies widely between different lands and what can be harvested or collected during this season, for example salmon from the BC rivers and coastline.

Many of the commonly consumed foods on Thanksgiving in Canada date back to early celebrations of European settlers coming north from the U.S. in the 1700s. These include turkey, a bird native to North America, as well as squash and pumpkin which are harvested at the end of the summer bounty.

The traditions that each family shares around this holiday are something incredibly special and they should be passed down to each generation so they can continue for years to come. Perhaps they involve special dishes, like vegetables or pies, or other fun past times like a walk in the autumn leaves or a game of family football. Most importantly, begin or maintain a ritual around giving thanks and sharing all that we have to be grateful for during these unprecedented times, whether it be the food on our table, the health of our family and friends or the strong spirit of all Canadians doing our part to stay safe and fight this pandemic.

If you’re looking for some new ideas for Thanksgiving dinner this year, consider serving a delicious vegetable soup to start the meal. It’s a great way to stretch out the time you’re together at the table, not to mention celebrate our beautiful bounty of squash: Butternut Squash Soup. It’s great to teach children that pumpkins (and squash) are not just for jack-o-lantern carving!

Meet the Team Part 3

Generation Health would not be the fantastic program it is without the hard work of our incredible team members who support families on their health journey. Let’s meet a few more of them:

What’s your role with Generation Health?

Lisa, Coordinator and Group Facilitator in Prince George

Lisa: I have two roles with the Generation Health Program here in Prince George. I am the Coordinator as well as the Group Facilitator and have been involved with the program since 2018.
Lindsay: I am the Physical Activity Facilitator at the Prince George location. I have been in this role since 2018, when the program launched in Prince George.  I really enjoy making the physical activity sessions fun by playing fun games and teaching new sport specific skills.
Rebecca: I’m the Physical Activity Facilitator for the YMCA Tong Louie Generation Health Program in Surrey.

Lindsay, Physical Activity Facilitator in Prince George

What are one or two of your favourite fall activities?

Lisa: My favourite activities to do in the Fall are trail running or hiking to take in the beautiful fall colours and favourable temperatures. I also love to do yoga to help reset my body and my mind.
Lindsay: I love going for walks in the forest and looking at all the different colours of leaves and hearing the leaves crunch underneath my feet.  Fall is also the start of hockey season. I play on a women’s team in the Co-ed division.
Rebecca: My two favourite fall activities are going on hikes and nature walks.

 

What are some of your favourite fall foods or meal ideas?

Rebecca, Physical Activity Facilitator in Surrey

Lisa: In the Fall, I like to go to quick and nutritious ideas as it is usually a busier time with our family. I make a lot of hearty soups with lots of veggies and lentils and chilli always seems to be a staple in our home during the cooler temperatures.
Lindsay: Homemade soups (Potato bacon cheddar & chicken noodle) and pumpkin loaf.
Rebecca: My favourite fall foods are homemade soup and stews.

Preventing the Fall Decline

As autumn arrives, it can be more tempting to cozy up on the couch with a warm drink and a favourite book or show, rather than get outside and move our bodies. It may also look different this year for extracurricular sports and activities due to physical distancing requirements. Overall, this could lead to difficulties achieving the Canada’s 24-Hour Movement Guidelines of 60 minutes each day of moderate to vigorous for children 5-17 and 150 minutes per week for adults. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Fall is a great time for outdoor activity as hot temperatures aren’t slowing us down. The crisp air and crunch of leaves beneath our feet can stimulate our senses in new ways. Consider a weekend hike to a favourite or new spot or find a local apple orchard where you can pick your own bushel. Take a thermos of warm soup along for a picnic. Make a game of collecting autumn-themed items from nature, like chestnuts, colourful leaves, flowers and pinecones, to make a wreath or a fall centrepiece for your table.

With potentially less activity occurring at schools due to new physical distancing requirements, prioritize family activities before or after dinner. Head out to the park for a game of football or soccer, jump on your bikes for a spin around the local trails or simply walk around the neighbourhood and smell those wood-stoves firing up.

If it is a rainy day, get movement happening inside with a family stretch, yoga or dance session. With gyms more problematic in the pandemic, try to create a space at home with exercise mats, hand weights, resistance bands, and an exercise ball easily accessible. Create a simple boot camp routine to post on the wall (e.g. 3 sets of 10 reps of push ups, crunches, walking planks, jumping squats, lunges).

By prioritizing physical activity in this and all seasons, we can support the whole family’s physical and mental health. This is especially important during this strange time of uncertainty when stress and anxiety can be easily exacerbated. So as the leaves fall, jump up and get moving!

Kids Can Cook!

By Nicole Fetterly, RD

As a campus dietitian and nutrition instructor, I have encountered thousands of students in the first-time-living-away-from-home stage of their life. Although they come from so many different places and backgrounds, one thing that is all too common among them is they do not know how to eat well. Most have never selected or shopped for their groceries and they lack cooking skills, and this leads to ultra-processed, convenient food choices that cannot support their health or academic goals.

Setting children up for a lifetime of success in the realm of nutrition and health is all about building food literacy from the youngest age. The more they learn about growing, selecting and cooking their food, the better eaters they will be. Get them involved in grocery shopping, gardening and cooking as soon as possible. Although it takes some effort at the start, in terms of giving them learning opportunities rather than doing it more quickly by yourself, the pay off is exponential! At age 11, my daughter can now make our family a day’s worth of meals, with very little support, and my son, at age 8, is constantly inspired by new recipes like his latest foray into Brazilian cheese buns. Yes, their mom is a dietitian and food writer so good food is a big focus in our family, but anybody can help build food literacy.

Here are some of the kitchen skills children are capable of by age or in terms of learning sequence:

Two and three year olds are learning to use the large muscles in their arms and can help with these activities:

  • Wiping table & counter tops
  • Moving pre-measured ingredients from one place to another
  • Rinsing and tearing leafy greens
  • Mixing ingredients (use an extra-large bowl to contain mess)
  • Kneading dough and simple shaping
  • Putting scraps in the compost and trash in the garbage can

Four and five year olds are learning to control smaller muscles in their fingers.  Offer experiences such as:

  • Setting the table
  • Mashing soft fruits (bananas) and cooked vegetables with a fork
  • Forming rounds shapes with hands and arranging platters
  • Measuring ingredients
  • Peeling loose-skinned oranges and hard-cooked eggs
  • Beating eggs with a whisk

Six to eight year olds are learning more responsibility, literacy and dexterity and can get involved in:

  • Making grocery lists
  • Learning to use small knives with supervision (start with softer items to cut)
  • Clearing the table and loading the dishwasher
  • Making simple dishes like sandwiches, quesadillas, nachos, scrambled eggs
  • Filling muffin cups

Eight to twelve year olds should be gaining the skills to cook relatively independently, with supervision for use of the stove and large, sharp knives. Encourage them to select recipes to try and get them packing their own lunches. Have them help create the meal plan and grocery list for the week and eventually they might take responsibility for a family meal, even if it’s just a smoothie to start.

The more opportunities children are given to develop food literacy and these foundational skills, the better their relationship with food for their entire lives.