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.

Quicken Your Cooking

When school starts back in September, the glory days of summer fade in an instant. We’re stocking up on school supplies and new shoes and packing healthy lunches becomes another item on the daily to-do list. By the time dinner hour arrives it can be overwhelming to think up and prepare a family meal, so we often fall victim to the drive-thru or picking up a pre-made meal like a frozen pizza. Although these treats are fun now and again, if they are a regular part of the routine, we could easily be overconsuming unhealthy nutrients like sodium, sugar and saturated fat and falling short on key foods like veggies and whole grains.
We all need quick meal ideas that can be on the table in 15 or 20 minutes but making it healthy doesn’t mean it has to be completely from scratch. Using a few simple starters can add convenience to your cooking without depriving your family of important nutrients.
Take packaged soup for example, whether a can or a tetra-pak. On its own, it is incredibly high in sodium, but if we just use it as a base, we can skip some of the work of chopping aromatic ingredients like onion and garlic. Soup up these soups by adding protein from legumes like canned chickpeas or white beans. Add ½ cup of quinoa or buckwheat for a quick-cooking whole grain to fill the family up. Finally toss in any favourite veggies or what you have to use up from the fridge. Kale is easy to freeze and crumble into any soup, sauce, curry or pasta dish.
Canned fish, especially salmon, is a pantry staple that can turn into a quick meal, whether made into tuna melts or patties or added into whole grain pasta. Canned or frozen legumes are another quick protein source that can be used for nachos, quesadillas or try out our Med Spread idea and make a simple chickpea salad or buy pre-made hummus. Just try to always include vegetables for essential nutrients, like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as fibre that fills us up longer.
If you have to stop at the grocery store to get dinner on the table, consider a rotisserie chicken. At many stores the only thing added is a spice rub so they are often as simple and affordable as if you’d made it yourself. Serve immediately with a big salad and then pull off leftover chicken for sandwiches or wraps for lunch the next day or for another dinner the next night, like a simple stir-fry. Smoked tofu works well too.
Eggs are also a fast meal—think breakfast for dinner! A simple veggie scramble with whole grain avocado toast is well-balanced and takes no time to prepare. Or keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge and pop them onto a quick buddha bowl with quinoa and veggies.
Of course, one of the best strategies for a quick meal is to double-up on your cooking endeavours on another occasion, like the weekend, and freeze a batch. You could even do it as a fun family activity!

Back to School

The end of a relaxing summer and the start back into September routine can be a stressful time for all of us, and likely more so this year due to the pandemic. School is going to look a little different in 2020 and that may be causing some uncertainty and anxiety for many children, not to mention parents. One way to manage these feelings is to try to find some normalcy and get back into a schedule and routine. Here a few things to consider:

1. Sleep—in the summer, we can quickly get out of our usual sleep routine, staying up late and sleeping in more. In the week leading up to the start of school, try to make the usual bedtime a priority and inch closer to the wake-up time that will be required for September. We may sleep less overall in the summer with longer daylight hours, but it’s so key for optimal mental and physical health to get the appropriate hours of sleep. The Canada’s 24 Hour Movement Guidelines recommend children 5 to 13 years old get 9-11 hours of sleep and 14 to 17 year olds need 8-10 hours per night with consistent bed and wake-up times. Lack of sleep can make anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating worse.

2. Activity—ensuring we get the recommended amount of activity each day can set us up for optimal health, both physical and mental. It can also tire us out so we sleep better! In the summer, there may have been more time for family activities like swimming, hiking and biking, but as we head into the fall, work and school priorities may get in the way. This fall, sports may look a little different and the opportunity for children to be active at recess and lunch may also change. Children 5-17 need 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity each day that gets their heart rate elevated. If that’s not going to happen through sports and activities, it needs to happen at home and after school is the best time to do it. Do you have space to set up a small home gym or a basketball hoop? Is there a yoga or dance class that they enjoy doing online? Or can you get out to your local park for a run or a game of catch? Creating an afterschool routine of activity will help to shake off any anxiety or stress that has accumulated through the day.

3. Screen Time—the recommendation is to limit to a maximum of 2 hours of recreational screen time per day, although many families find that restricting recreational screen time Monday-Thursday can allow for a better routine of homework, physical activity and family mealtime.

4. Eating—packing a healthy lunch is a great way to ensure kids have the energy they need to learn and be active at school. Get them involved from the earliest age to help build their food literacy and get their buy-in about what gets packed. Use the Canada’s Food Guide (https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/) plate model to pack a balanced lunch with half coming from vegetables and fruit. Prep these the night before to save time in the morning or choose produce that comes ready-to-eat like mini-cucumbers, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, apples, pears and oranges. Include a protein source like smoked or baked tofu, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, hummus or a sandwich made with canned salmon, tuna, cooked chicken, nut or seed butter (depending on the allergen restrictions in your child’s classroom). Be sure to choose whole grain bread or crackers as the fibre and nutrients will provide more lasting energy and overall better health than refined grain products. As a change, try a hot lunch by sending a thermos of leftovers like pasta, curry or stew. Don’t forget a water bottle, as drinking fountains may be closed due to the pandemic.

Then prioritize a family dinner where you can come together and share the positives and negatives from everyone’s day. Talking through the changes can help to alleviate the anxiety that may be building.

Kiss & Make Up Day

August 25th might not be the national day to celebrate your favourite sweet treat, but it’s certainly an important day. National Kiss and Make Up Day is all about putting aside your differences and resolving any conflicts with your family, friends or colleagues. Well, you don’t have to kiss your colleagues!

According to the Mayo Clinic, holding onto grudges can be toxic to your health, not to mention your relationships. Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:

Healthier relationships
Improved mental health
Less anxiety, stress and hostility
Lower blood pressure
Fewer symptoms of depression
A stronger immune system
Improved heart health
Improved self-esteem

It’s not always easy to forgive someone, especially if you’ve been hurt and the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong. It’s key to remember that it’s not just about them, it’s also about your state of mind and how that could be negatively affecting your physical and mental health. That doesn’t mean just bottle it up and move on—these emotions need to be acknowledged to be processed.

If you are struggling to forgive someone, try practicing empathy and seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view. Consider if you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation. Reflect on times you’ve hurt others and been forgiven. Consider writing down your feelings in a journal, doing a guided meditation or speaking to a counsellor, spiritual leader or an impartial friend or family member.

Eat to beat the heat!

Eating in the summer looks so different than in any other season. For one, there is so much fresh, local produce available and nothing beats a juicy peach, plum or handful of berries as a snack. Secondly, many of our staple family meals, like soups, stews, curries, stir-fries and hot pasta dishes, just don’t appeal in warm weather, especially if they involve turning on the oven or standing over a hot stove. Finally, summer is a time of camping, celebration and get-togethers (hopefully small this year!), when we tend to eat more treats like chips, sweets, grilled meats and refined grains that can leave us feeling less than ideal from a digestive standpoint.

Enjoy these last few weeks of summer and the bounty of food BC has to offer so that you start September feeling energized and ready to get back to routine, whatever that may look like this year! Here are a few suggestions for foods to include and some new meal ideas for your family:

Breakfast—skip the hot porridge and the ‘treat’ cereals and make some Overnight Oats, Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits or a Smoothie. Starting the day with a fibre and protein-rich breakfast will give you lasting energy for when you’re hitting the lake or trail. Adding chia or ground flax seeds also gives you a boost of omega 3 fatty acids. These are key for combatting inflammation that may result from different activities you may be trying out (e.g. paddling, yard work, hiking, etc) or from health conditions like arthritis or digestive disorders.

Lunch—during the hottest time of day, be sure to eat lots of thirst-quenching foods like fresh veggies and consume lots of fluid without sugar, alcohol or caffeine. Our Agua Fresca recipe can be a nice change from straight water! Adequate hydration is key to keeping energy levels up, replacing losses from sweat and ensuring all your body systems, especially your skin, are working optimally. Try a meal-salad with plant-based proteins from beans, tofu or nuts, topped with a healthy, flavourful dressing like our Miso Tahini sauce.

Snacks—beating the heat often involves getting out of the house for a swim, a hike or a bike ride. Remember to pack lots of water and rather than a bag of chips or ultra-processed bars, consider a small cooler of simpler snacks like hard-boiled eggs, cut-up veggies and hummus, bocconcini tomato skewers and some watermelon slices.

Dinner—on a hot day, using the barbecue is a great solution! Check out our post on Healthy Grilling for ideas. The salmon season is now open in many parts of the province and consuming fatty fish at least twice a week is key for optimal heart and brain health and another dose of those anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.

Ayurvedic approaches to health (the millennia-old tradition in India) involve the belief in cooling foods like cucumber, mint, green leafy veggies, celery, melon and other water-rich fruits. Eat these locally grown BC vegetables and fruit in abundance—half your plate at each meal and snack—to truly beat the heat!