It’s National Nutrition Month in Canada, and this year’s theme is “Good for You!” What does that mean? It means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating. What works for you, may not work for your neighbour, and what works at one point in your life may not work during a different stage.
If you’ve been struggling with maintaining some of your healthy habits of the past since the pandemic started, or trying to find a new routine – you aren’t alone. For one thing, lockdown and remote work have conspired to rob many of us of the regular physical activity that we had been taking for granted – even just the steps we got in while walking at work or in the mall! Second of all, the refrigerator has never been more constantly within reach. It’s probably fair to say that a lot of us have spent some time stress-eating as well, and for good reason. With social isolation, many new pressures and the need to reduce our trips to the local grocer, this can easily translate into convenient foods that don’t actually promote our personal health. For a lot of us who are determined to turn this trend around, this means that we’re thinking more carefully than ever before about our diets, what they include, and what kinds of things we’re missing that could help us on our individual pathways toward wellness and healthier living.
Keep reading to learn more about the perspectives of registered dietician Michelle Jaelin, who works on TV and media communications, sharing nutrition, food tips and cultural cuisine content.
What are some common misconceptions about “healthy eating”?
“I love this question, because there are many in the nutrition world. In the social media space, the images of healthy eating often only have one look: raw, plant-based or vegan – with lots of fresh produce and green salads on pristine white countertops, which is often associated with being clean or virtuous. Another misconception is perfectly prepared meals in glass containers to be consumed throughout the week. While all these examples may be healthy eating for some, the reality is it’s highly individual and unique to each person. Healthy eating is different for everyone and depends on culture, dietary restrictions, religious beliefs, food preferences, cooking skills, nutritional needs, environment and so many other factors.”
If you could tell Canadians one thing about healthy eating this Nutrition Month, what would it be?
“Forget about all the trendy diets and find your own healthy. It may be incorporating a family ancestral way of cooking and eating from your own culture. I encourage you to dig deep to find out what that is!”
Here are some great ways to get inspired about healthy eating this month:
A growing number of online communities are sharing healthy recipes with their member followers. We are one such community, and the number is growing as newer communities increasingly focus on niche dietary needs and preferences, medical challenges and limitations when it comes to dietary options, ethical movements like vegetarianism and veganism, in addition to scenes devoted to diverse cultural influences or fusion cuisine pioneers.
Have a Plan for Healthy Snacking and Easy Meals
Find groups that meet your dietary needs and creative cooking inclinations on either Facebook or Pinterest. See what others are doing. Find your own voice, get inspired, and consider organizing a virtual cook-off, even just with friends. Have group members vote on and select a dish to tackle as a collective. Invite creativity and deviations from the recipe. Then have a no-winner follow up in which everyone tries their own creation, reports on the outcomes, and highlights the health benefits of the ingredients they chose to incorporate.
When we think about healthy eating and what “good for you” means, we need to take into consideration not only what we eat, but where and when we eat too. Sometimes the difference between healthy choices and less healthy choices is how easy each option is. If you’re finding yourself reaching for the chips or opting for takeout on a regular basis, it may be worth exploring how to make healthy choices easier. Naturally, for us at Rancho Vignola, one key strategy is keeping our fridge well stocked with nuts, seeds and dried fruit! Other ways that you can make healthy choices easier are by preparing a handful of your favourite recipes in advance and keeping them in the freezer for quick grab-and-go snacks (try our Carrot Cake Energy Bars) or easy weeknight meals (such as our Cashew Cream of Broccoli Soup). Another strategy is to make a list of three to five meals you enjoy that you can make in under 30 minutes with ingredients you typically have on hand. Having easy go-to options is one of the first steps to building healthy habits – take the time to explore what works for you!
Make Meal Planning a Family Event
Healthy eating and active lifestyles start within the family unit. This way everyone gets to provide input and feel like their personal likes and dislikes matter to the whole family. Take stock of different dietary requirements across the range of family members and start brainstorming about meal ideas that support everyone’s individual dietary needs, plans for whole-body wellness and personal tastes.
A lot of families like to share an active lifestyle. Whether hiking or cross-country skiing, they love to get outdoors and elevate their heart rates. Past dietary myths have proposed that nuts were not a part of a healthy diet, but we now know that this just isn’t true. In fact any family that makes a point of its members getting enough physical exercise should consider a diet that consists of a certain quantity of the right kinds of nuts as they can act as a wonderful source of protein and a range of vitamins and minerals that are instrumental in any active lifestyle but have been shown to be especially effective in HIIT (high-intensity interval training) fitness trends, like CrossFit, long-distance endurance sports and even body-building.
More senior baby boomers who like to stay active should also take note: leading and contemporary studies increasingly agree that a diet that includes nuts and seeds seems instrumental to maintaining a healthy heart and avoiding related complications as we get older.
Organize a Healthy Lunches Movement for Schools
Why not start an online “Meal Ideas” group for the parents of your children’s peers where they go to school. Enlist the school’s support in spreading the word. Encourage followers to share – using video, supported by ingredient lists, if possible – their favourite recipes that are healthy, simple to make, ideal for kids’ lunches and is made of food kids love! Share qualified third-party insights about nutrition and dietary health, and help other parents in your community make informed decisions when they go to the grocery store. A lot of parents are especially strapped for time right now and many would probably appreciate this kind of information, as well as the ability to make new friends when we’re all isolated at home.
Volunteer for a Community Food Bank or Group
This is a great time to ask ourselves what we can do to help make a positive change in our communities. Unsurprisingly, the people who are most at risk of dietary deficiencies and malnutrition are the ones who can least afford it. The statistics that point to a growing disappearance of the middle class and the increasing demand on the heads of families’ to work harder just to earn a living wage directly mirror a social problem in which large swaths of society simply cannot afford to feed themselves well. Find local community groups on social media and see how you can support your community to make a difference.
This is one of our favourite awareness months and we hope that you get to find all kinds of ways to celebrate it and incorporate its values into your daily dietary and exercise routines. After a year in which a lot of people have suffered the effects of a loss in physical activity, disconnection from their communities and countless personal disappointments and tragedies, things are definitely turning around for the better.
We have every reason to look forward to the coming year with confidence. To make ourselves, our bodies and our minds a priority. And to close the book on the past year by investing in a dietary plan that works for each of us and gives us the energy we need to grow and become healthier individuals and stronger communities.
Adapted from the Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month materials. Find more information about Nutrition Month at NutritionMonth2021.ca.
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