Food Matters – March is Nutrition Month

Health Canada illustration

Health Canada illustration

March is Nutrition Month in Canada. That means a lot of messaging being sent out encouraging Canadians to eat healthy, and even a contest designed to help families come up with award-winning nutritious recipes. But does the messaging work? Are we changing our eating habits?

This month, eating healthy can result in fabulous prizes. That’s one way Health Canada and the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation are encouraging healthy eating with the Eat Well Recipe Contest. You can submit a favourite family recipe to win prizes, and the grand prize is a family cooking session with Chef Christine Cushing, and you get a two-minute segment of fame with a video made of the grand prize family cooking session. Deadline is Saturday, March 8th at midnight, so enter soon!

What I do like in this year’s message is the emphasis on family activities and education surrounding food. Here are some Health Canada suggestions: Plan meals together. That can help with valuable life skills such as organizing and budgeting. Kids can check flyers for healthy foods on sale, help write the grocery list, or put together a folder of favourite recipes.

Turn grocery shopping into a family field trip, I like that, especially if it includes going to a farmers’ market.

And, Get your kids into the kitchen. Younger kids can measure ingredients, mix, pour and stir. Have a pizza night where everyone makes their own mini pizzas, of course with health toppings.

All great suggestions but I think it’s going at the concept in the wrong direction. These suggestions have the parents imparting the knowledge of healthy food to the kids. What if the parents don’t have the knowledge to begin with? And I would suggest that in our current demographics it’s younger people who may actually have more knowledge of what a healthy food is than their parents do.  We’re within a couple of generations of parents who didn’t necessarily learn how to cook, what healthy eating really is, and how to spend their money in the best way to give their kids a healthy diet. All you have to do is look at our supermarkets and all the processed food that ends up in our shopping carts.

Is the food shopping driven by the parents, or by the demands of their children? That is the $64 question. Kids who are actually learning about nutrition at school will modify their parents shopping choices in one way, while parents may be driven by convenience needed in a busy life, OR their kids may be influencing by advertising, there are many more commercials on TV for frozen pizzas and fast food chains than there are for broccoli and potatoes. I know in my own family that when my niece was younger and learning about nutrition, she was constantly criticizing my poor sister and her shopping choices, because my niece was the one reading all the labels. I really do believe that it’s the younger generation that will make the difference here, as they have done with reusing and recycling, for example.

Healthy Harvest Tomato and Basil Sauce

Healthy Harvest Tomato and Basil Sauce

I try not to give into convenience too much, but that’s where label reading comes in handy. This week I bought some fresh roasted chicken tortelloni from Safeway’s Open Nature brand, and a jar of Healthy Harvest pasta sauce. Both with good flavour, a very short list of ingredients, no artificial ingredients, and the sauce makers claim the tomatoes are put into the jar within 48 hours of being harvested. While the water was boiling and the sauce warming, I made a salad from fresh greens and veggies, dressed it with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. That’s it. Dinner made in less time that it would take to drive to a fast food restaurant, wait in the drive-through and drive home.

What about when you are dining out? Should restaurants be ordered to put calorie counts on their menus, as has happened in some jurisdictions and is being considered in Ontario right now? I’m in favour of the voluntary posting of calories, or the idea of checking online with an app or website. Mandatory posting seems to be a little draconian…where do you draw the line? Fast food restaurants only? Mid-range chains? You probably don’t want to know how many calories are in that cream sauce you love at your favourite French restaurant. Here in BC the government implemented the Informed Dining program in 2011. It’s a voluntary program where restaurants taking part put an Informed Dining logo on their menu and then you can request the nutrition info, which could be a brochure, a poster, or an insert in the menu, along with info on how many calories you should actually be consuming in a day and how much sodium, so you get some perspective.

Ken Stefanson 1937-2014

Ken Stefanson 1937-2014

RIP Ken Stefanson.  Some of you will remember Ken Stefanson, the Gabriola Gourmet Garlic guy, he passed away during heart surgery last week. I have featured him on my radio show and in this space a few times over the years, and many people would have known him as a very warm and gregarious vendor at many farmers’ markets on Vancouver Island over the years. Ken was my garlic mentor who advised me that in order to get the best harvest, I needed to plant my garlic by the light of the full moon, in mid-October, buck naked. I would always stop and have a chat with him at the Duncan Farmers’ Market, I purchased my seed garlic from him every year and the garlic I’m eating right now is the crop I harvested last summer from his seed. He will be sorely missed on Gabriola and of course at the farmers’ markets. My sympathies go out to his family.

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