Start Out Health Smart

Habits we develop as we grow up can impact our long term health. Chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some cancers, can often be delayed or prevented through the lifestyle choices we make. Some of the risk factors for chronic disease like our race or gender we are stuck with, but others are modifiable and as parents we can influence our family’s risk through the habits we help them develop. Not smoking, eating healthy, being physically active on a regular basis and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the risk of developing a chronic illness.

Healthy eating and physical activity will:

  • Reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Give you more energy
  • Build stronger bones
  • Reduce the risk of some forms of cancer
  • Reduce stress and depression

Eating well—timing and balance

Eating balanced meals and small, nutritious snacks at regular times throughout the day helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and minimizes the desire to choose high fat, high sugar foods and the tendency to overeat. Think of the times you come home from work and haven’t eaten much all day. Do you have the patience to wait until supper is ready or the desire to make a healthy choice if you do have a snack? When our hunger gets away from us because we have gone long stretches without eating, we want fast, high fat, high sugar choices. There are so many convenient and unhealthy choices on the market today; it is wise to avoid getting yourself in these situations as much as possible. The same goes for your kids. If they’ve not eaten well all day at school and there are no healthy choices available or guidelines about after school snacks, it is far more likely poor choices are made. Healthy snacking is actually a really important part of healthy eating because we are better able to make healthy choices and control portions when we don’t feel starved.

You often hear the term balance when talking about healthy food choices. A balanced meal is important to ensure you get a variety of nutrients and also for satiety (feeling full). A balance of the macronutrients carbohydrate, protein and fat influences how quickly food is digested and how soon we feel hungry again. Including a protein choice (the meat & alternate or milk group on Canada’s Food Guide) along with a carbohydrate choice (whole grains, fruits and vegetables) will help you feel full longer and carry you better to the next meal or snack. Dietitian’s often talk about balance to help people better manage hunger and make healthy choices.

For example, including a handful (62.5 ml or ¼ cup) of almonds along with your afternoon snack of fruit or some low fat granola with your yogurt will help you feel more satisfied and full longer. Remember too that it takes 15 to 20 minutes for your body to digest food so take your time when you eat and don’t go for seconds right away. You may find if you wait you actually feel like you have eaten enough.


As a society we have become accustomed to larger portion sizes than in the past. Being aware of what an appropriate portion looks like can help to prevent weight gain. The plate method is a simple way to plan your portions at a meal. If you follow the plate method your plate is first divided in half with one half of the plate being filled with at least two kinds of vegetables. The other half of your plate should be about evenly divided between a starch or grains choice and a meat or meat alternate choice. A very simple take away message from the plate method is to put more emphasis on the vegetable choices and less on the meat and starch (so your plate shouldn’t be filled with mostly the meat and starch choice!)

Label reading

Almost every product you buy in the grocery store will have a Nutrition Facts table. Use the Nutrition Facts table to compare products. Look for foods with more fibre, less sugar and less total fat. Be sure to check the portion sizes you are comparing. Two products may look very similar but if you are comparing a 125 ml or ½ cup serving to 250 ml or a cup serving, you need to realize this when making your choices. The % Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts table tells you on a scale of 1 to 100 whether there is a little or a lot of a nutrient in a food. Generally less than 15% DV is not a lot. Remember if a product says it is sugar free, but still tastes sweet (there are many sugar free beverages), it must be sweetened with an artificial sweetener. 

Get moving

Encourage everyone in the family to be physically active. This doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Walking the dog, going for a bike ride or going for a swim at the community pool are simple low cost activities. Build physical activity into your day by parking the car farther from the office or mall entrance, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking down the hall to chat with a co-worker instead of sending an e-mail. Include family or friends in your physical activity to make it a social outing which will enhance your motivation to keep it up. Be active as a family so you teach your kids that physical activity is important at all ages.

Achieve a healthy weight

Eating well and being physically active will help you achieve a healthy weight.  Remember, a healthy weight doesn’t mean looking like a model. For kids especially, it is important to stress that losing weight should be about being healthy and not about looks.  Many times, people focus too much on weight loss because they want to achieve a certain physical appearance when really the focus should be on gradual weight loss that can be maintained. If you are overweight, even a five to 10 per cent weight loss (10 to 20 lbs or 4.5 to 9 kilos if you weigh 200 lbs or 90 kilos) you can significantly reduce your risk for chronic illness.

Other tips

Lifestyle change is hard and can take several attempts so keep your goals simple and don’t expect to all of a sudden do everything exactly as you should. Try to make small changes and stick with them before attempting another change. If you tend to rely on a lot of packaged foods or eat out frequently, aim for staying in and preparing a home cooked meal one night of the week. Look for simple recipes and don’t try to become a gourmet cook right away if you rarely cook. Give yourself some time so that change is not so difficult. Something as simple as increasing the amount of vegetables you serve with your evening meal or adding a vegetable serving to your lunch or your kids’ lunch every day would be a great place to start. Try lots of dark green lettuce on your sandwich, vegetables with dip or a vegetable soup.


This chicken is delicious and tender if you don’t overcook it on the barbecue. Try grilling on a piece of foil to prevent burning. Buttermilk is low in fat yet thick and creamy. It is acidic so it’s perfect for marinating. Use up leftover buttermilk in mashed potatoes, muffins or pancakes.


1.5 kg (3 lb)                             chicken parts, skinned                        

175 ml (¾ cup)                        buttermilk                                           

25 ml (2 tbsp)                          Dijon mustard                                      

2                                             cloves garlic, minced                                   

10 ml (2 tsp)                            each dried oregano, basil, thyme and rosemary

1 ml (¼ tsp)                             each salt and pepper                               



In a large bowl, combine buttermilk, mustard, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Add chicken, turning pieces to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours (or up to 24 hours), turning chicken occasionally.

Place chicken on greased grill over medium heat; grill, turning occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced or use a food thermometer to ensure chicken reaches a temperature of 74ºC or 165ºF.

Makes six servings.

Recipe taken from Anne Lindsay’s Light Kitchen, 1994

Kelly Barry is a registered dietitian who has a passion for food and all things related. She has spent many years helping individuals and families along the road to healthier eating and understands the challenges parents face when choosing to make healthy foods a priority.

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