What are the key ingredients for a healthier tomorrow?

Good nutrition is integral to maintaining a healthy life and is often one of the most common factors discussed to create positive changes in our health. On an individual level, this can look like implementing healthy habits, limiting food waste, and understanding the basics of nutrition. On a larger scale, good nutrition can be realized through policy and actions to address food inequities and promote food security and food sovereignty. For Nutrition Month, Dietitians of Canada is exploring the key ingredients to change food systems for a healthier tomorrow. Here are some nutrition tips you can use to work towards a healthier tomorrow.

Reducing food waste

It’s estimated that avoidable food waste costs the average Canadian household over $1,100 a year, and over 50 per cent of food wasted in Toronto single-family households is avoidable (Toronto.ca). Avoidable food waste can include leftovers that go uneaten and untouched food that goes bad before we use it, either due to poor meal planning or improper storage, and can be costly for families amid rising inflation and food costs. Here are some ways to reduce food waste:

  • Plan ahead: plan your weekly meals ahead of time and organize your ingredients accordingly; make sure to check your cupboards, fridge, and freezer before shopping to avoid purchasing unnecessary ingredients/food you already have; use more perishable items like meat and seafood earlier in the week; buy fresh produce in smaller amounts to avoid it going bad before you have a chance to eat it
  • Keep your food fresh: store food in the correct containers, locations, and temperatures; set your fridge temperature to 4 degrees Celsius or lower; set one fridge drawer to high humidity to store vegetables prone to wilting, like leafy greens, and another drawer to low humidity for fruits and ethylene-producing veggies, like apples and peppers
  • Use what you have before it goes to waste: fruits and veggies no longer at their peak form can be used in smoothies, baking, and stir fries or grilled dishes; best before dates are not expiration dates, and if food remains unopened and properly stored, it can be used later, like chicken or meat that has been frozen and unopened; refresh wilted veggies like celery, lettuce, broccoli, or carrots by soaking them in ice water for five to 10 minutes

Food security

It’s estimated that 13 per cent of Ontario households, or 1,700,000 Ontarians are food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough money for housing, bills, and food; one in six Ontario children live in a food insecure household; and 59 per cent of Ontario households receiving social assistance are food insecure (Ontario Dietitians in Public Health). During the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity rates rose, and Ontario saw a 10 per cent increase in people using food banks, or approximately 592,308 adults and children accessing food banks between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. This was the largest single-year increase in food bank use seen in the province since 2009.

Food insecurity impacts people’s mental, physical, and social health, and can put people at greater risk for chronic and mental illnesses. While government policies are often the best wide-scale tool to address food insecurity, we can all have an impact at an individual level, like donating to food banks, organizing food drives, and advocating for food security. If you or someone you know is in need of a food bank, or you would like to donate to one, you can find a list of food banks in Toronto here.

Making healthy habits

Making small and sustainable changes to diet can offer many benefits and can prevent and manage many chronic health conditions. Here are some healthy habits to consider for a healthier lifestyle:

  • Cook your meals at home – Cooking more often can help you develop healthy eating habits (and spend less on eating out). To get started, consider cooking once and saving leftovers for another meal, or experiment in batch cooking. Planning your meals in advance and involving others in planning and preparing meals can also be helpful.
  • Eat meals with others where possible – Enjoying a healthy meal with others is a great way to connect and add enjoyment to your life. It’s also a great way to share food traditions across generations and cultures.
  • Aim for plenty of vegetables and fruit – including a variety of vegetables and fruit in your diet can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases; consider working up to a half plate of vegetables and fruit at your meals. To help reduce food costs, choose vegetables and fruit when they are “in season”, frozen, or canned (drained and rinsed, with no or little added sugars and salt).
  • Limit highly processed foods – ready to eat foods such as frozen entrees, fast foods, bakery products and sweets, and sugary drinks should be limited in a healthy eating pattern. Focusing on foods with whole/healthy ingredients and choosing healthier menu options can be helpful.
  • Be mindful of your eating habits – Healthy eating is about more than just the foods you eat. It is being mindful of your eating habits, taking time to eat and noticing when you are hungry and when you are full.

Make your own!

A great way to get yourself and family more involved and interested in personal nutrition is to make your own food! This can include growing your own fruits and vegetables in a home garden and making it a priority to cook at home. Here are some tips on making your own food at home, from the ground to the oven!

  • Making sure the food you’re growing is in season and planted in the right conditions is key to growing a harvestable crop; knowing the growing seasons before you plan your summer garden will help give you the most yield on your crops
  • Participate in food related activities such as community gardens
  • Consider growing a windowsill herb garden to add interest and flavour to your cooking

Implement weekly family cooking nights – engage everyone in your family in the cooking process by taking turns choosing a recipe, shopping for the ingredients, and cooking/eating/cleaning up together!