We’ve all been there: stuck for ideas on what to cook, and wanting to add more healthy options to your diet. We recently had the chance to talk with Carol Harrison to learn more about nutrition, healthy food habits, the work she does, and her involvement with a free new cookbook put together by Ontario’s Apple Growers!
Selina Da Silva: Carol, what is it that do you do?
Carol Harrison: I’m a Registered Dietician, I consult in Toronto, and my goal is to really make healthy eating easier.
SDS: What made you decide to want to become a Registered Dietician?
CH: I loved the idea of exploring how something like food, which brings us so much joy and pleasure in our life, can also be a medicine that promotes overall health and well being. I also love to cook, and experiment in the kitchen. But I’ll be honest: when I enrolled into the nutrition science program at the University of Guelph, I didn’t even know what a Dietician was. I just wanted to go and study something that I was insanely passionate about. I was just fascinated with how what you eat could promote good health, or prevent disease. I was so curious to just dive into that and I’m glad I did. It’s turned into a great career. I really enjoy it.
SDS: That’s awesome! It’s cool to learn just how connected food and body really is.
CH: And nutrition is such a young science that we’re constantly learning more, which makes it so incredibly interesting. Sometimes people think, “Oh, they changed their recommendations again…” But it’s a young science. We’re learning more. I’m glad that we’re changing our recommendations – we’re not telling people to eat the same things as before because now we know better.
SDS: Who are some of the cool people you’ve met during your years in the industry?
CH: I don’t get to meet many big leagues, but maybe the coolest I’ve met is Jamie Oliver.
SDS: Wow! How did that happen?
CH: I’m one of the proud Food Revolution Ambassadors in Canada [Jamie Oliver’s global campaign], and I never really expected to meet him in person. I honestly signed up for Food Rev because I wanted to do my part, so I never thought it was in the plans. But this past fall, I was invited to attend a panel discussion on the need to champion the ‘Stop Marketing Food and Beverages to Kids Campaign’, which I’ve advocated for in the past. After the event, we went outside and we went live on Facebook talking about the need to champion better health through food, and how Canada can take the lead and set an example for the world to follow. It was completely impromptu – I thought we were going up to take pictures, and he said, “let’s do a Facebook Live chat!” That was a very cool experience.
SDS: So to switch gears, we were reading about some your projects on your website – could you tell us more about Yummy Lunch Club?
CH: The Yummy Lunch Club is a site is where I’m trying to make packing delicious and better-for-you lunches easier, while helping kids to build food skills along the way. We know that food skills are declining; they’re not learning home economics in school anymore. Financial literacy is important, physical literacy is important, and so is food literacy. Being a mom myself, I know that it’s difficult to work that in at the end of your day. So I try to take some of that thinking work out for parents and try to make it easier for them with time-saving ideas and tasty tips for kids. I really encourage kids to get involved and help pack their own lunch. Something as simple as washing grape tomatoes or putting the cheese on their sandwich, and then keep building from there to develop their food skills. Eventually they’ll have to do it themselves anyways.
SDS: So what are your favourite kinds of dishes to cook at home?
CH: I really like to make dishes that are ‘cook once, eat twice’. I’m just as busy as everyone else. So I’ll give you an example: yesterday I made broccoli and cheese muffin frittatas. They’re in the freezer, so I’ve got breakfast to go in the morning. Then while the oven was on, I chopped up some carrots and beets, tossed them in a little bit of canola, added a spring of rosemary, and roasted them in the oven. Those will be part of some power grain bowl lunch. I’ll add some lentils and feta… or maybe even a dinner after a workout, when I didn’t have time to make a full meal, I can pull it out of the fridge. So, I’m very practical that way.
SDS: Yes, and that’s the best way to cook, right?
CH: Yes. There’s so much processed food. That’s one of the biggest downfalls of our diet. I don’t like to just focus on nutrients. The real issue is the highly processed food. So I feel the way you get around that is you try to work smarter, not longer in the kitchen. Doing the ‘cook once, eat twice’ kind of idea is a really smart way to go.
SDS: So what has your role been with the Ontario Apple Growers Cookbook?
CH: My role is really to help to promote and increase awareness around this eBook. That people can go to the onapples.com website and download. It features 10 fantastic food bloggers in Ontario, and their recipes, which are so diverse and interesting. It’s great to see all the different things that you can do with apples. From sweet to savoury; breakfast to dinner; snacks; drinks. There are a great variety of recipes. My job is really to help promote it.
SDS: Awesome! Why did you feel it was important for you to be involved with this project?
CH: I love the idea of supporting our farmers so they can continue to do what they do best, which is providing us with high-quality, safe, affordable, nutritious food. If that’s important to us, then we need to support those farmers so they can keep doing that and stay on the land. And of course, apples are incredibly healthy superfoods – they’re not often on that list of superfoods but they really should be, because they are so healthy and versatile!
SDS: Yes! I like that you called them a “superfood”. Since apples are so common, people are always more likely to brush them aside, which they really shouldn’t.
CH: Yes, we need to promote the good nutrition that’s in apples better. Also, people don’t realize that Ontario apples are in season all year long. You can buy Ontario apples throughout the year.
Take a second, look for that Foodland Ontario logo and choose those apples, because they’re good, high-quality apples.
SDS: So tell us, what is your favourite savoury apple recipe and your go-to sweet apple recipe?
CH: Savoury is hard to choose because there’s so many salads and bowls to choose from… but in the eBook there is a great and simple recipe of a Roasted Ontario Apple and Sweet Potato Soup. It’s so easy, and incredibly healthy. We also produce lots of sweet potatoes here in Ontario, so you can buy Ontario sweet potatoes and apples, and it’s a great soup that will also freeze really well! As for sweet, I really love the Streusel-Topped Hasselback Apples in the cookbook because it’s sweet but not an over-the-top indulgence. It’s a dessert that you could make often and not feel like you’re really over-doing it. Each portion is around half an apple, and you get all the oozy strudel-topping going in the layers. I mean: apples, butter, cinnamon, and sugar? Yum.
SDS: I can’t wait to try that! Do you have any fun facts about Ontario apples?
CH: So the #1 thing is: they are in season all year long. You know that you’re buying Ontario apples when you see that Foodland Ontario logo. Apples have up to 4 grams of fibre that can fill you up. They’re a great portable snack – you can leave them in your bag or leave them at your office at the beginning of the week, so there’s really no excuse for having a healthy snack because they’re so portable. They’re less than 100 calories but are really satisfying. We can all vouch for eating an apple and it helping to tide you over from one meal to the next. Apples also have a lot of anti-oxidants. All those colours in the apples are the anti-oxidants that can help you to fight chronic disease.
SDS: So what makes #ONappleAday special?
CH: The whole idea is that we can make one small change to our eating habits: eating an Ontario apple. It’s easy and affordable. About 30% of the calories that Canadians consume come from empty calorie food: foods that aren’t giving any nutritional value. We just need to make small changes and keep building from there. So that’s why I like this #ONappleAday focus. It gets people thinking about not necessarily making an overhaul to your eating habits, but starting small, and swapping out an unhealthy snack with an apple is a great way to go.
SDS: And with a free online eBook, you basically have no excuse and not know what to do with apples, right?
CH: Yes! That’s the inspiration. The idea was to try to have an Ontario apple a day, and for inspiration, the Apple Growers have produced this fantastic eBook with all kinds of great ideas to get you thinking about ways to have apples in any meal of the day.
Download your copy of ‘30+ Inspired Ways to Enjoy #ONappleAday’ provided by Ontario Apple Growers
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
By, Selina De Silva