3 bites to eating healthy this Christmas

‘Nothing is forbidden,’ says food activist Mairlyn Smith

By: Chris Standring

Postmedia Content Works

For anyone trying to stay the course of healthy eating over the holidays, festive buffets can be a minefield of temptation — tarts, puddings, eggnog, nuts, shortbread …


But Canadian food activist Mairlyn Smith is undaunted by these hazards, facing them with the confidence of a stormtrooper.


“Nothing is forbidden,” Smith declares boldly.

Her coping strategy is simple.

“For me, it’s all about portion size. If it’s good, I limit myself to three bites. If it’s not as good as I could make it, I stop at one.”


The professional home economist, popular cookbook author and regular consultant on daytime TV’s Cityline, Smith warns, “When you try to deprive yourself, you end up going nuts and binge-eating. That’s why I call myself an all-inclusive eater.”


The one-time member of the Second City Comedy Troupe, Smith mixes learning with laughter, in a quest to enlighten Canadians on the power of healthy eating.


“I love what I do. I want to inspire people to live healthier lives, to get into the kitchen and prepare wholesome foods, and support local producers.”


Smith was a recent presenter at Christmas in November, the prequel to the holidays at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, where she regaled audiences with tales of her childhood in Vancouver.


 “When I was still a kid, my dad was diagnosed with heart disease and had to take an early retirement. He completely changed his lifestyle to a healthier way of eating and living. I made it my mission to help my dad live a longer life.”


Today, he’s in his 90s, she happily reports.


“Making the right food choices is a powerful tool to healthy living and invaluable for longevity.”


We asked Smith to suggest some welcoming dishes to offer diverse gatherings at the holidays. These are taken from her latest cookbook, Homegrown, which includes recipes from fellow home economists.


The book showcases the best of what’s produced by local farmers, enhanced with flavours from around the world. Here are two recipes, one with chicken and the other vegetarian, made with pulses. Both use canola oil.


“I started using canola oil years ago because of its heart-healthy fatty acid chain. As a big fan of omega-3 fatty acids, canola oil fits the bill. Bonus, it’s a Canadian oil and I love supporting our Canadian farmers.”


Chicken is an easy choice, says Smith. “It’s easy to cook, nutrient dense and popular around the dinner table.”


All chicken raised in Canada is hormone- and steroid-free, and has been since the 1960s. And the new Canadian chicken label “allows you to know that your chicken was raised by a Canadian farmer, so look for it the next time you’re buying chicken.”

Pulses — beans, split peas, chickpeas and lentils — “are nutrient-dense treasure troves of Mother Nature’s best,” writes Mairlyn Smith, in Homegrown. “Heart-healthy, low in fat and gluten-free, pulses are loaded with protein, fibre, B vitamins, iron, zinc and antioxidants, a veritable cornucopia of health in a tiny, dried seed.”

RECIPE: West Indian-style Curry Chicken

Photo: Supplied

Mairlyn Smith mixes learning with laughter, in a quest to inspire us “to get into the kitchen and prepare wholesome foods and support local producers.”

RECIPE: Chipotle Black Bean Chili

Contributed by Teresa Makarewicz, PHEc

Photo: Supplied


Heat a large pot over medium heat; add oil, garlic, onion, red pepper and carrots; sauté for 10 minutes or until the onion is softened and slightly browned. Stir in chili powder, paprika, oregano and cumin; sauté for 1 minute or until fragrant.

Puree 1 cup (250 mL) of the beans in a food processor or mash well with a potato masher. Add the pureed and whole beans, tomatoes, corn, water and chipotle pepper to the pot, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender, stirring occasionally.



2 tsp (10 mL) canola oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

2 carrots, scrubbed well and diced 2 Tbsp (30 mL) chili powder

1 Tbsp (15 mL) paprika

1 tsp (5 mL) dried oregano

1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin

Two 19 oz (540 mL) cans black beans, well rinsed and drained, divided

One 28 oz (796 mL) can crushed tomatoes

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) fresh or frozen corn, no need to thaw

1/2 cup (125 mL) water

2 Tbsp (30 mL) pureed canned chipotle pepper with adobo sauce (see note)


TIP: Serve over cooked barley, or spooned over a baked or microwaved sweet potato with one or more of the following toppings: thinly sliced green onions, chopped fresh cilantro, plain yogurt, shredded Canadian old Cheddar cheese.

Makes 9 cups (2.25 L) One serving = 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) without toppings

Per serving: 221 calories, 3.2 g Fat, 0.3 g Sat. Fat, 0 g Trans Fat, 347 mg Sodium, 40 g Carbohydrates, 10.6 g Fibre, 10 g Sugars, 0 g Added Sugars, 9 g Protein Carbohydrate 

Contributed by Rosemarie Superville, PHEc

Makes 4 cups (1 L) One serving = 1 cup (250 mL)


In large bowl, stir together the cumin, coriander, black pepper, turmeric, salt, ginger and cayenne; toss with chicken pieces and let stand 15 minutes or longer in the refrigerator.

In a large deep non-stick skillet over medium heat, add the oil and onion, sauté for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Add chicken pieces and garlic, and cook until lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes

Add potato, tomatoes, carrot and broth, and bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the chicken and vegetables are tender. Any leftovers can be covered and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.


2 tsp (10 mL) ground cumin

1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) ground coriander

1 tsp (5 mL) ground black pepper

1/2 tsp (2 mL) turmeric

1/2 tsp (2 mL) iodized salt

1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground ginger

1/4 tsp (1 mL) cayenne pepper (or to taste)

1 lb (450 g) boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks 1 Tbsp (15 mL) canola oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium potato, peeled and cubed (approx. 1/2 inch/1 cm)

2 small tomatoes, chopped

1 medium carrot, scrubbed well and thinly sliced

1 1/4 cups (310 mL) sodium-reduced chicken broth

TIP: Serve over cooked hull-less oats or with a whole-wheat roti.

Per serving: 242 Calories, 5.4 g Total Fat, 0.7 g Saturated Fat, 0 g Trans Fat, 564 mg Sodium, 18.3 g Carbohydrate, 3 g Fibre, 4.6 g Sugars, 0 g Added Sugars, 32.2 g Protein

Carbohydrate Choices: 1

Photo Supplied

Rosemarie Superville with her West Indian-style Curry Chicken

Chris Standring is a writer for Postmedia Content Works, a custom content studio that creates, deploys and measures programs for brands.