May 30, 2019

Food Fun, the Lawson Centre and Science Rendezvous 2019

Education, Policy & Data, Research
Dietitian Nishta Saxena (right) with young visitors at Science Rendezvous
Dietitian Nishta Saxena (right) with young visitors at Science Rendezvous
By Jim Oldfield

They came by the hundreds — children of all ages, parents and grandparents, lone adults and students — curious about nutrition and looking for a snack. They asked and answered questions, and left with a recipe for a whole-food diet that was more suggestive than prescriptive: have fun, make it tasty and be healthy.

The venue was Science Rendezvous 2019 at the University of Toronto, where the Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition partnered with dietitian Nishta Saxena at a booth featuring ‘Nutrition Jeopardy,’ food facts, and snack building with spices and pumpkin seeds that had kids shaking and laughing.

Chelsea McPherson (right)
Chelsea McPherson (Right)

“The event went really well,” said Chelsea McPherson, a dietitian and project manager at the Lawson Centre who tended the booth over the day. “Children and adults alike seemed to have a really good time with the activities, and many asked great questions about nutrition, from which foods are healthy to how to follow through on good intentions when families are so busy and stressed.”

McPherson and Saxena fielded the questions with grace and expertise, offering quick answers for the large numbers passing through the booth and diving into detail when time allowed. Niki Jeffries stopped by with her children aged four and six, and was pleased to learn more about the creation of Canada’s new Food Guide.

“It was interesting to hear about the scientific review and other input behind this new guide,” said Jeffries. “In particular, I didn’t realize that while the food industry was consulted, their influence was limited. It seems that Health Canada really did try to make people’s health the first priority.”

Visitors to the booth took away copies of the new Food Guide, along with handouts and tips on how to encourage children to eat well and help prepare healthy food, with supervision when needed. Also on offer was literature on the Lawson Centre’s recent projects, which include a revamp of nutrition content in the U of T medical school curriculum and research on advertising to childrenfood insecurity, and global child and maternal health.

Kids spicing pumpkin seeds
Spicing Pumpkin Seeds

The event marked the first time the Lawson Centre has worked with Saxena, an adjunct lecturer in U of T’s Department of Family and Community Medicine whose practice, Vibrant Nutrition, specializes in children and families.

“It was great to partner with the Lawson Centre at this event, because it was a way to address issues of concern for the Centre that also I see in my practice every day,” said Saxena. “Many families know what to eat but are over-programmed in other areas and haven’t left enough time for food. Another key take-away is that kids can love healthy food, especially if you make it fun and eat together.” 

Saxena draws on her experience as a dietitian and as the mother of two young children. “I struggle with these issues in my own family, but a few simple strategies and some perseverance can go a long way toward creating a healthy food culture in any home. I’ve seen it many times, and with amazing results.”