Serving up a Pure Prairie Celebration

Serving up a Pure Prairie Celebration

Catherine Chan and Rhonda Bell, the team behind the Pure Prairie Eating Plan, celebrate their Community Connections Award with a springtime backyard party, Pure Prairie style.

By Bridget Stirling, University of Alberta

Community Scholar Award 2016 winners Catherine Chan (right) and Rhonda Bell, the team behind the Pure Prairie Eating Plan (Photo: Richard Siemens)
Community Scholar Award 2016 winners Catherine Chan (right) and Rhonda Bell, the team behind the Pure Prairie Eating Plan (Photo: Richard Siemens)

This year’s Community Scholar Award winners, Catherine Chan and Rhonda Bell, know a thing or two about the benefits of enjoying a fresh and healthy meal.

As nutrition researchers with the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, they spent a lot of time putting together menus and recipes for people with diabetes. Soon, those people began to encourage them to share those resources more widely, and the Pure Prairie Eating Plan was born.

Although it was originally developed to manage Type 2 diabetes, the plan offers a way of eating that’s good for almost everyone. The menu is based on a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and Canada’s Food Guide, with lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, balanced proteins (including meat, poultry, fish, dairy and pulses), and plenty of fibre, but without a lot of processed foods.

“Research shows that when people prepare foods themselves, they tend to eat a healthier diet,” says Chan.

Unlike other plans, which focus on excluding foods, one of the key features of Pure Prairie is a focus on including foods people eat regularly. Chan explains, “We think that if people are going to stick with healthy eating for a lifetime, the foods in the menus have to be culturally relevant, not too expensive, readily available and great-tasting.”

That element of availability and cultural relevance was also a factor in choosing a lot of locally produced foods in the menu. But unlike trends such as the 100-Mile Diet, Chan and Bell’s plan leaves some flexibility for more exotic choices to complement local options, with foods like coconut milk and tuna still making the shopping list. “While we focused on prairie-grown foods, it’s not exclusively that,” Chan says.

Two years after the team self-published the book, it’s had quite an impact. With support from agricultural groups, promotions by the Alberta Diabetes Foundation and Alberta Diabetes Institute, and even a nod from the U of A’s Tim Caulfield in The Cure for Everything, the plan is getting noticed. Alberta Health Services has picked up the book for a pilot project creating a community kitchen for seniors, and Health Canada has started using it in programming for Aboriginal communities in Alberta. It’s also been picked up for cooking classes offered through Sunterra Market.

The widespread community adoption of the plan has been rewarding for the team. Chan says, “A lot of our research is community-oriented, which means the community comes to us and says ‘yes, we’d like to participate and give to the university.’” The publication of the plan deepened those connections. “After publishing PPEP we had the opportunity to interact with the community in a whole new way. We met a lot of great people who supported our work on a whole different level. The whole goal of our original research was to develop something practical, and PPEP seems to have achieved that.”

The Community Scholar Award recognizes an individual or team of academic staff members who not only excel in their scholarship, but also readily and frequently bring that scholarship into the community, showing how their work affects people’s lives. Chan and Bell will be recognized at a ceremony at Edmonton City Hall at noon on May 2, along with two other recipients: the Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Advocacy Committee in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, winner of the Community Leader Award; and the communications firm Calder Bateman, this year’s UAlberta Advocate winner. Everyone is invited to attend the awards ceremony.

Receiving the award is important to the team because it’s a recognition of those partnerships. “It’s great to have that recognition from the university that putting time into community outreach is valued.”

To celebrate their award, Chan and Bell planned a menu for a springtime celebration. A lot of people don’t think you can make a meal that’s both festive and healthy, but the pair say it’s easier than people might think.

“Cultures all around the world incorporate food and eating together into celebrations. We want to have special foods for these occasions. The trick is to pick favourite recipes with a healthy twist, like in this menu—a yummy barbecued steak on a big plate of greens, super-fresh seasonal vegetables like asparagus, and for the dessert a combination of fruit and whole grains that satisfies our desire for something sweet but still delivers something nutritious. The main trick is to not go overboard on portions—everything in moderation!”

Celebrate in Pure Prairie Style

Dijon Beef and Greens
Dijon Beef and Greens

Here’s the menu for a very Pure Prairie party—the perfect way to celebrate something special with your own community.

Veggie Barley Salad
Roasted Asparagus (recipe not included)
Dijon Beef With Greens
Apple-Rhubarb Brown Betty

Veggie Barley Salad
Serves 6 (serving size approximately 1 cup)

1 ¼ cups (300 ml) reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 cup (250 ml) quick-cooking barley
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup (125 ml) pea shoots
1 cup (250 ml) fresh green peas
1 bunch radishes, chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) minced fresh parsley


3 Tbsp (45 ml) canola oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
1 Tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 ml) minced fresh basil
½ tsp (2 ml) salt
¼ tsp (1 ml) pepper
¼ cup (60 ml) slivered almonds, toasted


In a small saucepan, bring the broth and barley to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10–12 minutes or until barley is tender. Remove from the heat; let stand for 5 minutes then refrigerate to chill.

In a large bowl, combine the vegetables and parsley. Stir in barley.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, water, lemon juice, basil, salt and pepper. Pour over barley mixture; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Just before serving, stir in almonds.

Veggie Barley Salad
Veggie Barley Salad

Dijon Beef and Greens

Serves 4 (serving size: 4 oz./115 g steak)

1 lb. (450g) lean sirloin or strip loin steak
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Dijon mustard
½ tsp (2 ml) cracked pepper

2 Tbsp (30 ml) Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp (30 ml) red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fat-free mayonnaise

½ tsp (2 ml) sugar
½ tsp (2 ml) crushed garlic1 10 oz. (280g) package mixed salad greens

Spread steak with 1 Tbsp (15 ml) mustard and top with pepper. Broil or grill steaks for about 5 minutes per side for medium.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, whisk together remaining mustard, vinegar, mayonnaise, sugar and garlic. Toss greens with dressing, reserving 2 Tbsp (30 ml) dressing for topping.

Divide greens onto serving plates. Slice steaks into thin strips, place on greens and drizzle with reserved dressing.

Apple-Rhubarb Brown Betty
Serves 8 (serving size ½ cup)

5 slices whole wheat bread, toasted

½ cup (125 ml) granulated sugar
¾ tsp (4 ml) grated cinnamon
1 tsp (5 ml) grated ginger

⅓ cup (100 ml) apple juice

1 ½ (375 ml) cups diced apples
1 ½ cups (375 ml) diced rhubarb

1 cup (250 ml) diced pears
2 Tbsp canola oil

1 ½ Tbsp (25 ml) butter or nonhydrogenated margarine, melted
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Finely cut toast or tear toast pieces into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces; place bread cubes in food processor and pulse to coarse crumb texture.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and ginger.

Coat a shallow 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Place ⅓ of the crumbs (about 1 cup) in the bottom.

Sprinkle half of the fruit over the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with half of the sugar mixture. Spoon the juice evenly over all.

Repeat with ⅓ of the breadcrumbs and the remaining fruit. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs on top.

Drizzle the oil and butter/margarine evenly over all and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture.

Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes or until the fruit is tender and juices are bubbling.

Place on a wire rack and let stand for 30 minutes uncovered.

Source University of Alberta