Sharing my story

A foodie’s experience on immigrating to Canada

By Heidi Visser

There have been various wonderful posts here about life in Canada from a South African newbie perspective. Shopping tips, things you wished you knew before leaving SA, home financing, etc. I would like to share my story with you; from a diet/lifestyle point of view…


How we got onto LCHF

Let me give you some background about our family and my personal health journey. We are a family of four, with our two boys both under 10 years old. We moved from Kyalami, Johannesburg in August last year. For the past 7 years, give or take, we have based our diets on a low carb, real food approach. It is a way of life for us and not a ‘diet’… I really enjoy cooking and come from a family with many accomplished chefs; it’s simply in my blood… Reading about the effects of sugar on the body, feeling the effects of the absence of sugar, along with leading a more active lifestyle, has led us on this way of life. Basically, we eat real foods, so nothing processed, and we skip the grains. We do eat healthy carbs, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin varieties, etc. Does this mean we never, ever eat sweets or cake or pizza or have a beer? No. On occasion, we have all of those and more – but we’ve learned that it doesn’t make is feel too great 🙁

The kids have grown up to have healthy appetites and willing to try new foods, for the most part. They will have sandwiches and other ‘healthier’ grain options from time to time. So in a nutshell, you could say that our diets are 80/20 low carb.
My husband and I both run and enjoy doing obstacle races. 

 Changing countries meant changes in our lifestyle

Our first month in Canada was treated as a holiday, we took things easy, did sight-seeing and generally lived it up! A lot of lessons learnt here, but that’s a story for another time… However, I don’t regret this behaviour, even though there are things we should and could have done differently. The whole of last year, since making the decision to move to Canada, our lives have been a bit more unusual than normal. What a rollercoaster it’s been, as anyone who has travelled this road before will know only too well, from selling our house, to finally getting on that plane. Big changes can really throw your usual routine and good habits out of whack! Convenience eating and -cooking and -choices took precedence during those first few months, especially while we were still living in AirBnb’s, waiting to move into our rental home.

Moving to a new place, never mind country, means that you have to get used to new grocery shops, sometimes new food choices, fitness alternatives, and so on. Even after we moved into our new home, it was hard to get back into our ‘normal’ routine of healthy eating and staying active. Especially as it was winter too… I can go on and on about the excuses and reasoning and how to ‘get back on that horse/wagon’ but I won’t do that. Instead, I’d like to share my realization with you. We’ve been in Canada for almost 9 months now, which made me think of a pregnancy.

Not that immigrating is quite the same as being pregnant, but it’s similar in the way that it is a huge change! For us, the amount of time has been the same too…

Inevitably your life changes

Your whole life changes.Your routine changes. You are no longer able to do certain things, be it due to time available, environment, etc. It is a huge change of pace.
You crave different, new foods – hello poutine/bear claws / all the ramen / hot chocolate 24/7 after any winter activity / Korean deep-fried chicken / I can go on…!
Embrace it, enjoy it, and decide how you want to continue…
I’ve picked up probably a gazillion kilos and centimetres, BUT, I’m viewing this time as my Canadian Pregnancy.

We are more or less settled into a stable routine, I know my way around the grocery stores, I’ve found a Bootcamp fitness class I’ve joined and started running again. Life is good! We have friends here – old and new. I can’t say enough how valuable this is!!! We wave to our neighbours and make ‘chitty-chats’…

Embracing and living our new normal, we remember what works for us, what doesn’t and we get on with things. I want to reiterate that – embrace your new normal and live your life! I have rediscovered my joy of eating well, cooking and experimenting with new recipes.

My Instagram is a daily hive of activity and also keeps me accountable – if only to myself. I’m slowly starting to publish recipes again and giving my website a new lease on life 🙂


My favourite bobotie recipe – adapted for Canada (lchf adjusted)

On that note – here’s a South African favourite that we really enjoy making on a regular basis, low carb of course 😉

You will need:

2 tbsp. coconut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 kg minced beef {minced topside is great!}
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water
5 eggs {keep 3 aside for the custard topping}
1 cup cream OR buttermilk
Salt & pepper
4 bay leaves

Start by heating the coconut oil in a large pot, add the onions and let it sauté on a medium heat.
Add the spices and cook until the onion is soft and fragrant.
Add the mince + 1 tsp salt and let it cook until the meat is cooked.

Next, add the soaked cranberries {drain the water!}.

Remove from the heat, while you prepare the custard topping:

Whisk 3 eggs together with the cream and season with salt & pepper.

Now, mix the remaining 2 eggs into the curried mince mixture and scoop it into a buttered oven dish.
Pour the egg & cream mixture over the top and place the bay leaves on top.

Bake at 180C / 325F for 45 minutes.

Serve with a salad or some shaved almonds or a sugar-free chutney if you like.

Shopping tips

The grocery shops are quite ‘normal’ and it’s just a matter of getting used to the layout. I would compare Loblaws to Woolies probably.. There might be a bit more variety but I wouldn’t say it’s astounding.

At first, I stuck to the usual things I would buy in SA, but lately we’ve been eating a lot more seafood. Beef is really, really expensive here, especially the nicer cuts. So we definitely eat a lot less steak! Lamb is hard to find and again very expensive and not the curs we would normally buy. Also, in SA I would buy meat in bulk straight from a farmer and keep my chest freezer stocked. We would buy a whole lamb and have it cut up and freeze.

You can stock up here at Costco if you have the freezer space. Especially for everyday meats like mince, chicken, pork and some bulk beef. The other thing that’s different here that I haven’t been able to find, is proper pork belly with the skin!!!! Why do they trim the skin off?! That’s the best part!!

 So tip: get yourself a Costco membership, it’s well worth it, especially if you’re a family. Get the one where you earn a percentage back on your spend.

Stock up once a month on:

  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Cream
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Toilet paper
  • Cleaning stuff
  • School snacks
  • Tinned goods whatever you use
  • Cold cut meats and salamis

Buy these from Costco.
If you eat bread and so on, buy those things from Costco too.
Then you stock up on fresh goods once a week or so and buy those locally from the shops close to you.

The other thing I battled with was yogurt, most of the plain yogurts here have very little MF (milk fat) %… and it can be very runny. The best one I’ve found so far is the Olympic Krema plain 11% mf

Heidi and Eben settled in The Beaches with their 2 boys.  

The above blog was written as a personal journey.  They are meant to give Saffas moving to Canada a feel of the area and share personal journeys. Your view might not be the same as the writers, your story will certainly look different! If you need any professional advice, please feel free to reach out to our Howzit team to connect you to the relevant person.

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