It’s been 10 years since the current “Canada’s Food Guide” was released, and it’s finally getting a much-needed makeover. This week, we got a hint of what’s to come from the Government of Canada—and it’s looking really good so far, says this critic of the old food guide (and registered dietitian). The government is listening to the public and has presented a fresh new guide that feels less industry-driven.
It’s now in phase two, where you have the opportunity to comment on the proposed guide. The final version could still change, but based on what I’ve seen so far, here’s how the new guide can have a positive impact on your family:
1. It will bring current nutrition information to schools. Instead of the outdated “rainbow” food guide that’s taught in most classrooms, your kids will now learn up-to-date nutrition information that isn’t influenced by dairy and beef farmers, margarine companies or juice makers. Instead, it will be based on the most up-to-date nutritional science.
2. It will improve daycare centre and school lunch (cafeteria/catering) meals. Current school menus are based on the 2007 version of the food guide, which emphasized four food groups and didn’t differentiate between whole and processed foods (for example, whole grain oatmeal and sugar-laden breakfast cereal both count as “grain products”). As that changes, the food your children eat at school will improve. From a young age, children will learn to enjoy more whole food, and less processed food.
3. It will make you think twice about what your children drink. Milk and juice featured heavily in the old food guide. Not anymore. Now, water is promoted as the best option. The current draft suggests avoiding beverages high in sugars, including fruit-flavoured drinks, 100 percent fruit juice, energy drinks, sport drinks and chocolate milk. Why? To cut down on intake of sugars, protect dental health, reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. No more juice or chocolate milk in the food guide? Bold. And hooray!
4. It will help kids build a positive relationship with food. There’s a new movement among dietitians to stop fad diet culture, put an end to emotional eating, and help the next generation of children grow up without comparing their bodies to air-brushed supermodels and athletes. Surprisingly modern in its approach, the guide is capitalizing on this new narrative by supporting “mindful eating,” an approach that involves paying attention to feelings of hunger and fullness, eating slowly with enjoyment, and loving your body. Children with good self-esteem? Yes please.
5. It encourages your family to dine together. Years of research show that kids who eat with their parents have better grades, eat more nutritious food and get into less trouble. The new guide promotes family meals and eating without distractions like TV or phones.
6. It will (hopefully) inspire more home-cooked meals. The guide suggests limiting processed foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat. That means cutting back on take-out and relying on whole, unprocessed food. Small hurdle: that food doesn’t come prepared, and many Canadians lack cooking skills or have time constraints. A key pillar of the new guide is to build food skills for Canadians. Easier said than done.
7. It will encourage more meatless meals. While meat, chicken and fish are still part of the guide, there’s an undeniable emphasis on plant-based proteins like beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy products like tofu. Introducing these foods can help expand your child’s palate. Black bean burritos, anyone?
8. It helps the planet. The new guide will be a teaching tool to help us reduce food waste and protect the environment. It will include touch points on food production, distribution, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, water quality and wildlife loss, helping us create a positive future for our children.
What remains to be seen is how the guide will focus on age-specific recommendations for children, and how they will inspire more Canadians to cook at home and enjoy family meals. But from what I’ve seen to date, I’m finally excited for the future of food in Canada.