The new Canada's Food Guide is finally here—and there's both good and bad news for parents

The recommendations are simple to follow but represent a drastic change from how most kids are eating. Oh, and daycare meals will radically change, too.

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You might have heard that a new Canada’s Food Guide would be released in 2019. Well, it’s finally here—and it’s a huge departure from the old Food Guide rainbow we used to know.

You know the old food guide rainbow—you’ve probably seen it come home in your kid’s backpack. And if you’re like many parents, you may have tossed it in the recycling bin. For years there’s been a general consensus that the guide was based on outdated science. And what’s more, it was also pretty hard to understand, says Hasan Hutchinson, Director General of the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion at Health Canada—especially the way it asked parents to choose exact serving sizes and portions of four food groups.

You won’t find a rainbow in the new guide. The new image? A plate of food, called a Food Guide Snapshot, accompanied by the following advice:

  • Have plenty of vegetables and fruits (visually: half a plate)
  • Eat protein foods (visually: quarter of the plate)
  • Choose whole grain foods (visually: quarter of the plate)
  • Make water your drink of choice

Easy enough for adults, right? But you’re probably wondering how on earth you’re going to get away with filling half of your picky child’s plate with vegetables, or get them to switch from their beloved white bread and pasta to whole grains instead. Admittedly, the new good guide represents a big departure for many families, but that’s exactly the point. It shines a light on how far away we’ve drifted from eating whole foods, how much we rely on ultra-processed products, and how we’ve mostly forgotten about vegetables and fruit. This healthier eating pattern is linked to a lower risk of many chronic diseases, based on the piles of evidence that Health Canada reviewed.

While the transition to this type of plate will be difficult for some, it doesn’t need to happen overnight. Even making small changes—like serving any amount of vegetable or fruit at meals, a habit many parents have all but given up on—will begin to move the needle.

And that beverage beside the plate? Health Canada’s advice is to replace juice, chocolate milk or pop with water instead. Unsweetened milk is a good second choice (and tea or coffee are fine for adults). This advice is based on the sobering statistic that sweet beverages are the No. 1 source of sugar in the Canadian diet—and kids have the highest intake. Opting for water instead of sugary drinks is one way to reduce sugar intake, and thus lower the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental decay.

Cook and eat as a family

The new food guide is much more than one document. It’s a high-level overview of not just what Canadians eat, but how they should eat. It features an online suite of resources, including actionable advice, videos and recipes.

The B-side of the Food Guide Snapshot focuses on how we make food choices. It reminds Canadians to cook more often, eat meals with others, be mindful of eating habits and enjoy food. As a dietitian, I love the idea of getting kids in the kitchen by involving them in meal prep. Teaching kids to cook is a vital life skill, which will equip them with options besides take-out or fast food when they grow up and move out. Cooking and eating with kids also helps you celebrate cultural food practices, as you share recipes through generations. All of these factors were never accounted for in the old food guide, so this is a welcome change.

So there’s really no guidance on portion size?

Not yet. Part two of the guide will be rolled out later in 2019, and will outline the type and amount of food to eat daily. But there’s a twist: this document will be aimed specifically at health professionals and policy makers, not consumers.

It will be used to plan menus for daycares, schools, hospitals and long-term care homes. But it will also be helpful to public health units who develop resources to help parents feed their children, as it will list the type and amount of foods that toddlers and children require. It will be translated for parents into easy resources, to do away with the current food guide’s confusing layout.

Daycare menus will drastically change

If you ever worry that the food at your child’s daycare isn’t healthy enough, that’s all going to change. Since daycare menus are required to follow the food guide, expect them to be filled with more vegetables, fruit, whole grains and a variety of protein options, and fewer foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat. Emphasis will be on whole foods rather than ultra-processed foods. Sorry apple juice and arrowroot cookies, looks like your days are numbered.

Probably the best part of the new food guide is that it will become part of the school curriculum, and the learned advice will help kids grow into thoughtful eaters. Based on the new 62-page dossier Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers, the education will touch on food waste, environmental sustainability, culture, food security and cooking skills, making kids much more aware of both what and how to eat.

Read more:

8 ways Canada’s new food guide will change the way you feed your family
10 surprising ways to get kids eating healthy
Some approved food additives are actually dangerous for kids

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