Canada's Food Guide (CFG)

CFG advises Canadians to:

  • eat a variety of healthy foods each day including vegetables and fruits, protein foods and whole grain foods
  • choose protein foods that come from plants more often
  • make water your drink of choice

Canada Food Guide CFG plate shows half the plate with vegetables and fruit, one quarter of the plate with protein foods and one quarter of the plate with whole grain foods. Water is the drink of choice.

CFG also says that healthy eating is more than the foods you eat. It says to:

  • be mindful of your eating habits
  • cook more often
  • enjoy your food
  • eat meals with others
  • use food labels
  • limit foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat
  • be aware of food marketing

Protein foods

Protein foods are good sources of protein and certain vitamins and minerals (for example, vitamin D and calcium) that are needed for overall health.

Dairy foods are good choices for SNP's. Cow's milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D. Yogurt and cheese are good sources of calcium. These foods are nutritious and well accepted by most children and youth. They are easily included in meals and snacks.

Some plant-based beverages such as unsweetened fortified soy beverage, are similar to cow’s milk in nutrition and can be offered in SNPs. Other plant-based beverages such as unsweetened/unflavoured almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, flax milk, hemp milk and rice milk are not good sources of protein and should not be served in SNPs. There are exceptions for students with food allergies. Look in the milk section of the food and beverage choice tables for more information.

Plant-based protein foods are also good choices for SNPs. They have more fibre and less saturated fat than other types of protein foods, which is beneficial for overall health.

Serving sizes

CFG no longer gives guidance on the number of servings of foods and beverages people should eat each day. Instead, it advises that Canadians (over the age of 2 years) use the concept of proportions to help plan healthy meals and snacks.

The Canada's Food Guide Plate is designed to help Canadians understand recommended proportions. It is meant to show that half of what we eat in the day should be vegetables and fruits. A quarter of what we eat should be whole grain foods and a quarter should be protein foods, with water being the drink of choice. The Canada’s Food Guide Plate applies to any type of dish or meal. It can even be used when foods are mixed together, like in a soup, stir-fry or casserole.

Canada Food Guide - CFG's Eat Well Plate shows one half vegetables and fruit, one quarter whole grain foods and one quarter protein foods.

It is not meant to show the amount of food Canadians should eat or that we should only use plates for our food.

The amount of food a child or youth eats on any given day can vary. It depends on many things including their age, stage of growth, activity level, general health and genes. It is important to trust that children and youth know how much they need to eat to best satisfy their appetite. All children and youth should be encouraged to pay attention to these natural hunger and fullness cues.

See menu planning and food purchasing for help with determining quantities of food to purchase and serve.

Food labels

Food labels are important sources of information for SNPs. The nutrition facts table and the ingredient list can help you to make informed choices and find products that meet the SNP Guidelines.

You can learn more about reading food labels from Health Canada.

Percent daily value (% DV)

The % DV (daily value) is found on the right-hand side of a nutrition facts table. It helps to see if a food or beverage has a little or a lot of a nutrient. 5% DV or less means there is ‘a little’ of a nutrient and 15% DV or more means there is ‘a lot’ of a nutrient footnote 4.

The guidelines use % DV as a way to choose foods that are lower in sodium (that is, less than or equal to 10% DV sodium). You can learn more about % DV from Health Canada.

Frequently asked questions

How can we reduce the amount of sugar served in our SNP?

CFG recommends limiting foods and drinks that are high in sugar to limit the amount of sugar Canadians consume. High intakes of sugar increase the risk of negative health effects. The guidelines encourage eating less sugar by having:

  • a sugar limit of 8 grams or less per 30 gram serving for ready-to-eat cold and hot cereals and other whole grain foods.
  • a sugar limit of 11 grams per 100 gram serving of sweetened/flavoured yogurt.

To add sweetness to foods and beverages, try these suggestions:

  • Top whole grain waffles or pancakes with unsweetened pureed fruit (for example, applesauce) instead of syrup.
  • Serve unsweetened pureed, whole or frozen fruit as a cereal topper.
  • Add spices like cinnamon to plain oatmeal.
  • Make homemade smoothies with milk (or a plant-based alternative from the ‘serve’ category), yogurt and fruit (not juice).
  • Serve plain yogurt with fruit (for example, frozen berries, sliced banana, pineapple tidbits, etc.) instead of sweetened yogurt.

What should we look for when choosing yogurts to offer?

Currently, most flavoured yogurts have high amounts of sugar added. This is especially true of yogurts marketed to children such as yogurt tubes and drinks. Some yogurt tubes can have as much as 60% of its energy from sugar. A small amount of this is natural sugar and the rest is added. Look for yogurts that have less than or equal to 11 grams sugar per 100 gm serving.

Plain yogurt is a good source of calcium. Other yogurts have different amounts of calcium. Compare the nutrition facts table and choose one with more % DV for calcium per serving, when possible.

Some yogurts have extra ingredients to give a certain colour, flavour or texture. Compare the list of ingredients and choose one with less of these extra ingredients, when possible.

Is sodium the same as salt?

Sodium is a nutrient found in salt. Foods low in sodium or with no added salt should be served when possible. Most Canadian children consume too much sodium. This increases their risk for negative health outcomes. All types of salt are high in sodium. Kosher salt, sea salt, fleur de sel, Himalayan salt, gourmet salt and smoked salt all have the same amount of sodium as table salt. They are not healthier choices.

What is the difference between refined, enriched, multigrain and whole grain?

Whole grains contain all portions of the grain’s kernel: the germ, bran, and endosperm. Some sources of whole grains are whole wheat flour, buckwheat, barley, corn, oats, quinoa, spelt, bulgur, farro, whole wheat couscous, wheat berries, and brown rice. Whole grain foods are a healthier choice because they contain nutrients and fibre from all three parts of the kernel of grain.

Refined grains have undergone a refining process that removes the germ and bran, which gives it a smoother texture. Some common refined grains include white flour and white rice.

Enriched grains have gone through a refining process that removes the germ and the bran, but has nutrients added back. Although many of the vitamins lost in the refining process can be added back, the lost fibre is not replaced.

Multigrain means that many kinds of grains are in the product, but these grains may be refined.

Learn how to find whole grain foods.

Why are deli meats in the “do not serve” category?

Processed meats like cold cuts, ham, bacon, sausages and hot dogs contain nitrates and nitrites. These are added to meat to prevent them from spoiling and to improve colour and flavour. Nitrates and nitrites are not cancer causing alone but can be changed in our bodies to form compounds associated with an increased risk of cancer. These types of meats are also typically high in sodium.

How can we know if a recipe meets the Guidelines?

First, check to see if the recipe provides nutrition facts. If so, use that information along with the list of ingredients to see which category the recipe fits into (i.e. serve or do not serve). If there are no nutrition facts for the recipe, use the list of ingredients to decide which category it is more likely to fit into. For most recipes (for example, soups, smoothies, casseroles) the main ingredients should come from the serve category. Check with your lead agency or local public health unit if you are still unsure if your recipe meets the Guidelines.

How can our SNP reduce the impact on the environment?

There are a number of ways SNPs can positively impact the environment. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Learn how to sort recyclables, garbage and organic waste in your area.
  • Include plant-based foods more often in your SNP menus. In general, these foods use fewer resources such as land and water. They also make less greenhouse gases compared to animal-based foods.
  • Use clean, reusable bags or containers if purchasing food from retail outlets.
  • Reflect on how food is produced, packaged, processed and transported before purchasing.
  • Choose foods that are in season and produced locally. This can help reduce carbon emissions produced during transportation. In season produce is usually cheaper, providing an added benefit for SNPs.
  • Keep track of when you purchase foods and store them properly in the fridge or freezer. If you have extra vegetables and fruits, find ways to use them before they spoil. For example, bell peppers can be used for a snack with hummus or a bean dip or can be frozen and used in a stir fry, wrap/sandwich or bean salad at a later date. Here are more tips on how to reduce food waste.

Can we serve food purchased at a farm or farmer's market in our SNP?

Contact your lead agency or local public health unit for information about buying food from a farm or farmer’s market.