The Constant Evolution of Canada’s Food Guide

From wartime rationing to healthy eating; our country’s official food rules strive to stay relevant.

Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, a health scare, or simply a desire to improve one’s eating habits, many people turn to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating (the food guide) for guidance on what and how much to eat. Although many of us are familiar with the food guide, many of us don’t know much about it.

Born out of necessity in 1942, Canada’s Official Food Rules has evolved into the Food Guide that many of us know today.

The Government of Canada really began focusing on food consumption during World War II. Because Canada was responsible for supplying food to Canadian military and allies overseas, Canadians at home were expected to change their eating habits so soldiers had enough food. Additionally, because overseas markets for certain foods were no longer accessible due to the war, the Government of Canada encouraged Canadians to purchase these foods. For example, eating apples and lobster became a patriotic duty.

CANADA’S OFFICIAL FOOD RULES [1942]

These are the Health-Protective Foods. Be sure you eat them every day in at least these amounts.

MILK—Adults—½ pint. Children- more than 1 pint. And some CHEESE if available.

FRUITS—One serving of tomatoes daily, or of a citrus fruit, or of tomato or citrus fruit juices, and one serving of other fruits, fresh, canned or dried.

VEGETABLES (In addition to potatoes of which you need one serving daily)—Two servings daily of vegetables, preferably leafy green, or yellow, and frequently raw.

CEREALS AND BREAD—One serving of whole-grain cereal and 4 to 6 slices of Canada-approved bread, brown or white.

MEAT, FISH, etc.—One serving a day of meat, fish, or meat substitutes. Liver, heart, or kidney once a week.

EGGS—At least 3 or 4 eggs weekly.

Eat these foods first, then add these and other foods you wish.

Some sources of Vitamin D such as fish liver oils is essential for children, and may be advisable for adults.

As the war progressed, it became evident that many Canadians were not eating a nutritionally sufficient diet. In July of 1942, Canada’s Official Food Rules were published. The Official Food Rules outlined six food groups – milk; fruits; vegetables; cereals and bread; meat, fish, etc.; and eggs. The Official Food Rules were implemented out of necessity, with the intention of helping the general public eat healthily, while also rationing food during wartime.

Great efforts were made to encourage Canadians to follow the Food Rules. Weekly press releases and radio and magazine ads reminded citizens of the importance of adhering to the rules. Lesson plans were developed and taught to students who took the information home. Shopping lists, recipes, and meal plans were just some of the propaganda distributed by the government to encourage specific eating habits.

Due to food shortages, most notably of meat and dairy, Canada’s Official Food Rules were revised and renamed Canada’s Food Rules in 1944. In this version, eggs were put into the meat category because of their similarities in protein content. Slight changes were made again in 1949, but the rules remained relatively the same until 1961. By this time changes in food preparation, food transportation, and food storage allowed all sorts of food options to be available to Canadians year-round. It was in this revision that Canada’s Food Rules became Canada’s Food Guide. The Food Guide was far more flexible in its idea of what constituted a healthy meal, including more diverse options such as eating beans instead of meat for protein.

Canadians have turned to the Food Guide in an effort to understand and implement healthy eating habits. In recent years, however, the Canada Food Guide has come under a lot of scrutiny. Many leaders in the food and health sectors have criticized the guide for being too ambiguous, out-of-date, and neglecting to recognize that the way in which meals are prepared is vastly different today than it was even ten years ago. People live busier lives and many simply don’t have the time to grocery shop and prepare meals. Many are choosing to eat more pre-made meals or take-out without fully understanding the impact these options may have on their health and well-being.

In October 2016, Health Minister Jane Philpott announced that Canada’s Food Guide is being revisited and a plan for a revised edition of the guide will be produced by 2019. It is expected that the changes will help more Canadians use the guide in a way that is relevant to their individual needs. It will be practical and easily-understood, with simple messages that people can remember and implement daily.

Although it has faced criticism in recent years, it is still the second-most requested document from the Government of Canada (behind tax forms), and something that many Canadians still see as a valuable and useful tool in their lives.

About Grace Kimpinski

Grace’s passion to be creative combined with her drive to get things done make her an invaluable member of the Salty team. As the sole-support parent to a teenaged… bottomless-pit… er… son, she strives to be a ‘smart’ food shopper. Although she’s not keen on writing about herself, she is very keen on eating a great BBQ’d meal in summer and a hearty stew in winter.

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