It’s a Whole New Food Guide!

image source: Toronto Public Health

You probably heard by now that there is a new Food Guide. Maybe you took a peek online at its new look (Canada.ca/FoodGuide) and wondered what to say to your students or what those changes really are.

Just looking at the plate, you will see some familiar messages – like filling half of your plate with vegetables. No surprise, eating vegetables is good for you because they have lots of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit everyday can reduce the risk of heart disease. Choosing fresh, frozen, or canned can all be great choices; just choose ones without added salt or sugar.

100% fruit juice is now considered a sugary drink. This makes sense, as it is high in sugars (even if naturally occurring), and it has less nutrients than eating a whole fruit. Plain tap water is the best choice when you’re thirsty.

Choosing whole grain foods for one quarter of your plate is still there. As always, look for foods that have “whole grain” listed as a first ingredient. In the classroom, talk with your group about whole grain foods they’ve enjoyed back home. Oats, barley, quinoa, farro, freekah, and wild rice are all great choices.

The biggest change might be to the protein foods category. This is a combination of the old “Meat & Alternatives” and “Milk & Alternatives” and is the last quarter of the plate. It includes foods such as beans, nuts, tofu, fish, lean meat, milk, and yogurt. It encourages us to choose plant-based protein foods more often. Plant-based protein foods, such as nuts, lentils, beans, and tofu, are healthy sources of protein and iron, better for the environment and our wallet.

The Guide also encourages us to choose healthy, unsaturated fats instead of saturated ones. This means choosing liquid vegetable oils, like olive, flax, sunflower, or sesame oils instead of foods with lard, shortening, ghee, cream, coconut, or palm oils. You can also talk with your students about what a healthy fat swap might look like. For example, having your toast with avocado or peanut butter instead of cream cheese.

As you might have guessed, it’s still recommended to limit highly processed foods. Things like fast food, frozen entrees, sugary treats, store-bought muffins and processed deli meat are still things we should eat less of. They can be high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats which can increase our risk for chronic diseases.  Look around at what is available for your students. What kinds of low cost food options are available? Are the options highly processed? This might be a good conversation to have with students about how the environment impacts how they eat and what would help them make healthier choices easier.

Using food labels continues to play an important part of making healthier choices. You can still use the resources and activities from Toronto Public Health to support your work on this. Incorporate conversations about what kinds of marketing students might see on food packages and elsewhere. How might this impact their purchases? Is the marketing directed at children? Does it influence their choices? How can they talk to their children about it?

The new food guide provides some advice on other healthy eating habits. In the classroom, explore with students some food traditions that they can continue in Canada. How can they get their children involved with food and cooking? Are there programs and services in the community that bring people and food together where students can participate?

It might not be easy for all your students to follow the advice from Canada’s Food Guide. Some may not be ready, and it can be a big change and very difficult financially. Acknowledge this with your students and support them to make small, realistic changes that they wish to pursue. You can prepare for this by helping students find community resources that may be able to support them. Alternatively, students can look online at Food by Ward to see what kinds of services might be available and share their learning with others. To learn more visit: Toronto Public Health

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