Resources for health professionals and policy makers

Applying Canada's Dietary Guidelines

What nutritious foods to provide and how often

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines can be used to develop policies and programs that support healthy eating.  The variety of nutritious foods to offer regularly can be combined in different ways to:

  • help meet nutrient needs at different life stages
  • support flexibility in food choices to respect personal preferences, cultures and food traditions

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Nutritious foods to help meet nutrient needs 

Many nutrients are relatively easy to get enough of by consuming a variety of nutritious foods each day. Some are more concentrated in particular food types and may be difficult to get enough of, without including these foods in the diet.

One way in which nutritious foods recommended in Canada’s Dietary Guidelines could be combined to help meet nutrient needs is to include:

  • multiple times a day,
    • a variety of fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruit, by
      • making them the largest part of most meals
        • among vegetables, dark green vegetables daily and orange vegetables a few times a week  
      • offering them as snacks  
    • a variety of whole grains, whole grain foods and whole wheat foods, by
      • offering them at all meals
      • making them available as snacks
    • a variety of protein foods, by
      • including them as part of most meals and snacks
        • among protein foods, offering
          • nuts or seeds at least once a day
          • legumes or tofu at least once a day
    • food sources of calcium, by including them at all meals and some snacks
  • foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat every day
  • a daily dietary source of vitamin D
    • for people between 2 and 50 years of age, offer foods that contain vitamin D daily or advise them to take a daily supplement containing vitamin D
    • for adults 51 years of age and older, advise them to take a daily supplement containing 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D
  • water throughout the day

Selecting and preparing foods that have little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars is also an important consideration in food and nutrition policy and program development and implementation.

When dietary preferences and restrictions exclude certain types of foods, there are some nutrients that may require special attention. A registered dietitian’s advice may be needed when working with people with specific dietary requirements.

Considerations for different life stages

An increased emphasis on certain types of foods will help to meet specific nutrient needs at different life stages:

  • Children, adolescents, adult females and older adults have high calcium needs. To help meet their needs make food sources of calcium available at all meals and snacks. This could be done by incorporating into meals or snacks
    • dark green vegetables and legumes that are sources of calcium every day, and
    • fish and shellfish that is a source of calcium a few times a week, and
    • tofu, dairy products or plant-based substitutes a few times a day
  • Some food sources of calcium also provide other vitamins and minerals, such as folate and iron, that are important for children, adolescents and most adult females. For example,
    • plant-based food sources of calcium such as dark green vegetables, tofu and legumes can provide folate and iron
    • fish and shellfish sources of calcium also provide iron
  • Adult males would benefit from having orange vegetables, such as carrots, pumpkin, red or orange bell peppers, butternut or hubbard squash or sweet potato most days of the week to help meet needs for vitamin A.
  • Individuals who are breastfeeding would also benefit from having orange vegetables most days of the week.
  • Young children should be offered foods that are mostly unsaturated fat at most meals and snacks, to help them meet needs for energy and fat. It is also important to pay attention to safe preparation, serving and storage, especially to avoid choking.

All adults and adolescents who could become pregnant, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, should be advised to take a daily multivitamin with folic acid. During pregnancy, ensure that the multi-vitamin also contains iron. Multivitamins may also contain vitamin D and thus provide a daily dietary source of vitamin D.

Tips on applying considerations for different life stages

Tips for adding dark green and orange vegetables:

  • add kale or arugula and hubbard or butternut squash, pumpkin or sweet potato to
    • egg or pasta dishes
    • salads, soups, stews, curries and sauces
  • use bok choy, Chinese broccoli, or rapini
    • in salads
    • in sheet pan meals or stir-fries
    • as a sautéed or roasted side dish
  • serve carrots or red or orange bell peppers with a dip, as snacks or in salads

Tips for integrating food sources of calcium:

  • include in meals or snacks dark green vegetables that are a source of calcium, such as
    • collard greens or kale in a smoothie
    • kale, rapini and okra in stir-fries, soups and stews
    • sautéed watercress, bok choy or Chinese broccoli as a side dish
    • arugula, bok choy, mustard or turnip greens or seaweed in salads
  • use foods that are higher in calcium as snacks, such as
    • smoothies made with fortified plant-based beverage, lower fat yogurt or lower fat kefir
    • cheeses lower in fat and sodium, like low fat, low sodium Swiss cheese
    • lower fat dairy yogurt or soy-based dips or chutneys with vegetables, fruit or whole grain crackers
  • include at meals protein foods that are also sources of calcium, such as
    • white or navy beans in soups, stews and chili 
    • edamame added to salads and vegetable dishes
    • scrambled tofu and egg mixture or a tofu scramble
    • fish or shellfish that is a source of calcium, such as perch (freshwater) or pickerel (walleye)
    • unsweetened lower fat milk or fortified plant-based beverage as a beverage or in soups, smoothies and hot or cold cereals

Tips for including foods that are mostly unsaturated fat for young children:

  • use soft margarine or nut or seed spreads on toast
  • add hummus, mayonnaise or avocado to sandwiches and dips
  • include fatty fish such as canned salmon (without bones) in sandwiches

Variety supports flexible food choices to suit different needs

When developing programs and policies, the types of nutritious foods, and how often to provide them, can be customized to help meet the unique needs of different populations. For example: 

  • the foods selected and how they are prepared can vary to accommodate
    • food availability
    • different budgets
    • preferences, cultures and food traditions
    • production capabilities at the institutional level
  • how often meals or snacks are included may differ to suit operational needs, cultures and food traditions
  • the amount of food offered can be adjusted based on individual factors such as
    • sex
    • age
    • body size
    • activity level

Even in small amounts, the consumption of traditional food improves diet quality among Indigenous Peoples. These foods, and the way they are obtained, are intrinsically linked to culture, identity, way of life, and thus, to overall health.

Sample meal plan

The sample meal plan provides an example of how to apply nutritious foods to help meet nutrient needs.

Professionals are encouraged to ensure meal plans created reflect the unique characteristics and needs of their target population and setting. This can include but is not limited to:

  • meal acceptability
  • life stage considerations
  • cultures and food traditions
  • food preferences and availability
  • food waste and environmental impact
  • special dietary needs and health status
  • menu cycle and number of meals and snacks

Meals and snacks in this sample meal plan intend to be selected and prepared with little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars as much as possible. Additionally, foods can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried (such as legumes). 

Table 1: Sample three-day meal plan
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Meal Meal Meal
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Unsweetened lower fat milk or fortified plant-based beverage
  • Berries
  • Water
  • Scrambled tofu with kale
  • Whole grain toast
  • Water
  • Whole grain cornmeal (porridge) with berries
  • Orange
  • Unsweetened lower fat yogurt
Snack Snack Snack
  • Almonds
  • Banana
  • Water
  • Carrots 
  • Egg salad made with avocado
  • Unsweetened lower fat milk or fortified plant-based beverage
  • Broccoli 
  • Edamame dip
  • Lower fat, lower sodium cheese
  • Water
Meal Meal Meal
  • Banh Mi (vegetarian sandwich)
    • tofu
    • daikon
    • carrots
    • whole wheat baguette
  • Edamame salad
  • Mujadarrah
    • lentils
    • onions
    • brown rice
  • Cucumber and yogurt salad
  • Three sisters soup
    • corn
    • kidney beans
    • butternut squash
  • Canned salmon sandwich on whole grain roll
Snack Snack Snack
  • Navy bean dip
  • Raw mixed vegetables  
  • Melon salad
  • Unsweetened lower fat yogurt
  • Apple slices
  • Nut butter
Meal Meal Meal
  • Curried vegetable lentil stew
    • okra
    • barley
    • lentils
    • bok choy
    • sweet potatoes
    • Brussels sprouts
  • Perch
  • Mixed vegetables
    • rapini
    • red pepper
    • green beans
  • Wild rice
  • Stir-fried ginger beef with gai lan (Chinese broccoli) and cashews
  • Sticky brown rice
  • Seaweed salad
Snack Snack Snack
  • Blueberry rhubarb crisp
  • Unsweetened lower fat milk or fortified plant-based beverage
  • Peach
  • Nut and seed bar
  • Smoothie
    • fruit
    • spinach
    • avocado
    • unsweetened lower fat kefir


Make available:

  • water throughout the day
  • soft margarine at meals and snacks, as relevant
  • as snacks a variety of whole grain or whole wheat foods such as rolls, muffins, crackers, cereal, flatbreads (e.g. roti, chapati, tortilla) and rice cakes

Further Reading