Health and consumer groups are asking for calories and nutrient information to be posted on menus in restaurants and cafeterias. On average, Canadian households spend about one quarter or more of their food budgets on foods from restaurants. Eating out more often is associated with higher calorie intake and weight gain. Canada does not have a standardized menu labelling policy and only a few provinces have menu labelling programs (i.e., BC and Manitoba – Informed Dining; about 10,000 restaurants (from 12 chains) have implemented the Informed Dining program across Canada).
Menu labelling helps consumers be more aware – some studies show that meals purchased have fewer calories and less sodium when this information is on menus or menu boards, and restaurant owners change recipes to trim down fat, sugar and sodium in entrees and desserts. Educating consumers on how to interpret and use the information presented will be an essential element of any menu labelling program. Consistency is also important, so that criteria for standards and presentation are similar nation-wide
Dietitians of Canada supports menu labelling as one helpful tool consumers can use to make informed decisions and choose healthier foods and beverages when eating out.
We support the inclusion of calorie and sodium information on menus. We recommend addition of a standardized statement of context on menus (e.g. “The average person needs about 2000 calories and less than 2300 mg sodium per day”).
Complete information about nutrition and ingredients should be available on request in a restaurant (similar to requirements for pre-packaged food in grocery stores).
Menu labelling initiatives should include public education programs to help consumers understand the new labels. We also recommend formal evaluation of initiatives to assess the impact of menu labelling on purchases made in restaurants.
In 2015, Dietitians of Canada (Ontario region) developed two briefs (see Resources below), with input from DC’s Ontario members, in response to the Government of Ontario’s proposed Healthy Menu Choices Act and Regulations and has been engaged in ongoing discussions with government, members, and other stakeholders on development and implementation of menu labelling policies. A followup letter from Dietitians of Canada, Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health and Ontario Public Health Association was sent in August 2016, with a recommendation specifically related to the contextual statement that would be posted on menus.
In 2013, DC’s Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition (PENÒ) service published an evidence clip entitled, “Restaurant Menu Labelling: Not A Panacea But Perhaps A Useful Tool?” shared widely with DC members.
DC continues to be represented on the Advisory Committee for Informed Dining in BC, providing input on the development and implementation of the program.
Updated August 22, 2016