A new version of Canada’s food guide was recently released. There are a few changes that are obvious. First, it no longer recommends a set amount of servings per day of any food group. Second, fruits and vegetables have taken over as the majority of the recommended diet, rather than grains. Third, dairy is no longer its own food group: it is lumped into the protein category. Fourth, protein-wise, meat is no longer the focus.

The food guide recommends that approximately 50% of your diet be fruits and vegetables, 25% protein, and 25% whole grains. Protein encompasses dairy, eggs, and legumes, as well as meat.

Seems reasonable, right? However, reviews have been mixed. On Facebook the most common comments that I see seem to be: “Where’s the meat?” or “Where’s the dairy?” or “That looks disgusting!” and, finally, “It is too expensive to eat like this”.

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What is healthy, exactly?

The definition of “healthy” varies from person to person. Myself, I consider a meal to be healthy when it more or less follows Canada’s food guide when it comes to portion size and food group distribution, with limited grease, no excess fat, and limited added sugar. Personally, I do not strive to ensure that my food is organic, but that is a priority for some. Others are vegan and do not eat any animal products at all. Others do eat animal products, but ensure that their meat and eggs are from an ethically sourced.

If your current diet can be improved, you may find yourself hesitant to make the leap for a number of reasons. The best first step you can take, in my opinion, is to look at one of your current favorite, not-so-healthy meals and see what you can do to improve it.

For example, a big juicy hamburger with a giant side of greasy French fries? Delicious, but not terribly healthy. But, I believe that a burger can fit into a healthy diet. Choose a smaller burger with leaner ground meat — or even a veggie burger — and top it with vegetables and a reasonable amount of condiments. Skip the excessive cheese, bacon, and ketchup. Don’t get me wrong, I like cheese and bacon, but in moderation.

Serve the burger with home-made air-fried (or baked) French fries (maybe sweet potato fries) with low-sugar ketchup and a salad with a light dressing, and you’ve got yourself a healthier-than-fast-food meal without depriving yourself of burgers and fries.

The cost of eating healthy

How must does it cost to eat healthy, though? While food insecurity is a very real thing, it may also be possible that some individuals simply do not have the experience to know that eating healthy doesn’t need to be extremely expensive.

Grains are inexpensive, so if Canada’s (old) food guide says it’s okay to eat a large percentage of grains, that is easy on the pocket book. Fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are not as cost-effective. However, the food guide does say that frozen and low-sodium canned produce is acceptable. Frozen and canned are sometimes more affordable.

In future blog posts I will price out a week’s worth of healthy meals for a family of four: two adults and two small children (ages 3 and 5). My family lives in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, so of course reported prices will be local to us. I will also get my prices from my closest chain grocery store. I understand that some families live in areas where grocery prices are high due to remoteness. Unfortunately, that makes budgeting more difficult than it has to be. But, hopefully my tips and suggestions can still be put to good use.

I am not perfect. My diet does include convenience food and those foods which I would generally consider unhealthy when consumed in large quantities. However, I do take the time to plan the majority of my meals, and I hypothesize that healthy eating does not have to be as expensive as some believe, if proper planning happens.

Stay tuned!

Canada's food guide: can you afford it?