Navigating the summer food festival scene

Kennesaw, GA, USA - August 27, 2016:  Patrons order meals from food trucks lined up in a row  serving customers at the Great Southern Food Truck Rally in Kennesaw, GA.

Summer weather is here…..finally! With summer weather comes a barrage of local festivals and community events with food vendors and food trucks offering delicious street foods a plenty. Unfortunately, these venues are typically exempt from the new menu labelling legislation, so most likely you will not see calories listed on the menu boards to help inform your selections.  Only food service establishments with 20 or more locations across Ontario are required to post calories on their menus.

So how can you make healthier choices when there is no menu labelling? Here are some tips to help you to eat healthier while enjoying the summer festival scene:

  • Try not to drink your calories – avoid the mega-sized, sugary drinks (both hot and cold varieties). Instead, drink lots of water in the heat!
  • Choose grilled or sautéed instead of deep-fried, whenever possible.
  • Ask for sauces and gravy on the side – that way you can control how much you eat.
  • Think ahead and try to eat at home prior to going, that way you won’t over-eat at the event.
  • Share the often jumbo-sized food purchases with friends or family – that way you can still enjoy, but not feel like you need to finish the whole dish yourself.
  • Choose a healthier side dish and avoid the fries – select salads, grilled veggies and fresh fruits more often.

Kids’ Meals – Parents and kids need healthier options

When eating out, kids want meals that taste good, and parents want a healthy meal for their growing, active children. New research shows that although many restaurants claim they have improved their menus and made them healthier, the data indicates not much has changed. Parents need to speak up and request more healthy options for their children when dining out. Usually, all children really need is something off the regular menu, but in a smaller size. Try to relay your expectations to your favorite restaurants and see if they respond. Often times, it’s all about consumer demand!

So, what is a healthy meal for children? No meal is a good meal if it is not eaten. Work together with your children to select tasty and healthy menu items that they will enjoy eating.  Ideally, a meal should include a variety of foods from at least three of the four food groups: Vegetables & Fruit, Grain Products, Milk and Alternatives, and Meat and Alternatives. Studies show that children are eating too much processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt, and not enough vegetables, fruit, milk products and whole grain foods. Here are some tips for eating out with children.

It is also important to note that beverages can significantly impact the nutritional quality of a meal. Encourage children to drink water or choose unflavoured milk! Children who drink milk at meals are more likely to meet their daily calcium needs. Steer them away from high calorie, high sugar options which can contain almost a days’ worth of calories in one glass.

Not so long ago, eating out was considered an occasional treat for most families, but it is now so common it accounts for nearly half of all food spending. Kids (and their parents) deserve to be able to choose tasty, nutritious meals even when dining out, and restaurants play an important role in making that happen.

Revealing facts about calories on menus

They’re in your food. Now they’re on your menus. See them for what they are.

Calories Revealed MOHLTC 2017 campaign

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care has recently launched this campaign to increase awareness about new menu labelling legislation and to encourage parents, and youth in particular, to make healthier choices when dining out. Watch the video and visit Calories Revealed to find out more.

With obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease continuing to rise, being able to make informed choices when dining out has never been more important.  Posting calories on menus is an important tool to help people decide and select healthier options.  We know that eating healthier foods and a balanced diet is just as important, if not more so, than how many calories you consume. So now, Toronto Public Health is working on finding way to improve the quality of the foods you eat when eating out by collaborating with the restaurant industry as well as other key stakeholders that influence your food environment.

Quality counts more than calories

Feb_2017 blog_WebA recent posting in Harvard Chan’s School of Public Health’s e-newsletter brings up some important points regarding calories vs. quality. The article states that rather than focusing on calories alone, food quality is also key in determining what we should eat and what to avoid in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.” Instead of choosing foods based solely on the caloric value, think about choosing high-quality, healthy foods, and minimizing your intake of low-quality foods.

What is high-quality vs. low-quality?

  • High-quality foods are unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy sources of protein.
  • Lower-quality foods are highly processed snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined (white) grains, refined sugar, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic foods

Researchers emphasize that there isn’t one “perfect” diet for everyone, due to individual differences in genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors.  Researchers did not discount the importance of calories, instead suggesting that choosing high-quality foods (and reducing lower-quality foods) is important in helping individuals consume fewer calories overall.  This is helpful advice to follow whether eating at home or dining out – look for restaurants that offer menu items made with fresh and high-quality foods.

Menu labelling has arrived in Ontario!

Now that the new legislation is here restaurant goers will begin to notice calorie counts posted in restaurants and other food service venues like grocery stores and movie theatres.

What does this mean?
labelled menu board Jan_17It means that each regular menu item should have a calorie count beside it in the same prominence on the menu as the name of the item or its price. It may be a single number or it may be a range, depending on the items and how it can be ordered.

For instance, an item (like a burger) which can be ordered with different toppings and side dishes will show a range of caloric values. It is up to the customer to decipher the information as it pertains to how they are ordering the menu item.

The contextual statement
In addition, each menu or menu board will also display a contextual statement which provides diners within information on how many calories the average person needs in one day.  It states “The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day; however, needs may vary.” This is just a guideline as people’s caloric needs vary greatly depending on factors like age, sex and activity levels.

Will this change your decision when dining out?
Toronto Public Health believes that menu labelling is one tool to help consumers make an informed decision about what they are eating when dining out. We hope you will find the new menu information helpful and would love to hear how (or if) our readers use it when making your decisions.  Please leave a comment below or send an email to