Every March is Nutrition Month in Canada. Why is this important? Healthy food habits and good nutrition help us take care of ourselves and our families. They help us live healthier, longer lives.
Nutrition also plays an important role in the work we do at Second Harvest. In fact, the majority of food we rescue and redistribute is perishable, healthy food from important and nutrient-dense categories like protein, produce and dairy. In 2022, 86% of the food we rescued and redistributed was perishable and 64% was classified as nutrient-dense. For people facing food insecurity, accessing nutritious food can be a major challenge, which is why we focus on these categories.
Not everyone knows how to eat well or has the tools, resources, or access to nutritious food in Canada. This is a challenge considering that good nutrition is linked to improved physical and mental health, greater happiness, better digestion, and higher energy levels. They help us manage our weight and prevent chronic diseases too. Healthy food and well-balanced diets fuel healthy bodies and minds.
Here is a collection of free resources and helpful tips for healthy eating in your household to celebrate nutrition month in Canada every day.
Free Nutritional Resources to Eat Healthy at Home Every Day
1. Follow Canada’s Food Guide and Healthy Eating Strategy
Canada’s most recent Food Guide recommends that we eat a wide variety of healthy foods every day. A nutritious meal should be ½ vegetables and fruit, ¼ proteins, and ¼ whole grains, with a glass of water for a drink. The Government of Canada also came up with a Healthy Eating Strategy to help make healthy food choices the easiest choice for all.
2. Find a dietitian in your community to learn about nutrition
Dietitians are highly trained healthcare workers who provide advice specific to your needs. They work in and with local communities, recognizing different cultures, traditions, personal preferences, health and dietary needs or restrictions, budgets, and challenges such as food access. If this sounds like something that could be helpful to get you and your family on track with healthier eating at home, find a dietitian in your community.
3. Get inspired to cook at home with these nutritious recipes
Cooking at home is a great way to learn about food and make healthy meal choices. Plus, depending on the recipe you choose, cooking at home can be fun, quick, affordable, and easy. Get the whole family involved! Teaching your kids how to cook and make healthy meal choices is an essential life skill that will stay with them forever.
Keep Canada’s Food Guide in mind and look for meals that are mostly plant-based (vegetables and/or fruits) with a side of protein and grains. Here are some great (free) recipe resources to get you inspired in your kitchen:
4. Follow this sample meal plan for a healthy week at home
Cookspiration (linked above and associated with Canada’s Nutrition Month) has a useful and easy-to-use meal planner. All you have to do is select your meal plan goals, like “budget-friendly” and “kid-approved.” Then they’ll suggest a few breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu ideas that match what you’re looking for and you choose the rest to fill up the week. They’ll put together a shopping list based on the recipes you chose for the week.
Healthy eating tip:
Remember, when making a meal plan, rotate through a wide variety of recipes and ingredients. This way, you and your family will get a well-balanced diet full of all of the vitamins, minerals, dairy, good fats and carbohydrates, and proteins you need to thrive. If you’re on a budget, you can always eat deliciously homemade leftovers for lunch. Saving and beefing up your leftovers is also a great way to avoid unnecessary food waste!
5. Make healthy food choices on a budget
Eating healthy and cooking at home can be done on a budget. Here are some helpful tips:
Always do a pantry, fridge, and freezer inventory before you shop
Make a meal plan for the week that uses what you already have, includes leftovers for some meals, and shares ingredients over a few meals
Write down your grocery list of what’s missing
Eat before you shop
Research grocery deals, shop sales, and collect coupons
Stock up on sale items and add them to your next weekly meal plan
Store foods properly to prolong shelf-life
Store leftovers in glass containers so you don’t forget about them—or freeze them if you know you can’t eat them in a few days
More tips and reading for eating well on a budget:
Food is fuel. What we put into our bodies has a direct impact on our physical and mental health and well-being, our immune systems, mental focus, cognition and ability to learn, energy levels, happiness and ability to handle stress. Good food fuels healthy bodies and minds.
Canada’s Food Guide suggests that Canadians eat a variety of healthy foods every day. If our plates were a pie chart, ½ would be vegetables and fruit, ¼ proteins, and ¼ whole grains, with a glass of water for a drink.
Canada’s Food Guide to eating healthy foods daily
Nutrition is Increasingly Out of Reach
Food insecurity is a growing concern in Canada, and it’s safe to say we’re in the midst of a crisis. With sustained inflation in essential food categories like produce, proteins and dairy, we know this problem will get worse and millions more people in Canada will struggle to put food on the table in the future. Nutrition is increasingly out of reach for many people.
This troubling trend in food insecurity has also had a devastating effect on the charitable food sector and the non-profits that support people with food. Second Harvest surveyed more than 1,300 of these organizations — including community food programs, food banks, meal programs and more — in December 2022. What we found is that on top of a whopping 134% increase in demand for their services in 2022, they are anticipating an additional 60% increase for 2023. These organizations reported needing both food and financial support to meet this anticipated demand. Accounting for the entire charitable sector, this equates to a budget shortfall in the billions.
Second Harvest emphasizes the rescue of healthy perishable foods. In 2022, 86% of the food we rescued and redistributed was perishable and 64% was classified as nutrient-dense.
Some notes on Nutrition
We are bombarded by ads for highly processed food choices with excessive levels of sodium, sugar and saturated fats, and processed meats. While they can seem more affordable than other fresh options, their consumption should be limited in order to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. Here’s a deeper look at each.
Highly processed foods include sugary drinks, chips, fast food meals, baked goods, syrups and jams, ice creams, treats, candy, processed meats, and frozen dinners. They are prepared with excess sodium, sugar, and saturated fats.
Eating too much UPF is increasingly linked with poor diet habits, weight gain and a higher risk of diet-related chronic disease.
Too much sodium—or added salt—can cause high blood pressure, which may lead to heart disease and stroke. Most of the sodium we eat comes from highly processed foods, including bakery products, appetizers and entrées, processed meats, cheese, soups, and sauces or condiments.
49% of Canadian children under the age of 3 and 72% of those between 4 to 13 years old exceed the recommended limit of sodium intake per day.
The average restaurant meal item contains one day’s worth of the recommended sodium intake.
Sugar is naturally found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. It is added sugar in products such as fruit juice, sugary drinks, baked goods, frozen treats, candy, chocolate, syrups, jams and condiments that need to be limited. Having too much food and drink with added sugars has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Saturated and Trans Fats
Some foods have healthy fats naturally, such as olive, canola, or sunflower oils and avocado. These can help lower your risk of heart disease. Too much saturated and trans fat, however, is not part of a healthy diet.In the mid-90s, the levels of trans fats in Canadian diets were among the highest in the world. Researchers spent the following decades reducing that number through government regulations and educating the public.
For example, in 2018, Health Canada banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils in foods, the main source of industrially produced trans fat.
Eating too much trans fat increases the risk of heart disease—one of the leading causes of death in Canada.
The winter holidays offer an ideal opportunity to re-engage your employees, whether they work remotely or in the office. It’s a time to acknowledge and celebrate all that your team has overcome and accomplished this past year. But it’s also a challenging time of year for many—including, perhaps, your team members. So, for those of you who are looking for fun and festive, yet meaningful holiday employee engagement ideas, this is for you. Get into the holiday spirit by giving back, volunteering, donating, and supporting good causes as a team.
Giving back and doing good makes you feel good
When you help someone in need or support a good cause, you’re not just helping them or the cause. You’re also helping yourself. (And everyone on your team.)
“When people are altruistic and generous, it creates a response in the brain that taps into positive emotions,” explains Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist and research director at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health. “The brain also produces and releases neurotransmitters and hormones, such as dopamine and oxytocin, that help us feel happiness and pleasure.”
Doing good makes you feel good. It gives you a sense of purpose, gratitude, happiness, and connectedness—with yourself, your team, and anyone else involved. That good feeling stays with you too. Giving back has also been known to help reduce stress and support better health and wellness. It’s a win-win.
With so much going on in the world, there are unlimited ways to help. Come together as a team this holiday season and decide what causes are most important to you. Are they social or humanitarian? Environmental? Economic? All of the above? Local? Country-wide?
Dig in and get creative on engaging your team in festive, fun, and truly meaningful activities this holiday season. Here are some ideas to help get started.
6 Good causes and employee engagement ideas for this holiday season
1. Give holiday gifts that support a good cause
It’s the thought behind a gift that truly counts. Last Christmas, I received a gift certificate explaining that I helped protect an Old Growth Forest because the gift-giver donated funds to the charity on my behalf. Both the gift-giver and I loved the idea that we were supporting a meaningful cause, and it helped the organization continue to do their great work for the planet.
Why not do a Secret Santa where every gift is a small donation to a charity of your choice? For instance,Second Harvest has a Shopify gift catalogue where anyone can provide a meal for Canadians in need. As little as $5 will provide enough food for over ten healthy meals for Canadians who are struggling with food insecurity this holiday season.
2. Host a fundraising holiday party and donate the proceeds
For all those who have their hearts set on a staff holiday party, why not add a good-cause element to it? Make it a holiday fundraiser. You could get local businesses to donate items and do a raffle or an auction. Have a donation bucket or a holiday bake sale. Or, you could charge employees a nominal ticket price where all proceeds go to a good cause.
Funding keeps organizations thatfight for good causes afloat. Find your collective favourite cause and/or organization and donate in honour of your team. Your support makes all the difference, especially during the winter holidays, but any day, week, or month of the year.
Giving this holiday season, after all, helps you and all those you support.
Volunteering together as a team is one of the best ways to engage your employees in person around a good cause this holiday season. Once you’ve chosen a good cause you want to support, look into local volunteering opportunities. Many groups look for volunteering opportunities during the holiday season but it’s important to note that volunteers are needed year-round. Consider scheduling a regular commitment to volunteer monthly or quarterly with your team or engaging with non-profits outside of the holiday season. Quite often, non-profits are unable to satisfy all of the requests to volunteer in December, but find themselves short-handed during other times of the year.
Reach out to organize holiday volunteering. Give employees time off to volunteer. Then, host a team get-together afterwards to celebrate.
If you’re in the Canadian food industry, you can start donating your surplus food. Second Harvest rescues donated surplus food and redistributes it to Canadians in need. , Donating your surplus food helps reduce your businesses’ carbon footprint, as food waste is a huge greenhouse gas contributor. We redistribute it to food charities such as food banks, soup kitchens, churches, community centres, and school programs across Canada that feed people good, healthy meals daily.
Employer-matching donations double the impact and when paired with employee teams can significantly increase the support to non-profits, like Second Harvest. This corporate philanthropy approach is a structured way for companies to get behind the good work being done in communities, as well as elevate their corporate social responsibility profile. But most importantly, the gifts or donation go twice as far.
Organizations in the food industry are always working toward reducing food loss and waste (FLW). It’s time to double down on our efforts because current climate crisis and rising food insecurity are urgent issues.
By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
It’s not just food that we’re wasting—it’s also the finite resources used to make, process, package, transport, sell and buy it. For example:
We could fill 7 Million Olympic-sized swimming pools with the water footprint of FLW in North America every year.
41 million cars would have to drive continuously for a year to equal the annual greenhouse gases of FLW in North America.
260 million people could be fed every year with lost and wasted food.
How reducing food loss and waste improves your business’s bottom line
If your factory throws away $5,000 worth of produce every month for various reasons, including spillage, grade issues, market rejection, or trimming during processing, that’s a $60,000 annual loss on your bottom line. It’s also a wasted opportunity. What if that loss could be used in a new product or re-invested into solutions to prevent waste in the first place?
One problem is that a lot of businesses either haven’t or don’t know how to measure food loss and waste.
3.2M tonnes of surplus edible food is produced by Canada’s food industry each year
96% of it is not rescued or redistributed for human consumption
127,177 Canadian food businesses are potential donors of surplus edible food donors—your food business may be one of them
Updating your business systems to be more sustainable
The CEC has many great helpful resources to help guide you, including a Business Cost Calculator of FLW. They also have practical guides on how to measure FLW, find the root causes, make system changes and measure impact. Make your business case by calculating the amount and cost of FLW and determining its causes, solutions and benefits for change. To do this, you’ll need to take a close look at the specific causes of FLW in your organization.
For the past two decades in Canada, the third week of October has marked Waste Reduction Week. But educating and empowering Canadians to overhaul their consumption habits requires time. That’s why the Circular Innovation Council extended October’s Waste Reduction Week to help Canadians better understand the issues of waste and opportunities to change as we shift toward a circular economy. October is now Canada’s first-ever Circular Economy Month, which includes Waste Reduction Week.
In honour of Circular Economy Month, we’ll look at what a circular economy is and how it can help us rethink—and renew—our relationship with waste in Canada.
What is a Circular Economy?
In a traditional linear economy, we produce, consume and then toss our waste into landfills. Or as the Circular Innovation Council puts it, we “take—make—waste.” Waste is the end of the resource’s lifecycle and the cost of doing business. A circular economy, on the other hand, is an entirely different way of thinking about resources and their value.
“The circular economy is regenerative where everything is valued, resources are more efficiently used, nothing is wasted, and everything is a resource that can be fed back into the beginning of production cycles in a closed-loop system.”
Let’s unpack that statement before moving on because the council touched on many key points.
Everything is valued
Resources are more efficiently used
Nothing is wasted
Everything is a resource that can be renewed to close the production cycle loop
Thinking Differently About Waste in a Sustainable Future
If we think about closing the loop on our current linear economy of production, consumption and waste, then waste—our current end product—must be renewed so that it can be consumed again and again. Renewing resources that would otherwise go to waste can be done in many ways. For instance, we could reuse, remanufacture, repurpose, repair, refurbish, redistribute, remake, or recycle them over and over. (Even more R’s!) For this to happen, however, the initial product needs to be designed and made to last in all of its forms.
Why is a Circular Economy Important to Reducing our Waste?
The way that our traditional linear economies take, make and waste resources puts too much pressure on our systems and environment. For instance, 58% of all of the food produced in Canada is lost or wasted. Every year. That is 35.5 million metric tonnes of food loss and waste, which is unsustainable for our land, water and other resource use, communities, economies and public health. Circular economies, on the other hand, have the power to save money and resources. It can also reduce waste and create new opportunities and markets for businesses and individuals.
In keeping with overhauling Canada’s food systems, Second Harvest’s food rescue helps connect businesses and individuals with surplus food to those organizations in need of food.
We’re on a mission to grow our innovative, efficient food recovery network to fuel people and reduce the environmental impact of avoidable food waste. Surplus of potatoes on a farm, for instance, can be rescued and redistributed to organizations that help feed food-insecure community members across the country. Take, make, rescue, redistribute, share and consume.
We all have a role to play in making circular economies work.
Join in and do Your Part to Limit Waste this October
Thanks to Circular Economy Month and Waste Reduction Week, there is a wealth of information at Canadians’ fingertips to explore and learn. Transitioning away from an unsustainable and wasteful economic model takes a collaborative effort on everyone’s part, from governments and businesses to individual consumers.
Here are some ways you can get involved this October and beyond: