Menu Labelling

Menu labelling helps you make informed food choices!
This page provides both food service premise owners and their consumers with facts about menu labelling and menu labelling initiatives in Ottawa.

What is Menu Labelling?

Menu labelling provides people with nutrition information to help them make informed food and drink choices when eating in a restaurant or purchasing take-away meals.

As of January 1, 2017 the Healthy Menu Choices Act, 2015, will require food service premises with 20 or more locations in Ontario to display calories on menus for standard food items.

This law will require food service premises to:

  1. Display the number of calories for every standard food and beverage items, including alcohol, on menu and menu boards
  2. Display daily calorie recommendations to help educate consumers about their daily caloric needs.

This new legislation will be enforced by Ottawa Public Health inspectors.

In Ottawa, the Healthy Menu Choices Act will affect approximately 180 chains with 1,500 different locations.

Why calories?

Meals and snacks bought outside the home are generally high in calories, sodium, fat and sugar while low in vegetables, fruit, and fibre. Calories are of particular concern as consumers tend to underestimate how many calories are in a restaurant meal. Providing information about calories while eating out helps consumers make informed choices and is important for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

How many calories?

Individual daily calorie needs vary based on age, gender, physical activity, genetics, body weight and body composition. The average adult requires about 2,000 calories per day. Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from the food you eat and drink. In addition to providing information about calories, restaurants and other foodservice premises are required to provide a "contextual statement".  This statement will help consumers understand the daily calorie recommendations for adults and children.

 Why Menu Labelling?
Menu labelling supports the community's right to know about nutrition information when eating out or ordering take-out. Menu labelling also helps people to:
  • Make healthier food choices when eating out or when ordering take-out,
  • Be more aware of foods and drinks sold in different types of food service premises, and
  • Plan for future meals out or at home to achieve health goals for themselves or their families.

Some facts:

  • Calories in food and drinks are very difficult to guess when eating out. Having calorie nutrition information available to you at the time you order helps people to be more informed when it counts.
  • The same meal can have very different nutrition content at different food service premises because portions sizes, ingredients and side dishes can be different. For example spaghetti and meat sauce at one restaurant may have 650 calories and at another it may have 1,300 calories.
  • The average restaurant meal contains 1,130 calories which is more than half of the daily calories needed by an adult. This amount does not include dessert (dessert would add an additional 549 calories).

Public opinion counts

A vast majority of Ontarians (95%) support requiring fast food restaurants to list nutritional information on their menus (Ipsos Reid, 2011).

Ottawa residents support menu labelling. A recent survey (Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, 2014) of 1208 Ottawa residents indicate that:

  • 76% of Ottawa residents eat out or order take out,
  • 73% say that nutrition information is important when eating out,
  • 73% say that if calories were shown on the menu they would you use this information to decide which food to order, and
  • 80% say that if sodium were shown on the menu they would you use this information to decide which food to order.

Another Ottawa poll indicated that residents of Ottawa want to see calories and sodium on the menus and menu boards. This support is highest for hospital cafeterias (87%), grocery store/supermarket take-outs (86%), chain restaurants (85%), and college/university cafeterias (84%) (Harris/Decima, 2013). 

Calories on Menus - Information for Businesses

If you are a food service premise and Healthy Menu Choices Act applies to you, as of January 1, 2017, you are required to comply with the menu labelling legislation. Staff at Ottawa Public Health, who are designated under the act, will enforce the requirements, and failure to comply may lead to a fine.

Here are some key documents to help you implement the Act:

Calories on Menus - Information for General Public
Learn about the calories you need and where you can find information about calories in your food and drinks.
Guide to Menu Labelling Requirements

The Guide to Menu Labelling will help owners and operators understand and implement Ontario's menu labelling legislation.

For More Information

Food Service Premise:

The types of food service premises with 20 or more locations in Ontario affected by this legislation include, but are not limited to, chains of:

  • Restaurants
  • Quick service restaurants
  • Convenience stores
  • Grocery stores
  • Movie theatres
  • Public-facing cafeterias
  • Bakeries
  • Food trucks
  • Buffets
  • Ice cream shops
  • Coffee shops

Standard Food Item

A standard food item is any food or drink item that is sold or offered for sale in servings that are standardized for portion and content.  There are some food and drink that are exemptions from the regulations. 

Contextual Statement

To help consumers better understand their choices, a statement about average daily calorie requirements will also be required on menu or menu boards.  The contextual statement must be visible and legible to customers when they are making their order selections or serving themselves. 

As of January 1st, 2018, the following contextual statement must be displayed:

"Adults and youth (ages 13 and older) need an average of 2,000 calories a day, and children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories per day. However, individual needs vary."

Between January 1st, 2017 and December 31, 2017, food service premises can choose to post the contextual statement above, or post the contextual statement as stated below: 

"The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day; however, individual calorie needs may vary".

If the regulated food service premise sells or offers for sale standard food items that are targeted at children, may contain the following information:

"the average child aged 4 to 8 years old requires approximately 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day, and the average child aged 9 to 13 years old requires approximately 1,400 to 2,000 calories per day; however, individual calorie needs may vary".

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