What is a sustainable menu?

It meets present food needs without compromising future generations. It advocates the principles of agriculture that come close to an ideal of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Although it is almost impossible to qualify a product as ideal, a food that meets even one criterion is already a better option!

The good news is that many of these recommendations are consistent with those in the new Canada Food Guide released in early 2019, which recognizes that food choices can have an impact on the environment.


Define and adjust to the specific needs of each type of clientele served. Choose vegetable proteins and products from animals raised without routine or non-therapeutic antibiotics.


Offer recipes of varied cultural origins representing the population you serve. Offer fair trade products when possible.


Serving fresh, appetizing meals that have been approved by a tasting panel. Choose food containing as few additives and preservatives as possible, and opt for regional and seasonal fruits and vegetables.


Reduce the use of products supplied in single use or non-recyclable packaging and compost and recycle waste.


Make evidence-based decisions and engage with all stakeholders and recognize their role (e.g. users, customers, suppliers, purchasing group).


Manage an efficient (cost-effective) food service that contributes to the local economy.

The challenges


Many sustainable choices are affordable. Save by gradually changing one part of the menu in order to spend more in another. Expensive products or processes can be targeted for cost reduction practices, such as reducing waste, giving greater room for more sustainable foods.

Shortage of resources

Some changes also involve a reorganization of tasks in the department. You can start with changes that fit into your normal routine. Involving employees by consulting and informing them of the positive impacts and getting other departments involved in a sustainable development committee can push the entire organization into setting up a sustainable-development culture that may help provide the resources needed.

Negative perception by the clientele

Eating habits are difficult to change. Introduce small changes that will have less of an impact to begin with and can be promoted as an initial success to build on. Educate clientele through proper communication of changes and start with items that are appreciated by the clientele.

Lack of control

Many food service departments must contend with procurement or service contracts that restrict their ability to make more sustainable choices. The purpose of the guide is to make it possible to introduce more sustainable menus without necessarily having to search for products or require new clauses in contracts. The information is available and can be shared with suppliers so that they can adapt to new demands gradually.

Organizational support

Food service managers recognize the importance of having motivators and agents of change from inside and outside the organization. Without proper support, it is often difficult to know where to begin and how to take steps towards a sustainable menu. There are approaches you can take within your organization to facilitate the adoption of a sustainable-development culture by broadening the understanding of sustainable food.


1. Define your objectives and basic principles

It is essential that the food service department adopts principles and objectives that will guide all operating decisions, such as balancing cost control against quality and variety.

2. Determine types of clientele and evaluate their particular needs

It is important to consult nutritionists, residents and families in order to clearly identify and define user needs.

3. Define the menu format

The ability to produce and distribute the chosen menu format will depend on the available budget, kitchen equipment, and storage spaces, and on worker qualifications.

4. Planning nutritional and financial guidelines

Canada’s Food Guide is the basic tool used in most healthcare facilities to define the content of a complete meal and to guide certain product choices. Other provincial documents can also provide guidelines.

5. Creating the menu

Following a menu template drawn up to match the previously defined standards and characteristics will prove handy.

6. Evaluate the menu

Satisfaction of the clientele is crucial to a menu’s durability. A policy must be introduced to evaluate the menu once it is in place.

Beyond food choices

Production and distribution

Using “mixed liaison” production and distribution (cook-chill and cook-serve) that responds to immediate user requests can help eliminate waste and reduce costs.

Human resources

Introducing more sustainable habits requires changes in practice, for which employee training is essential. The structure of positions in the food service department must be reviewed by considering the preferred type of operation.

Sustainable equipment and storage spaces

The quantity and type of equipment available have a major impact on possible menu choices. Analysis should be carried out to consider the sustainable aspects of its use — analyses of waste, savings in energy and water, reliability (durability) over time.

Production Standards

Identify quantities of food needed, monitor leftovers and sales daily, adjusting the quantities to be produced accordingly, and monitor inventory to avoid waste.

Download the guide

This document aims to support the creation of sustainable menus in the food service sector, a step by step approach. It offers relevant tools to reduce the environmental impact of the food served and contribute to socio-economic development.