Policy/Program Memorandum No. 150

Date of Issue: October 4, 2010
Effective: Until revoked or modified
Subject: School Food And Beverage Policy

Application: Directors of Education
Supervisory Officers and Secretary-Treasurers of School Authorities
Principals of Elementary Schools
Principals of Secondary Schools
Principals of Provincial and Demonstration Schools

Reference: This memorandum replaces Policy/Program Memorandum No. 150, January 15, 2010.


The Ontario government is committed to making schools healthier places for students in order to establish the conditions needed to realize the potential of all students. A healthy school environment enhances student learning and success, and enhances students' social and emotional well-being. Schools have an important role to play in helping students lead healthier lives, including teaching students the skills to make healthy choices and reinforcing those lessons through school practices.

The purpose of this memorandum is to set out nutrition standards for food and beverages sold in publicly funded elementary and secondary schools in Ontario.


School boards1 are required to ensure that all food and beverages sold on school premises for school purposes meet the requirements of this memorandum, including the nutrition standards set out in the Appendix to this memorandum, by September 1, 2011. The nutrition standards apply to all food and beverages sold in all venues (e.g., cafeterias, vending machines, tuck shops), through all programs (e.g., catered lunch programs), and at all events (e.g., bake sales, sports events).

The standards do not apply to food and beverages that are:

  • offered in schools to students at no cost;
  • brought from home or purchased off school premises and are not for resale in schools;
  • available for purchase during field trips off school premises;
  • sold in schools for non-school purposes (e.g., sold by an outside organization that is using the gymnasium after school hours for a non-school–related event);
  • sold for fundraising activities that occur off school premises;
  • sold in staff rooms.

Legislative Authority

Paragraphs 29.3 and 29.4 of subsection 8(1) of the Education Act provide the Minister of Education with the authority to establish a policy with respect to nutrition standards for food and beverages and for any ingredient contained in food and beverages provided on school premises or in connection with a school-related activity, and to require school boards to comply with the policy.

Rationale For a School Food And Beverage Policy

The school food and beverage policy contributes to improved education and health outcomes for all students. Research shows that "health and education success are intertwined: schools cannot achieve their primary mission of education if students are not healthy"2 and that "healthy eating patterns in childhood and adolescence promote optimal childhood health, growth, and intellectual development".3

The school environment profoundly influences students' attitudes, preferences, and behaviours. Research also shows that when nutritionally inadequate food and beverages are available and promoted at school every day, even along with healthier food and beverages, it becomes increasingly difficult for students to have a healthy diet.4

The implementation of the school food and beverage policy in Ontario's publicly funded schools will contribute to reducing students' risk of developing serious, chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

The school food and beverage policy constitutes a comprehensive approach to the sale of food and beverages in schools province-wide. The implementation of this policy is another important step in creating healthier schools in Ontario.5 It also reinforces the knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding healthy eating that are developed through the various subjects and disciplines in the Ontario curriculum.

Nutrition Standard

The nutrition standards embody the principles of healthy eating outlined in Canada's Food Guide, and are intended to ensure that the food and beverages sold in schools contribute to students' healthy growth and development. The nutrition standards for food and beverages are set out within the following two sections:

Nutrition Standards for Food. Food is divided into "Vegetables and Fruit", "Grain Products", "Milk and Alternatives", and "Meat and Alternatives", following Canada's Food Guide. There are also "Mixed Dishes", for products that contain more than one major ingredient (e.g., pizza, pasta, soup, salads, and sandwiches), and "Miscellaneous Items", for items that are to be used in limited amounts (e.g., condiments, sauces, dips, oils, dressings) and for confectionery, which is not permitted for sale (e.g., candy, chocolate).

Nutrition Standards for Beverages. Standards for beverages are provided separately for elementary schools and secondary schools.

The above two sections outline nutrition criteria6 that food and beverages must meet in order to be sold in schools. The nutrition criteria are provided in the following categories:

Sell Most (≥ 80%). Products in this category are the healthiest options and generally have higher levels of essential nutrients and lower amounts of fat, sugar, and/or sodium. They must make up at least 80 per cent of all food choices7 that are available for sale in all venues, through all programs, and at all events. The same requirement applies to beverage choices.8

Sell Less (≤ 20%). Products in this category may have slightly higher amounts of fat, sugar, and/or sodium than food and beverages in the "Sell Most" category. They must make up no more than 20 per cent of all food choices that are available for sale in all venues, through all programs, and at all events. The same requirement applies to beverage choices.

Not Permitted for Sale. Products in this category generally contain few or no essential nutrients and/or contain high amounts of fat, sugar, and/or sodium (e.g., deep-fried and other fried foods, confectionery). Food and beverages in this category may not be sold in schools.

Often a type of food or beverage (e.g., bread, meat, cheese) will fit in all three of the above categories, depending on its nutritional value. To determine whether a specific product may be sold in schools, it is necessary to read the information on the food label – particularly the Nutrition Facts table and the ingredient list – and compare this information with the nutrition criteria.

Food should always be prepared in a healthy way – that is, using cooking methods that require little or no added fat or sodium, such as baking, barbequing, boiling, broiling, grilling, microwaving, poaching, roasting, steaming, or stir-frying.

Exemption For Special-Event Days

The school principal may designate up to ten days (or fewer, as determined by the school board) during the school year as special-event days on which food and beverages sold in schools would be exempt from the nutrition standards outlined in this memorandum. The school principal must consult with the school council prior to designating a day as a special-event day. School principals are encouraged to consult with their students in making these decisions.

Notwithstanding this exemption, on special-event days, schools are encouraged to sell food and beverages that meet the nutrition standards set out in this memorandum.

Additional Requirements

The following requirements must also be met:

  • School boards must comply with Ontario Regulation 200/08, "Trans Fat Standards", and any other applicable regulations made under the Education Act.
  • Principals must take into consideration strategies developed under the school board's policy on anaphylaxis to reduce the risk of exposure to anaphylactic causative agents.
  • Food and beverages must be prepared, served, and stored in accordance with Regulation 562, "Food Premises", as amended, made under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
  • School boards must ensure that students have access to drinking water during the school day.
  • The diversity of students and staff must be taken into consideration in order to accommodate religious and/or cultural needs.

Practices For Consideration

Boards and schools should take into consideration the following when food or beverages are sold or provided in schools:

  • Offer, when available and where possible, food and beverages that are produced in Ontario.
  • Be environmentally aware (e.g., reduce food waste, reuse containers, recycle food scraps).
  • Avoid offering food or beverages as a reward or an incentive for good behaviour, achievement, or participation.

Implementation and Monitoring

Any existing school board policies or guidelines related to food and beverages sold in schools must be in accordance with this memorandum. The ministry recognizes that there may be differences in approaches and implementation at the local level. School boards and schools are encouraged to continue to work with students, parents, school staff, community members, public health professionals, and food service providers to ensure that appropriate strategies are in place to implement this memorandum.

School boards are encouraged to consult with their board of health to implement the nutrition standards. Under Ontario Public Health Standards, 2008, boards of health have a mandate to work with school boards and schools on healthy eating in schools.

School boards are responsible for monitoring the implementation of this memorandum.

At the end of the 2010-11 school year, school boards will be required to attest that they will be in full compliance with this memorandum on September 1, 2011.

For more information on support that is available to assist with implementation, see www.ontario.ca/healthyschools.

1. In this memorandum, school board(s) and board(s) refer to district school boards and school authorities.

2. M. M. Storey, M. S. Nanney, and M. B. Schwartz, "Schools and Obesity Prevention: Creating School Environments and Policies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity", The Milbank Quarterly, 87(1), (2009), p. 72.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guidelines for School Health Programs to Promote Lifelong Healthy Eating, MMWR 1996;45 (No. RR-9), p. 1.

4. Dietitians of Canada, "School Food and Nutrition Recommendations for Ontario Ministry of Education Regarding Snacks and Beverages Dispensed by Vending Machines", p. 3, published with Ontario Ministry of Education, Policy/Program Memorandum No. 135, "Healthy Foods and Beverages in Elementary School Vending Machines", October 20, 2004.

5. For further information, see Foundations for a Healthy School.

6. The nutrition criteria are based on scientific research, on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Guide to Labelling and Advertising, on a cross-jurisdiction scan, and on market research on available food and beverage products.

7. The following are examples of food choices: a bran muffin is one food choice and a banana muffin is another food choice; an apple is one food choice and an orange is another food choice.

8. The following are examples of beverage choices: plain milk is one beverage choice and chocolate milk is another beverage choice; orange juice is one beverage choice and apple juice is another beverage choice.

Appendix: Nutrition Standards For Ontario Schools