Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Nutritional assessment of charitable meal programmes serving homeless people in Toronto

Carmen Tsea1 and Valerie Tarasuka1 c1

a1 Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3E2


Objectives To assess the potential nutritional contribution of meals provided in a sample of community programmes for homeless individuals, to determine the effect of food donations on meal quality and to develop food-based guidance for meals that would meet adults’ total nutrient needs.

Setting Toronto, Canada.

Design An analysis of weighed meal records from eighteen programmes. The energy and nutrient contents of meals were compared to requirement estimates to assess contribution to total needs, given that homeless people have limited access to nutritious foods. Mixed linear modelling was applied to determine the relationship between the use of food donations and meal quality. The composition of meals that would meet adults’ nutrient requirements was determined by constructing simulated meals, drawing on the selection of foods available to programmes.

Sample In all, seventy meals, sampled from eighteen programmes serving homeless individuals.

Results On average, the meals contained 2·6 servings of grain products, 1·7 servings of meat and alternatives, 4·1 servings of vegetables and fruits and 0·4 servings of milk products. The energy and nutrient contents of most meals were below adults’ average daily requirements. Most meals included both purchased and donated foods; the vitamin C content of meals was positively associated with the percentage of energy from donations. Increasing portion sizes improved the nutrient contribution of meals, but the provision of more milk products and fruits and vegetables was required to meet adults’ nutrient requirements.

Conclusions The meals assessed were inadequate to meet adults’ nutrient requirements. Improving the nutritional quality of meals requires additional resources.

(Received August 17 2007)

(Accepted April 16 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Email