A Snapshot of Families and Food in Canada

Food is at the heart of family life. A biological necessity for our survival and well-being, food is also much more than that. What we choose to eat is often more than just a matter of personal preferences and whims; in many instances, what we eat reflects our cultural, community and family identities. Sometimes, our choices are made for us based on the availability and accessibility of food.

Regardless of the context, families adapt and react to ensure that dietary needs are being met. Some families have many opportunities to eat together, and these family meals provide a setting where family dynamics and relationships often “play out,” whether it’s in the delegation of cooking roles, discussing an upcoming family vacation or arguing over who has to do the dishes. Sometimes families – particularly those with busy schedules or high mobility – opt to eat meals “on the go.”

A Snapshot of Families and Food in Canada explores the evolving relationships between families and food in Canada, including research and statistics about family meals, eating patterns, nutrition, food security and more.

Highlights include:

  • More than 6 in 10 Canadians (62%) surveyed in 2017 said they eat dinner as a family at least five times per week.
  • More than one-quarter (26%) of Canadians surveyed in 2017 agree with the statement, “My work–life balance does not permit me to prepare and/or eat my meals at home.”
  • The most recent data indicates that 12% of households across Canada (1.3 million) experienced food insecurity in 2014, home to 3.2 million people.
  • More than half (52%) of Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat((From Statistics Canada: “Inuit Nunangat is the homeland of Inuit of Canada. It includes the communities located in the four Inuit regions: Nunatsiavut (Northern coastal Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), the territory of Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region of the Northwest Territories. These regions collectively encompass the area traditionally occupied by Inuit in Canada.” Link: http://bit.ly/2gbzaqo.)) aged 25 and over lived in food-insecure households in 2012.
  • In 2015, households across Canada spent an average $8,600 on food, an increase of 9.9% since 2010.
  • 4 in 10 of those who said it’s become more difficult to afford groceries said they’ve been choosing less healthy options in the aisle to manage the rising prices.
  • According to a 2017 study, more than three-quarters of Canadians aren’t meeting Canada Food Guide recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, with a resulting estimated economic burden to society of is $4.39 billion per year.
  • More than 863,000 people across Canada accessed food banks in March 2016 alone (40% of whom lived in family households with children), 28% higher than in 2008.
  • Research shows that the widespread malnutrition experienced by Indigenous children in Canada’s residential school system has had (and continues to have) a multi-generational impact on the health and well-being of their children and grandchildren, contributing to higher rates of chronic conditions.

This bilingual resource will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Download A Snapshot of Families and Food in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Learn more about families and food in Canada:


This Statistical Snapshot publication is dedicated to David Northcott, CM, OM, retired Executive Director of Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank and a founder of both the Canadian Association of Food Banks and the Manitoba Association of Food Banks. David recently completed his second full term on the Vanier Institute Board of Directors, where his enthusiasm, dedication to family well-being and generous heart has had an impact on the entire Vanier Institute team.

Published on September 20, 2017


2016 Census Release Sheds New Light on Family Finances in Canada

Today’s Census release from Statistics Canada on income shows that just like families themselves, family finances are characterized by diversity and complexity. While conversations about family finances tend to focus primarily on income earned through paid labour, new Census data provides a fuller portrait that also covers income acquired through other sources such as investments, government transfers, benefits, social assistance and more. Two new Census in Brief releases provide analysis on children in low-income households and contribution rates for selected registered savings accounts.

This release, however, isn’t a complete portrait of family finances, which include many diverse and complex intergenerational exchanges not captured in the Census, such as grandparent investments in younger generations (e.g. RESP contributions, paying for summer camp), parents paying for adult children’s cellphone plans and more.

The Census data on income provides valuable insights into family finances in the context of broader trends that have been monitored and reported on by the Vanier Institute, including (but not limited to):


Canada is home to a growing number of working seniors…

  • 14% of seniors were in the paid labour market in 2016, more than double the rate in 2000 (6%).
  • Approximately 6 in 10 surveyed Canadians who expect to work past age 65 say they plan to do so because they need to, while 4 in 10 say it’s because they’ll want to.
  • The average retirement age in Canada in 2015 was 63.4 years, up from 60.9 years in 1998.


Families play an essential role in supporting younger generations in school…

  • Half of graduating university students in Canada reported having student debt in 2015, with an average amount of $27,000.
  • 6 in 10 graduating university students in Canada said in 2015 that parents, family or spouses helped fund their education.


Learn more about family finances in Canada:


The Vanier Institute shares evidence-based, evidence-informed and evidence-inspired stories and research findings, working with organizations such as Statistics Canada to explore modern families through diverse resources, publications and public engagements. Read more about our relationship with Statistics Canada by reading their blog post Learning about Canada’s diverse families through Nora Spinks from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


To arrange an interview, contact Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks at 613-724-8500 or 613-228-8500, ext. 219, or by emailing ceo@vanierinstitute.ca.

Published on September 13, 2017

Infographic: Modern Couples in Canada

Just as families have evolved across generations, so too have the couple relationships that are a major part of Canada’s “family landscape.” This perpetual change is both a reflection of and a driving force behind some of the evolving social, economic, cultural and environmental forces that shape family life.

Dating, marriage, cohabitation, common-law relationships – the ways people choose to come together, or decide to move apart, are as diverse as the couples themselves. There are, however, some broad trends being witnessed across the country, with family structures diversifying, people forming couple relationships at later ages and family finances taking on a more egalitarian structure.

Using new data from the 2016 Census, the Vanier Institute of the Family has published an infographic on modern couples in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • In 2016, married couples accounted for 79% of all couples in Canada, down from 93% in 1981.
  • One-quarter of “never-married” Canadians say they don’t intend to get married.
  • In 2016, 21% of all couples in Canada were living common-law, up from 6% in 1981.
  • The share of twentysomething women (37%) and men (25%) living in couples has nearly halved since 1981 (falling from 59% and 45%, respectively).
  • In 2016, 12.4% of all couple families in Canada with children under 25 were stepfamilies, down slightly from 12.6% in 2011.
  • There are 73,000 same-sex couples in Canada, 12% of whom are raising children.
  • 1 in 5 surveyed Canadians reported in 2011 that their parents are separated or divorced, up from 10% in 2001.
  • The share of people living in mixed unions nearly doubled between 1991 and 2011, from 2.6% to 4.6%.((Statistics Canada defines a mixed union as “a couple in which one spouse or partner belongs to a visible minority group and the other does not, as well as a couple in which the two spouses or partners belong to different visible minority groups.”))
  • 69% of couples with children were dual-earner couples in 2014, up from 36% in 1976.

Download the Modern Couples in Canada infographic from the Vanier Institute of the Family.
Learn more about modern relationships in Canada:

  • Modern Families, Modern Living Arrangements – Part 1, Part 2 (Transition articles)


Published on August 4, 2017


2016 Census Release Highlights Family Diversity in Canada

Families in Canada are becoming increasingly diverse, according to data released today by Statistics Canada. The 2016 Census release on families, households and marital status provides an overview of the current “family landscape” in Canada as well as broader trends over time.

In addition to analytical products such as highlight tables, infographics and a video overview of families in Canada at Confederation and today, three short Census in Brief articles focus on the evolution of families and family life from coast to coast to coast:

Young adults living with their parents in Canada in 2016

Learn about modern family living arrangements in Canada:

  • Modern Families, Modern Living Arrangements: Part 1, Part 2 (Transition articles)


Portrait of children’s family life in Canada in 2016

Learn about children, diversity and family relationships in Canada:


Same-sex couples in Canada in 2016

Learn about same-sex couples in Canada:


The Vanier Institute shares evidence-based, evidence-informed and evidence-inspired stories and research findings, working with organizations such as Statistics Canada to explore modern families through diverse resources and publications. Read more about our relationship with Statistics Canada by reading their blog post Learning about Canada’s diverse families through Nora Spinks from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

To arrange an interview, contact Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks at 613-724-8500 or 613-228-8500, ext. 219, or by emailing ceo@vanierinstitute.ca.


Learn more about the evolution of families and family life in Canada with the following resources:


Published on August 2, 2017

Call-out: Families, Mobility, and Work Atlantic Canadian Symposium

Are you working with families that are separated due to employment in the oil and gas industry, construction, trucking, health care, forestry, the military, fishing, agriculture, education, tourism or some other type of work? The Families, Mobility, and Work Atlantic Canadian Symposium is looking for presenters, delegates and sponsors to participate in next year’s gathering, May 15–17, 2018, at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Download a PDF flyer – please share!

Families in Canada are diverse and continually adapting to the realities of a changing labour market. These changes include sectoral shifts in employment and growth in precarious and mobile work that often requires complex and extended travel for work. This employment-related geographical mobility (ERGM) includes extended and complex daily commutes to work as well as less frequent commutes with extended absences from home.

These commutes can be to a regular place of work or to multiple, transient, remote and sometimes, as in trucking, mobile worksites. Many Canadians and a growing number of people from outside of Canada work in other regions, provinces and countries, which often results in prolonged daily, weekly, monthly or even longer periods away from loved ones and home communities.

The Families, Mobility, and Work Atlantic Canadian Symposium will examine the intersections between diverse families, work situations and ERGM in the Canadian context. Some research has documented the challenges associated with some types of work-related mobility (such as long-distance commuting or short but lengthy daily commutes) for some kinds of families (from professionals to migrants performing jobs in unskilled positions). However, little attention has been paid to different types of families engaged in the full spectrum of ERGM in diverse sectors of the Canadian labour market.

The Symposium will facilitate dialogue and sharing between those studying, serving and supporting families who are experiencing work-related mobility, with a focus on leading and emerging policy and practices at home, at work and in the community. It will bring together (face-to-face and virtually) policy-makers and civil society leaders from multiple sectors, researchers studying the intersectionality between families and ERGM in Canada, and families directly impacted by work-related mobility.

Some potential themes for discussion will include:

In the home:

  • What role does work-related mobility play in family planning, conception/fertility and parenthood?
  • How is parenting and child care, caregiving and elder care, or care for persons with disabilities impacted by ERGM? How are these care relationships impacted by extended absences due to mobility for work?
  • How does coming to Atlantic Canada for temporary work impact international labour migrants and their families who reside in their places of origin?

In the workplace:

  • How are labour and professional organizations and employers accommodating family status in response to extended absences?
  • In what ways do precarious employment and atypical work schedules combine with work-related mobility to impact the familial and individual well-being of mobile workers?

In the community:

  • How does mobility impact the communities that mobile workers live in/leave from and work in/go to? How does this reverberate back to impact their families?
  • How are diverse health care professionals, community service providers, educators, spiritual advisors/faith leaders and others responding and adapting to best meet the needs of families affected by extended commuting for work?

The Symposium is being organized with support from the SSHRC-funded A Tale of Two Islands and On the Move Partnership projects and in collaboration with the Vanier Institute of the Family, the University of Prince Edward Island and Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Participation and partnership with other research programs and groups is welcome, including those in government and civil society interested in enhancing our understanding of how work/employment and families interact with, have an impact on and are affected by ERGM. We also invite participation from families directly impacted by employment mobility.

Those interested in partnering with, presenting at and/or participating in the Symposium should contact Dr. Christina Murray, Faculty of Nursing, University of Prince Edward Island cfmurray@upei.ca or Danielle Devereaux at the On the Move Partnership, Memorial University devereau@mun.ca no later than September 15, 2017.


Published on July 27, 2017

The Canadian Family: Redefining Inclusion (video)

On June 22, 2017, Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks participated in the 2017 Speaker Series – The Canadian Family: Redefining Inclusion. Hosted by Roots of Empathy, this event brought together leaders and educators to discuss diversity, inclusion and modern families in Canada.

One of Roots of Empathy’s organizational goals is to foster inclusiveness. In this engaging and catalytic panel discussion, Nora Spinks joined Zeena Al Hamdan (Programs Manager, Arab Community Centre of Toronto), Paul Cormier (Assistant Professor, Lakehead University, and member of the Lake Helen First Nations, Red Rock Indian Band), Tesa Fiddler (Indigenous Education Resource Teacher, Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board) and panel moderator Cheryl Jackson (Director of Communications, Roots of Empathy) to explore and discuss what this means for families in Canada.

Learn more about family diversity in Canada:


Watch The Canadian Family: Redefining Inclusion on the Roots of Empathy YouTube Channel.


Published on July 26, 2017

Facts and Stats: Families and Active Leisure in Canada (2017 Update)

Whether it’s swimming at the beach in the summer, tobogganing in the winter or playing organized sports throughout the year, many families enjoy being physically active in their leisure time, and this exercise can have a positive impact on our individual and family well-being. However, there is growing concern that many people aren’t meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity, as busy schedules and “screen time” can interfere with our best efforts to keep moving.

Learn about how Canadians of all ages are keeping fit and having fun with our updated fact sheet on families and active leisure in Canada!

Download Facts and Stats: Families and Active Leisure in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Published on July 25, 2017

Congratulations to Canada’s Next Governor General

On behalf of the Vanier Institute of the Family, CEO Nora Spinks extends congratulations to Ms. Julie Payette on her appointment as the 29th Governor General of Canada. Her esteemed career and history of accomplishment serve as an inspiration to Canadians of all ages and backgrounds, and we look forward to her leadership as Canada moves beyond its 150th anniversary into a bright future.

Founded in 1965 by His Excellency General The Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier and Madame Pauline Vanier, the Vanier Institute of the Family is a national, independent, charitable organization dedicated to understanding the diversity and complexity of families and the reality of family life in Canada. In our work to realize the Vaniers’ vision, we offer access to a range of publications, research initiatives, presentations and social media content to enhance the national understanding of how families interact with, have an impact on and are affected by social, economic, environmental and cultural forces.

Throughout their tenure, we have worked closely with Their Excellencies, The Right Honourable David Johnston and Mrs. Sharon Johnston in a variety of settings to facilitate the work of those who study, serve and support Canada’s diverse families. We look forward to continuing our long-standing relationship between the Vanier Institute and the Office of the Governor General.


Published on July 14, 2017

Vanier Institute Update: June 2017

What’s New 


 What We’re Reading


What’s in the Media 


To automatically receive monthly updates about our publications, projects and networks, sign up for our e-newsletter.



Exploring Families with Statistics Canada and the Vanier Institute

In their most recent blog post, Statistics Canada discusses the Vanier Institute’s approach to exploring families and family experiences, as well as its role in enhancing the national understanding of families in Canada.

“Statistics Canada data are vital to what we do and to all of the people and organizations that want, and are involved with, evidence-based decision making,” said Spinks. “At the Vanier Institute, we look deeper to find the stories these numbers are telling us, and to ultimately make a difference in the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”

– Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks

Read more by visiting the Statistics Canada blog post, Learning about Canada’s diverse families through Nora Spinks from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Posted on June 23, 2017