The unit originated as the School of Household Science, one of three units which constituted Macdonald College, in November, 1907. The mission of the School at that point was to "assist in providing courses of instruction and training in Domestic Economy or Household Science for young women from country homes, in order that they may have opportunities for acquiring practical and advanced education not less suitable to them than the present courses (in Agriculture) to young men."
Professional orientation appeared early in the history of the School of Household Science when students were eligible for teacher training, qualifying them for positions in schools as Home Economics teachers.
Academic teaching programs broadened as a result of the teacher training eligibility; because Home Economics envelopes such a wide range of subject areas, the School developed expertise in a broad domain of subject areas. These included clothing and textiles, family and consumer studies and food and nutrition areas. Of these areas, the School of Household Science developed a strong program in dietetics, with establishment of the B.Ed. (H.Ec.) degree in 1966, when the Faculty of Education undertook the responsibility for the development of the program for teachers of Home Economics.
In 1967, the unit was renamed School of Food Science, consistent with its strengths in dietetics and nutrition. At this point, activities were concentrated towards the study of food with central objectives being to develop teaching and research in aspects of food and nutrition as related to humans. This objective was achieved by offering "majors" in areas where the Faculty of Agriculture could provide the needed supporting sciences. As the School of Food Science three areas were emphasized: Dietetics, Food Service Administration and Food Science. The latter area of concentration was related closely to the mission of the agricultural component of the Faculty. Indeed, during the mid-1970s, the Department of Agricultural Chemistry became part of the School of Food Science.
McGill offered the first degree course leading to qualifications in Dietetics in Quebec, commencing in 1918. Until 1976 in Quebec, as in the other provinces of Canada, the education of a dietitian involved an academic program leading to a bachelor's degree followed by an internship period. This internship was approximately forty weeks in length and could be taken in any accredited institution in Canada.
In 1976, the Government of Quebec transferred the responsibility for internships from the Ministry of Social affairs to the Ministry of Education. Thus, the three universities in Quebec offering Dietetics programs assumed this additional responsibility. These internships were variously referred to as the "Stage" or "Professional Practice".
Encouraged by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Affairs to examine the content and length of the Dietetics program a "document de travail" was started in September 1973. Following this, staff held a series of meetings from February 1974 to April 1976, with colleagues from Laval and the University of Montreal, for this purpose. After extensive discussions, it was determined that an effective and complete professional Dietetics program could be accommodated in three and one-half years. At McGill, the first Dietetics Majors in the integrated program entered in September 1976 and completed their work in December 1979, convocating in June 1980.
The Nutrition Major was introduced into the curriculum of the old School of Food Science into the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition and the Departments of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry.
Following the reorganization of the Nutrition curriculum, and approved by APPC and Senate in 1989 student enrollment abruptly rose from an historical average of 5 to 20 majors within one to two years. There are now approximately 500 students enrolled in the programs offered by the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition.