Food Affordability (Cost of Eating)

Every year, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) surveys the price of food items from grocery stores across the city and county. Using a survey tool called the Ontario Nutritious Food Basket (ONFB), the cost of one week’s worth of groceries is calculated.

In Windsor-Essex, the weekly cost of groceries for a family of four in 2023 is $262.68. This works out to $1,137.39/month.

To arrive at this cost, 61 food items in eleven area grocery stores were priced by calculating the average lowest retail price. This included in-store shopping, as well as online shopping. The items included meet recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide, with the assumption that people have the time, skill, and equipment needed to cook low-cost staples.

Food insecurity is a serious public health problem. Food insecurity occurs when a person is not able to access food regularly and consistently. Insecure access to food occurs due to financial constraints.

Community members facing food insecurity may:

  • Worry about running out of food before there is money to buy more
  • Not be able to afford balanced meals
  • Not be able to buy food that meets individual and cultural needs

When incomes cannot cover the cost of food and other basic needs, there are severe negative impacts on physical health, mental health, the healthcare system, and overall social well-being.

  • Food-insecure adults are at greater risk for a wide range of physical and mental health problems including mood and anxiety disorders, depression, infectious diseases, chronic pain, and poor oral health.
  • Adults living in food-insecure households are more likely to delay, reduce, or skip filling prescription medication due to cost.
  • Experiencing household food insecurity during pregnancy increases the likelihood of being treated for perinatal mood disorders and their infants have a higher likelihood of visiting an emergency department.
  • Children living in food insecure households are more likely to experience mental health issues like hyperactivity, inattention, greater risks of disordered eating, depression, and suicidal ideation in adolescence and early adulthood.

For people living on either the minimum wage, Ontario Works, or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), it is often difficult to make ends meet. After paying rent, these individuals must also pay for other necessities such as heat and hydro, transportation, car maintenance and gas, childcare, phone/internet, and other expenses. This means that often little money is left for buying food and people go hungry.

The case studies below do not represent real people but are based on research representing the impacts of food insecurity. They include actual benefits, incomes, and costs in Windsor and Essex County from May to June 2023. For more information, data sources, and cost breakdowns for each case study and further income scenarios, see Appendix A.

Case Study: Single, Pregnant Person (See appendix A, Table 3: Scenario 9)

Lindsay is in her late 20s, lives on her own, and is expecting a baby. She is unable to work due to a chronic health condition and relies on the Ontario Disability Support Program for income. The cost of rent for her one-bedroom apartment takes up 72% of her monthly income. Lindsay tries to eat balanced meals to give her baby a good start. Due to her limited income, this is not always possible and could put her in a monthly deficit even before paying for everything else to meet her basic needs. She is finding that she often needs to choose between paying her bills on time or eating enough to not be hungry. Facing stress and anxiety about affording rent, food, and necessities for her baby, she notices her mental health declining.

Case Study: Single Parent (See appendix A, Table 1: Scenario 4)

Reema is a single parent with two children under 6 years old. She rents a 2-bedroom basement apartment. She currently receives Ontario Works as she has not yet been able to find work with the flexibility that also allows her to care for her young children. Reema is very resourceful with her limited budget, but with the rising cost of living she is having trouble making ends meet. She just found out that she needs to replace her used car. It is her only form of transportation as she lives in the county, and she doesn’t know how she will pay for this unexpected expense. She finds herself eating less and sometimes skipping meals to make sure that her kids have enough to eat. She notices that she is not feeling her best.

Case Study: Single, Male (See appendix A, Table 2: Scenario 5)

Drew is 40 years old and is currently unemployed due to circumstances outside of his control. He receives Ontario Works. After accounting for all benefits received, the rent for his bachelor apartment takes up 91% of his income. Drew worries about losing his housing and is unable to pay for food. Despite the temporary relief he gets from visiting food banks and meal programs, he is still severely food insecure, and sometimes goes for a few days without eating.

Case Study: Family with children (See appendix A, Table 1: Scenario 1)

Matt and Kim have 2 children, ages 8 and 14. They rent a 3-bedroom apartment in Windsor. Matt works full-time at minimum wage. Kim hopes to re-train and go back to college but is currently a full-time caregiver for their parents and children. Their kids have asked if they can go on a family vacation like some of their friends, but Matt and Kim are experiencing difficulties affording necessities after paying for monthly bills, and other essentials. They worry how well their children are coping with the hardships and feel ashamed and guilty that they can’t provide more.

When income is low and living expenses are high, people will likely not have enough money for food.

The inability to purchase food is less about food prices being too high and more about people with low incomes not having enough income to cover the costs of basic living, including food.

Addressing Food Insecurity

Addressing food insecurity requires going beyond the symptoms of food insecurity (e.g., lack of food) and to the root cause of poverty. Policies that target poverty are needed, including policies that ensure:

  • Adequate working incomes and benefits to pay for the basic necessities of living, like housing, food, and other expenses.
  • Adequate social assistance income (e.g., Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program) that reflects the true cost of living.
  • Tax subsidies, exemptions, and credits for low-income households.
  • Guaranteed basic income for all.

Emergency food programs, such as food banks and meal programs, can offer temporary relief but do not solve food insecurity in the long-term. Those who access these services continue to experience food insecurity. Food banks often report struggling to meet demand due to rising needs, yet statistics indicate that only 20% of people who are food insecure access food banks, due to barriers such as stigma, lack of transportation, cultural preferences, and dietary restrictions.

How Can You Take Action?

All people in Windsor-Essex should have consistent access to food, and the community has a role to play to ensure it. Start by educating yourself about what causes hunger and poverty and use your voice to advocate for change!

Food costs is an issue that affects our community. When people are short of money, they are unable to consistently afford healthy foods, which can impact their health in the short and long-term. That's why working to eliminate poverty is everyone's responsibility.

10 Scenarios Based on Income and Benefits in Ontario and Canada, and Windsor and Essex County Food and Housing Costs (May-June 2023).

This data was collected as part of pilot testing of an updated process to monitor food affordability in Ontario. The 61 food items costed are based on the 2019 National Nutritious Food Basketand reflect Canada’s Food Guide. Data does not include: non-food items, foods that may be needed to meet cultural or religious needs, or foods to manage disease conditions, allergies, or intolerances. The ONFB is based on the most recent Canada's Food Guide, which is not reflective of all religious and cultural groups, as well as traditional Indigenous foods and food procurement practices. The WECHU recognizes this as a significant limitation of this data collection.

The below income scenarios integrate provincial and federal benefits from May to June 2023, including child benefits, GST/HST credits, the Ontario Trillium Benefit, the Canada Worker Benefit, and the Climate Action Incentive Payment. Scenarios use the Windsor Census Metropolitan Area Housing Cost Data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Table 1:

Income Scenarios 1-4

Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3 Scenario 4
Family of Four, Ontario Works Family of Four, Full-Time Minimum Wage Earner Family of Four, Median Income (after tax) Single Parent Household with 2 Children, Ontario Works
Monthly Calculations
TOTAL INCOME $2,794.00 $4,160.00 $9,284.00 $2,560.00
Selected Expenses
Average Monthly Rent (may or may not include Hydro) (3 Bdr.) (3 Bdr.) (3 Bdr.) (2 Bdr.)
$1,504.00 $1,504.00 $1,504.00 $1,194.00
Food $1,137.39 $1,137.39 $1,137.39 $834.32
TOTAL SELECTED EXPENSES $2,641.39 $2,641.39 $2,641.39 $2,028.32
Funds Remaining for other basic needs $152.61 $1,518.61 $6,642.61 $531.68
Percentage of income required for rent 54% 36% 16% 47%
Percentage of income required to purchase food 41% 27% 12% 33%

Table 2:

Income Scenarios 5-7

Scenario 5 Scenario 6 Scenario 7
One Person Household, Ontario Works One Person Household, Ontario Disability Support Program One Person Household, Old Age Security/ Guaranteed Income Supplement
Monthly Calculations
TOTAL INCOME $865.00 $1,369.00 $1,993.00
Selected Expenses
Average Monthly Rent (may or may not include Hydro) (Bachelor) (1 Bdr) (1 Bdr)
$791.00 $1,017.00 $1,017.00
Food $411.37 $411.37 $291.96
TOTAL SELECTED EXPENSES $1,202.37 $1,428.37 $1,308.96
Funds Remaining for other basic needs $(337.37) $(59.37) $684.04
Percentage of income required for rent 91% 74% 51%
Percentage of income required to purchase food 48% 30% 15%

Table 3:

Income Scenarios 8-10

Scenario 8 Scenario 9 Scenario 10

Married Couple, Ontario Disability Support Program


Single Pregnant Person, Ontario Disability Support Program

Single Parent Household with 2 Children,

Full-Time Minimum Wage Earner

Monthly Calculations
TOTAL INCOME $2,433.00 $1,409.00 $4,302.00
Selected Expenses
Average Monthly Rent (may or may not include Hydro) (1 Bdr) (1 Bdr) (2 Bdr.)
$1,017.00 $1,017.00 $1,194.00
Food $682.55 $389.95 $689.69
TOTAL SELECTED EXPENSES $1,699.55 $1,406.95 $1,883.69
Funds Remaining for other basic needs $733.45 $2.05 $2,418.31
Percentage of income required for rent 42% 72% 28%
Percentage of income required to purchase food 28% 28% 16%

While food banks are not a solution for fixing food insecurity, there are people in need. Food bank needs vary. Call the Windsor Essex Food Bank Association or your local food bank (find one near you by calling 2-1-1) to find out what items are most needed.

Donations should be labelled and sealed. Donations should not be expired. Ask yourself, “Would I eat this myself or feed it to my family?” before giving food to a food bank.

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