Neil Mackenzie, Manager, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention
December 19, 2019
2019 Nutritious Food Basket and the Real Cost of Eating Well in Windsor-Essex
Nutritious Food Basket – Description
As part of the Population Health Assessment and Surveillance Protocol, 2018, under the modernized Ontario Public Health Standards (OPHS), boards of health are required to monitor food affordability at a local level. The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care provides guidance for determining the Nutritious Food Basket in its guidance document: Monitoring Food Affordability Reference Document, 2018 (MOHLTC, 2018).
Each year, the WECHU releases its calculation for the Nutritious Food Basket. Food costing tools, such as the Nutritious Food Basket (MOHLTC, 2008), measure the cost of basic healthy eating representing current nutrition recommendations and average food purchasing patterns. It allows for improved understanding of the real cost of eating a basic nutritious diet for a reference family and those of different ages, gender, and physiological status (i.e., pregnant, breast feeding) within Windsor-Essex County.
Over a two-week period in May 2019, the WECHU’s Registered Dietitians (RD) surveyed nine different grocery stores within the city and county. Stores are selected following the NFB protocol, ensuring representation of all types of grocery stores (i.e., high-end, discount, community based). Using the NFB costing tool, the average cost of the lowest price available for 67 different food items is calculated. Once the average price is determined, different income and family scenarios for our local community are calculated.
Nutritious Food Basket – 2019 Reality
The cost of healthy eating for a family of four in Windsor and Essex County was calculated to be $211.20 per week. This represents an increase of $17.16/week (8.8 %) over the previous year’s calculation. The 2019 Nutritious Food Basket cost ($211.20/week) is 12.3% higher than the cost in 2014 ($188.04/week). Over that same period, rental costs in WEC have increased by 18.9%, and Ontario Works benefits have only increased by 7.8%. Households who are reliant on social assistance as their main source of income are at a greater risk for food insecurity than households who receive income from employment (PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research, 2017).
Note: The NFB does not include items such as spices, sauces, condiments, processed and ready-to-eat foods, baby food and formula, personal hygiene, and cleaning products.
The increase in the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket for 2019 has a real impact, in that healthy eating will continue to be unattainable by many in our community. For example, a family of four* receiving Ontario Works has an average monthly household income of $2,623. When rent is accounted for, the family would be left with only $1,533 to cover the cost of food ($914.50) and all other remaining expenses, including utilities, transportation costs, medical expenses, clothing, etc. The reality is much worse for a single adult male receiving Ontario Works. After accounting for rent, the individual is left with only $225 to cover all remaining expenses, including food. This amount is less than the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket for an adult male ($306.93/month). Indeed, the individual would be left with no money at all for other basic expenses. With less money for food, the quality and quantity of foods purchased are compromised, causing individuals to turn to other options such as food banks or missing meals to make ends meet.
The NFB data is intended to raise awareness about the cost of basic healthy eating in our community. This data can be used to assist policy and decision makers to advocate for improved social assistance rates, living wage uptake, more affordable housing availability, accessible and affordable child care, affordable and flexible utility costs, and other supports to ensure everyone has enough money available to meet their family’s basic nutrition needs.
The NFB has been used as an essential local component in the calculation of the Windsor-Essex County Living Wage for 2020.
A plan is in place to disseminate the 2019 NFB results and the Real Cost of Eating Well in Windsor-Essex to a variety of partners, organizations, and municipal councils who can use the information to support the most vulnerable individuals in our community. The information provided will help inform an urgent discussion on short and longer-term measures required to support individuals and families in having sufficient funds for a basic healthy diet.
The following individuals were contributed to this report:
- Heather Nadon, Public Health Dietitian
- Noura Jabbour, Public Health Dietitian
- Neil Makenzie, Manager, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention