Nutritious Food Basket

Each year, the Brant County Health Unit surveys the price of food items from grocery stores across the county. Using this data and a survey tool called the Nutritious Food Basket, we calculate the cost of healthy food in Brantford and Brant.

The Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) is a tool which monitors the cost of healthy eating. During the month of May, the Brant County Health Unit visits six grocery stores throughout the region for a two-week period to determine the price of 67 food items in each store. The 67 foods included in the NFB survey represent a variety of inexpensive but healthy food choices, and are used to estimate the basic cost of healthy eating.

Foods in the NFB include:

  • Meat, fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts
  • Bakery and cereal products
  • Dairy products and eggs
  • Fruit and vegetables

The NFB does not include convenience foods, snack foods, or foods purchased for religious reasons (e.g. halal) or special diets (e.g. celiac disease). Other household items, such as dish soap, toiletry items or paper towels are not included in the NFB.

The results of the NFB survey in May 2019 show the cost of healthy eating as $209.01 per week for a family of four. Low income households in Brant may have difficulty affording healthy food once paying for other essentials, such as housing.

Food security exists in a household when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Household food insecurity is defined as inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. It ranges from concerns about running out of food before there is money to buy more, being unable to afford a balanced diet, to going hungry and missing meals. In order to make ends meet, households experiencing financial stress tend to cut back on the food budget in order to pay for housing and other essential expenses. According to the 2013/2014 Canadian Community Health Survey, 10% of households in Brant experienced some degree of food insecurity.

Income is closely linked with food insecurity, with households with lower incomes being much more likely to experience food insecurity than households with higher incomes. Households receiving social assistance (i.e. Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program) are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, given that nearly two-thirds of social assistance recipients in Ontario are food insecure to some degree. Current social assistance rates are insufficient to keep up with the rate of inflation, making healthy food less affordable than ever among social assistance recipients. Current social assistance rates do not meet the basic needs of some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Affordable housing is another factor that influences food insecurity. Housing is considered affordable when it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of households in Brant spend over 30% of their income on shelter. Families in subsidized housing are shown to have lower odds of food insecurity than those on waiting lists for such housing. Receiving a housing subsidy is associated with an improvement in adequacy of food spending among low-income households; living in more affordable housing can affect food insecurity rates because it frees up money in the budget for food. Initiatives such as the affordable housing reserve fund in Brant County and the creation of a housing partnership task force in Brantford may relieve some of the pressure on affordable housing in the near future.

Other income-related factors can also affect levels of food insecurity:

  • Precarious employment (including contract, temporary, casual, and part-time work) leads to an increased risk of food insecurity due to a greater prevalence of irregular hours, low wages, and limited medical benefits among this type of employment. Policies that reduce precarious employment should also reduce rates of food insecurity.
  • Finally, millions of dollars of tax credits go unclaimed each year, with a lower rate of income tax filing among low-income households. Income tax clinics provide an opportunity to increase funds available to low-income families without requiring change in governmental policy.

Food insecurity has a profound impact on health, leading to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. It is more difficult to manage these diseases and conditions for people who are food insecure, and average healthcare costs are significantly higher among food insecure households as well. Given that food insecurity leads to increased risk of disease and healthcare system usage, investing in upstream solutions to food insecurity should result in net savings in healthcare spending and a healthier population overall.

Current responses to food insecurity tend to be focused on food and food related-behaviours, including community food programs, food banks, and emergency meal programs. Food banks and emergency meal programs can provide short-term food access to individuals in crisis, and community food programs have multiple benefits for participants; unfortunately however these types of interventions have been shown not to be a solution to food insecurity. Given that poverty is the root cause of food insecurity, interventions must address poverty in order to effectively address food insecurity.

A targeted and sustainable approach to reduce poverty is needed to address household food insecurity. All levels of the government can take action on food insecurity by:

  1. Supporting and expanding subsidized housing initiatives.
  2. Supporting and expanding tax filing initiatives targeted at low-income households.
  3. Providing basic minimum employment standards to reduce precarious employment.
  4. Increasing social assistance rates to meet the basic needs of recipients.

Poverty is the root cause of food insecurity. The Nutritious Food Basket survey results, when combined with the cost of other basic needs, consistently demonstrate that many households do not have adequate income to afford basic needs, including food. Solutions must address poverty in order to effect change on food insecurity rates. Targeted and sustainable approaches are neeed to address this issue effectively.