How Much Does Healthy Eating Cost

Every year Hamilton Public Health checks the price of healthy foods using the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey. The results of the NFB survey are used to determine if healthy eating is affordable for Hamiltonians. It is not meant to be a guideline on how much to spend on food.

The cost of the NFB is calculated based on the average lowest cost of 67 food items across seven grocery stores in Hamilton. The foods on the survey include items belonging to the food groupings found in Canada’s Food Guide (fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein foods) and were chosen based on Canadian eating and purchasing patterns.

The NFB does not include certain types of food and other items such as:

  • processed and convenience foods
  • soft drinks
  • snack foods
  • special dietary foods
  • infant foods
  • religious or cultural foods
  • soap, shampoo, toilet paper, or other personal care items sold in grocery stores

This chart shows the weekly cost of the Nutritious Food Basket for 22 groups and a reference family of four.

Group Age $/week
Boys 2 - 3 $26.52
Boys 4 - 8 $34.03
Girls 2 - 3 $26.04
Girls 4 - 8 $33.08
Males 9 - 13 $44.85
Males 14 - 18 $64.17
Males 19 - 30 $62.70
Males 31 - 50 $56.64
Males 51 - 70 $54.42
Males over 70 $53.88
Females 9 - 13 $38.59
Females 14 - 18 $46.29
Females 19 - 30 $48.86
Females 31 - 50 $48.14
Females 51 - 70 $42.06
Females over 70 $41.23
Pregnant women 18 & under $51.78
Pregnant women 19 - 30 $52.57
Pregnant women 31 - 50 $51.25
Breastfeeding women 18 & under $53.64
Breastfeeding women 19 - 30 $55.89
Breastfeeding women 31 - 50 $54.57
Reference family of four

Male 31-50,
Female 31-50,
Boy 14 and Girl 7

$202.03

These costs are not meant to be used as a guideline on how much to spend on food.

The cost of the NFB and rental housing can be compared to several individual and family income scenarios to determine whether food is affordable.

Some households have very little money left after paying for rent and food which makes it hard for them to afford other expenses. Low income households are often forced to choose between buying healthy food and other necessities such as:

  • Heat/hydro (if not included in monthly rent)
  • Telephone
  • Transportation
  • Child care
  • School supplies and expenses
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Medical expenses not covered by OHIP
  • Vision and dental care
  • Personal care (e.g., haircuts, hygiene products)
Scenario Total monthly income *Average monthly rent (% of income needed for rent) **Monthly cost of Nutritious Food Basket (% of income needed for a Nutritious Food Basket) Funds remaining each month (heat/hydro if not included in rent, childcare, clothing, transportation, school supplies and everything else)
Family of four
Ontario Works
  • 2 adults (male and female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$2,623 3-bedroom $1267
(48% of income)
$875
(33% of income)
$481
Family of four
Full-time minimum wage earner
  • 2 adults (male and female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$3,633 3-bedroom $1267
(35% of income)
$875
(24% of income)
$1491
Family of four
Median Ontario income (after tax)
  • 2 adults (male and female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$7,983 3-bedroom $1267
(16% of income)
$875
(11% of income)
$5841
Single parent
Ontario Works
  • 1 adult (female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$2,401 2-bedroom $1085
(45% of income)
$656
(27% of income)
$660
Single person
Ontario Works
  • 1 adult (male age 31-50)
$825 bachelor $767
(93% of income)
$294
(36% of income)
-$236
Single person
Ontario Disability Support Program
  • 1 adult (male age 31-50)
$1,272 1-bedroom for accessibility $923
(73% of income)
$294
(23% of income)
$55
Single person
Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement
  • 1 adult (female age 70+)
$1,727 1-bedroom $923
(53% of income)
$214
(12% of income)
$590

Numbers are rounded to the nearest dollar

*Average monthly apartment rental costs provided by Housing Services Division, Healthy and Safe Communities Department, City of Hamilton, based on Rental Market Report, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Fall 2018.  May include heat/hydro.

** Nutritious Food Basket survey May 2019, Public Health Services, Healthy and Safe Communities Department, City of Hamilton, including Household Size Adjustment Factors.

For complete data, please contact Mary Ellen Prange, Healthy Environments Division, Healthy and Safe Communities Department [email protected].

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is not having enough money to buy food needed for good health.

People living with food insecurity may:

    • Worry about running out of food
    • Eat little or no fresh vegetables, fruit, milk and meat
    • Choose cheaper, lower-quality food
    • Eat the same few foods for all their meals
    • Eat less food than they need
    • Go without eating so their children can eat
    • Skip meals
    • Go a whole day or several days without eating.

    Food Insecurity in Hamilton

    In 2014  11.9% or 594,900 households in Ontario experienced food insecurity.  In the city of Hamilton, food insecurity was experienced by 14.5% - approximately 1 in 7 - Hamilton households.

    Who experiences food insecurity?

    • Households with employment income make up the majority of food insecure households. In 2014, over 60% of Canadians who were food insecure reported employment as their main source of income. Low-waged jobs and inconsistent work leave many without enough income to buy food.
    • Many who receive social assistance in Ontario are food-insecure. In 2014, almost two-thirds of Ontario households receiving social assistance reported food insecurity. The high rates of food insecurity among households receiving social assistance in Ontario suggest that it fails to meet recipients’ basic needs.

    The negative impacts of food insecurity

    • Not having enough money to buy healthy food leads to poor health. Adults living with food insecurity are more likely to have conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, while children and teens are more likely to have poor mental health.
    • Being food insecure is linked with using more health care. Annual health care costs are 121% higher in households with severe food insecurity.

    House with a parent and child

    More than 1 in 7

    households are food insecure

    Taking action on food insecurity

    Food insecurity is the result of not having enough money to buy food.

    Community food programs, such as food banks, community meals, community gardens and kitchens provide short-term relief for those in need. Many also offer other supports and services.  For information on programs and services in Hamilton, please refer to the Hamilton Food Access Guide.

    Other solutions are needed to tackle the root cause of food insecurity, which is lack of money to buy enough food. Policies, tax benefits, and programs that help people afford the costs of living are needed. These include: