How Much Does Healthy Eating Cost

The Healthy and Safe Communities Department checks the price of healthy foods in grocery stores across Hamilton every year using the Nutritious Food Basket survey.

The foods for the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey are based on Canadian eating patterns and buying habits as well as nutritional value. The survey represents the lowest average cost of 67 healthy foods in seven Hamilton grocery stores. These foods can be used to prepare nutritious meals and snacks. To get the total cost for a week, an extra 5% was added to account for additional food items used in meal preparation such as spices, seasonings, condiments, baking supplies, soups, coffee and tea.

The NFB does not include processed and convenience foods, soft drinks, popular snack foods, special dietary foods, infant foods, religious or cultural foods, soap, shampoo, toilet paper or other personal care items sold in grocery stores.

The NFB survey results are used to find out if healthy eating is affordable for Hamiltonians with different sources of income and living in rental housing.

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 $23.59
Boys 4 - 8 $30.43
Girls 2 - 3 $23.14
Girls 4 - 8 $29.54
Males 9 - 13 $40.59
Males 14 - 18 $58.53
Males 19 - 30 $56.85
Males 31 - 50 $51.26
Males 51 - 70 $49.35
Males over 70 $48.84
Females 9 - 13 $34.68
Females 14 - 18 $41.71
Females 19 - 30 $43.92
Females 31 - 50 $43.37
Females 51 - 70 $37.90
Females over 70 $37.19
Pregnant women 18 & under $46.85
Pregnant women 19 - 30 $47.50
Pregnant women 31 - 50 $46.34
Breastfeeding women 18 & under $48.60
Breastfeeding women 19 - 30 $50.68
Breastfeeding women 31 - 50 $49.53
Reference family of four

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

$182.70

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

When incomes are compared to the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket plus the cost of market rental housing in Hamilton it shows that households have very little money remaining to pay other expenses.

Low income households are often forced to sacrifice buying nutritious food to pay for other costs of living 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)
$2,582 3-bedroom $1159
(45% of income)
$791
(31% of income)
$632
Family of four
Ontario Basic Income Pilot
  • 2 adults (male and female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$3,334 3-bedroom $1159
(35% of income)
$791
(24% of income)
$1384
Family of four
Full-time minimum wage
  • 2 adults (male and female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$3,603 3-bedroom $1159
(32% of income)
$791
(22% of income)
$1653
Family of four
Median Ontario income (after tax)
  • 2 adults (male and female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$7,871 3-bedroom $1159
(15% of income)
$791
(10% of income)
$5921
Single parent
Ontario Works
  • 1 adult (female ages 31-50)
  • 2 children (girl age 8, boy age 14)
$2,363 2-bedroom $1029
(44% of income)
$598
(25% of income)
$736
Single person
Ontario Works
  • 1 adult (male age 31-50)
$810 bachelor $645
(80% of income)
$266
(33% of income)
-$101
Single person
Ontario Disability Support Program
  • 1 adult (male age 31-50)
$1,251 1-bedroom for accessibility $850
(68% of income)
$266
(21% of income)
$135
Single person
Ontario Basic Income Pilot (no disability)
  • 1 adult (male age 31-50)
$1,518 bachelor $645
(42% of income)
$266
(18% of income)
$607
Single person
Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement
  • 1 adult (female age 70+)
$1,694 1-bedroom $850
(50% of income)
$193
(11% of income)
$651

* 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 2017.  May include heat/hydro.
** Nutritious Food Basket survey May 2018, 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 maryellen.prange@hamilton.ca.

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.

    Not having enough money to buy nutritious food leads to poor health. Adults living with food insecurity are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, children are more likely to have mental health problems and teenagers are at greater risk of depression, social anxiety and suicide.

    Being food insecure is strongly linked with greater use of the healthcare system. Annual health care costs are 121% higher in households with severe food insecurity.

    Food insecurity is highest among indigenous Canadians, low income households, single mothers and people who do not own a home. Being food insecure is strongly linked with greater use of the healthcare system. Annual health care costs are 121% higher in households with severe food insecurity compared to households with no food insecurity.

    Having a job does not protect against food insecurity. In 2014, over 60% of Canadians who experienced food insecurity reported wages and salaries as their main source of income. Low-waged jobs and insecure work means many people in the workforce don’t have enough income to be food-secure.

    Many social assistance recipients 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 Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program fail to meet recipients’ basic needs.

    Reference:  Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. (2016). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2014. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF) proof.utoronto.ca.

    Food Insecurity in Hamilton

    In 2014 (most recent year Ontario statistics are available) 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.

    House with a parent and child

    More than 1 in 7

    households are food insecure

    Taking action on food insecurity

    Food insecurity is a problem rooted in income insecurity.

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

    Long-term solutions are needed to address the root problem which is inadequate incomes.  Policies, tax benefits and programs that help families and individuals to have adequate incomes that cover all the costs of living are needed.  These include: