Perhaps a week ago...or a little more, an article in the paper caught my eye. The papers had been running a series on poverty in Niagara and discussed some of the difficulties that those living in poverty were facing.
It has been an interesting and concerning read, for many reasons and on many levels.
I was startled however to learn that the Region of Niagara had assessed that it would cost close to $200 a week to feed a family of four nutritionally balanced meals for a week.
I realize I don't shop...or cook and eat like most people. But holy cow-that seems high to me.
I contacted the region via email and am delighted they got back to me quickly and with the information I wondered about. That was, of course, what exactly is in the "Nutritious Food Basket"?
Did you wonder too?
Here is the response I received...what do you think?
"The Board of Health is required to cost the food items that comprise a nutritious food basket, as deemed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) annually during the month of May, or at a frequency determined by the MOHLTC. In alignment with Health Canada’s National NFB, the MOHLTC provides all 36 health units with list of 67 food items (Appendix 1) representing Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide and eating behaviours reflective of the Canadian Community Health Survey 2.2 results to be costed as per the NFB protocol. This list was updated in 2007 following the release of the newest version of Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide and the natural shift in eating patterns over time, Health Canada revised the 1998 version of the National NFB. The national eating patterns included within the revised National NFB are aligned with Ontario’s eating patterns.
It should be noted that the provincial NFB does not include the cost of convenience foods (i.e. canned soups, pasta sauce and frozen meals) and does not include non-food items purchased at the grocery store (i.e. toothpaste, soap, diapers). The NFB also does not include baby food or infant formula. Within the calculations, a 5% addition is made to include miscellaneous costs associated with basic cooking. These costs include spices, condiments, coffee and tea.
The foods represent items from each of the four food groups. The foods are selected based on the assumption that individuals have basic cooking skills, therefore prepared meals and foods eaten in restaurants are not included. Foods with little or no nutritional value (i.e. sodas, fried foods, desserts) are not included in the list of foods. The NFB does not give preference to local/Canadian food. Items are selected based on the lowest price, not country of origin.
The NFB is not meant to be used as a menu planning or shopping tool. The creation of meals based on the list of foods is not encouraged. Although the list of foods represents selections from Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, it is not a prescriptive list. The NFB is simply a benchmark cost of healthy eating.
Items in the NFB reflect the lowest price available in a specified purchase size, regardless of the brand. The resulting food basket is based on the average cost of each food item from all grocery stores sampled and not the total cost of any one particular store. Some strategies to lower food costs are not accessible to some individuals. These strategies may include purchasing foods in bulk or using coupons. Not everyone may have the storage capacity, financial ability and transportation capability to purchase items in bulk. The NFB does not include convenience or prepared foods. These items are often more expensive. The NFB assumes that individuals have the time, ability and food skills to prepare meals from scratch. It also assumes that people purchase foods according to the lowest price and not necessarily according to preference or availability. It assumes that grocery shopping is a regular activity (every 1 to 2 weeks) and that people have access to grocery stores. NFB does not include food purchased when eating outside of the home (restaurants).
In accordance with the NFB protocol and guidance document, the NFB costing is conducted during the month of May. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food in May closely reflects the annual average CPI for food, a measure considered appropriate for estimating the months in which food prices would be least affected by the high availability of food from the fall harvest or mid-winter transportation costs. Stores are surveyed during a two-week period to avoid price fluctuations due to changes in market availability of products and promotional campaigns. In the event that a specified purchase unit is not available and prices for alternative size products have been recorded, the price is re-calculated to the preferred purchased unit. The average price for each food item is electronically added to a pricing spreadsheet provided by the MOHLTC. The costs of the food basket are calculated for 22 unique age and sex groups and for the reference family of four is automatically generated.
To calculate the cost of the basket for a household, the Household Size Adjustment Factor is applied. This accounts for economies or diseconomies of scale, as it costs less per person to feed a larger family and more per person to feed a smaller family. Modest adjustments must be made to the cost of the NFB to account for family size. Current practice is to multiply the weekly cost of the food basket by 1.20, if the cost is being calculated for one person; 1.10 for two people; 1.05 for three; no change for four people; 0.95 for 5-6 people; and 0.90 for seven of more people.
The NFB can be priced to estimate the average cost of feeding up to 22 ages and sex groups. For the purpose of reporting, we refer the a “reference family of four”, which is defined by the MOHLTC guidance document as, a man and woman each aged 31-50 years; a boy aged 14-18 years and a girl, 4-8 years old. Each calculation is unique as women are typically smaller than men so they require less energy and therefore food to meet their needs. Women need more energy during pregnancy or lactation in order to support a healthy pregnancy and produce breast milk. Children and teens grow quickly and they have high nutrient and energy needs to support growth.
The NFB is a powerful policy and advocacy tool used to raise aware of the cost of healthy eating to assess the adequacy of social assistance or minimum wage incomes. The consistency in methodology provides a good benchmark for the costs related to healthy eating."
Appendix: List of foods included on NFB
MILK & MILK ALTERNATIVES
Milk, partly skimmed, 2% M.F.
Cheese, processed food, cheddar, slices
Cheese, mozzarella, partially skim
Yogurt, fruit bottom, 1% to 2% M.F.
MEAT, POULTRY AND LEGUMES
Ham, sliced, regular (approximately 11% fat)
Beef, hip, inside (top) round roast
Beef, hip, inside (top) round steak
Beef, ground, lean
Beans, baked, canned in tomato sauce
Peanuts, dry roasted
Peanut butter, smooth type, fat, sugar and salt added
Pork, loin, centre chop, bone-in
Tuna, light, canned in water
Fish (sole, haddock, pollock, halibut), frozen
Salmon, chum (keta), canned
ORANGE VEGETABLES & FRUIT
Peach, canned halves or slices, juice pack
Melon, cantaloupe, raw
Sweet potato, raw
DARK GREEN VEGETABLES
Beans, snap (Italian, green or yellow), frozen
Vegetables, mixed, frozen
Peas, green, frozen
Pepper, sweet, green, raw
FATS AND OILS
Vegetable oil, canola
Salad dressing, mayonnaise type
Salad dressing, Italian, regular
Margarine, tub, non-hydrogenated
OTHER VEGETABLES & FRUIT
Grape, red or green, raw
Orange juice, frozen concentrate
Raisin, seedless (sultana)
Strawberry, frozen, unsweetened
Apple juice, canned or bottled, added vitamin C
Potato, white, raw
Corn, canned vacuum packed
Rutabaga (turnip), raw
Tomato, red, raw
Tomato, canned, whole
Vegetable juice cocktail
WHOLE GRAIN PRODUCTS
Cereal, bran flakes with raisins
Cereal, oats, quick cooking
Cereal, toasted oats Os
Bread, pita, whole-wheat
Bread, whole wheat
Grains, wheat flour, whole-grain
NON WHOLE GRAIN PRODUCTS
Cookie, plain (arrowroot, social tea)
Cracker, saltine, unsalted top
Pasta, spaghetti, enriched
Grains, wheat flour, white, enriched, all purpose
Rice, white, long-grain, parboiled