Cost of healthy food increased 8.8% in Windsor-Essex in 2019

The Windsor Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) found the price of groceries for a family of four has increased 8.8 per cent from last year and may see another increase in 2020.

Numbers were calculated with a survey tool called the Nutritious Food Basket, which calculates the cost of 67 food items in nine area grocery stores, then finds the average lowest retail price.

According to the data, in 2019, a family of four, with two adults, a teenage son and a young daughter spent $211.20 per week. In 2018 the weekly cost was $194.04.

"It's a significant issue especially for families who are on fixed incomes and it's a challenge," said Neil MacKenzie, manager of chronic disease and injury prevention at WECHU.

The list of nutritious foods are very basic, so MacKenzie said there are a lot of assumptions that people have the food skills, time and equipment to create meals from the list.

"It's not a lot of pre-prepared or processed foods associated with it. It's a lot of basic foods," MacKenzie said.

Some of the items include chicken legs, grapes, dry lentils, green pepper, vegetable juice, and rice.

The ability to eat healthy isn't just limited by the price of food. MacKenize said there are fixed costs like rent, utilities, and phone bills, all competing with a pay cheque.

Stacey Janzer/CBC

"If your income doesn't go up along with those costs, the one thing that tends to be variable is your food budget," he said.

Families then tend to eat less or buy less nutritious food, which can have some significant impacts in our community.

"It would be great if we could match income levels with the actual and real costs of being a meaningful and active participant in our society and having enough resources to do that," said MacKenzie.

The report has a list of scenarios including one that shows there is a deficit of $81.93 for single people on Ontario Works. The report has the person receiving $825 for the month, $600 going to rent, then requiring $306.93 for healthy food.

That doesn't take into account any other bills.

The information was presented to the WECHU board, where MacKenzie  said key decision makers will be able to come up with options on how to proceed with the new data.

About 11 per cent of households in Windsor Essex are food insecure and 27 per cent of low income households are food insecure.

"Some individuals actually rely on some of our emergency food programs in order to make ends meet because that's the reality," MacKenzie said.

"Some adults will go without or skip meals to make sure their children have enough food."

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press