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Food and Nutrition

The Real Cost of Unaffordable Food

As the cost of living increases everywhere, more and more people in Simcoe Muskoka do not have enough money to cover the cost of basic expenses and put nutritious food on the table. Too often, individuals and families are forced to cut their food budget to afford other essentials like utilities, transportation, clothing, medical expenses and childcare. Some people worry about running out of food, don’t have enough food for each meal, compromise on quality of foods eaten, miss meals altogether, or go days without eating.

When people can’t afford to regularly buy nutritious food, the negative health effects can last a long time and even a lifetime. We all share the real cost of unaffordable food as it impacts the health of our whole community and adds more pressure to our over-burdened health care system. 

Each year local public health dietitians and public health nurses conduct the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey to determine how much it costs to purchase a basic healthy diet. The results of the NFB are used to monitor how affordable food is for individuals and families living in Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka based on various monthly income and expenses scenarios.

The cost of the NFB is based on the average lowest cost of 61 food items that are based on Canada’s Food Guide and found in selected grocery stores across Simcoe and Muskoka. The items do not include processed foods, special diet foods or personal items. Canada's Food Guide and the Ontario Nutritious Food Basket are not inclusive for all religious and cultural groups, and they do not acknowledge traditional Indigenous foods and food procurement practices. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit recognizes this as a limitation of data collection.

What was the cost of healthy eating across Simcoe Muskoka in 2023?

The monthly cost of the nutritious food basket for a family of four is $1225.74

The monthly cost of the nutritious food basket for a single person is $445.95

How much is left for other basic needs* after paying for food and rent?

Household and Income Type

Percent of income spent on food and rent 

A family of four with an Ontario Median Income 


A family of four, Ontario Works


A single person household (70+ years old), Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplements


A single person household, Ontario Disability Support Program


The results of the 2023 NFB survey continues to show, as in previous years, that many individuals and families living with lower incomes struggle to pay rent, bills, and purchase enough basic nutritious food for themselves and their families. In some cases, it is impossible.

For more information about the 2023 NFB income scenarios and results:

*Basic needs refers to, for example, transportation, childcare, clothing, phone, personal care items etc.


When nutritious food is unaffordable and people in our community can’t make ends meet, they may cut their food budget to pay for other essential expenses. Many local families and individuals find themselves experiencing the following:

• Worrying about running out of food

• Eating foods lower in nutritional quality

• Eating the same few foods for all their meals

• Eating less food than they need

• Going without eating so their children can eat

• Missing meals altogether

• Going a whole day or several days without eating.

Although this seems like a problem due to the increased cost of food, it is actually a problem of not having enough money to buy food, or what is called ‘household food insecurity’.

Household food insecurity is a serious public health issue that can negatively affect the health of individuals, families, and our community as a whole.

Not having enough money to buy food (being food insecure) is a serious public health issue that can negatively affect the health of individuals, families, and our communities.

Household food insecurity impacts the health of children and youth

  • Children living in food-insecure households experience poorer physical and mental health, and youth are at increased risk of depression, social anxiety and suicide.
  • New research also shows that food-insecure adolescents face greater risk of injury.

Food insecurity impacts the health of adults

  • Food-insecure adults experience poorer physical and mental health, including higher rates of depression, anxiety, infections, and chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Adults living in food-insecure households are more likely to delay, reduce, or skip prescription medication due to cost.
  • Food-insecure adults face greater risk of injury and poor oral health.

Food insecurity impacts our whole community and health care system

  • The average health care costs of someone experiencing severe food insecurity are more than double those of people who are food-secure.
  • Because of its harmful effects on health, household food insecurity causes a large burden on an already fragile health care system.

For more information about how food insecurity impacts health and health care visit PROOF.

For local information about household food insecurity and actions needed click here.

Addressing household food insecurity is difficult and requires a whole community approach to guide actions and find solutions. Although food banks and community food programs are essential to bridge the gap for people who need food immediately, they are not designed to solve household food insecurity. Policies and programs that focus on poverty, income and employment are needed. There are several local groups who work on these issues.

Learn more:

Simcoe County Poverty Reduction Task Group
Poverty Reduction of Muskoka Planning Table
Rooted in Ramara
Simcoe County Food Council (see Simcoe County Food Security Framework)
Gravenhurst Against Poverty
Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCATEH)
The Muskoka Housing Task Force
Barrie Area Native Advisory Circle (BANAC)
United Way Simcoe Muskoka – Poverty Interventions

Addressing household food insecurity is difficult and requires a whole community approach to guide actions and find solutions. Policies and programs that focus on poverty, income and employment are needed.

  • Learn more by visiting PROOF’s webpage
  • Talk with family, friends and community leaders to share your concerns and raise awareness about household food insecurity and income solutions.
  • Support, and vote for  solutions that support adequate income and allow dignified access to food for everyone in the community.

Effective solutions include:

  • Affordable housing, public transit, and childcare

Advocacy efforts to the provincial and federal government are needed to push for these types of policy changes to improve income and employment practices, which can result in reduced household food insecurity.

Action can be simple; all it takes is customizing a letter to urge your political leaders to take action on household food insecurity.

To customize and send the letter visit Ontario Dietitians in Public Health website.

  • Consider sending your letter to your local Mayor and council

Emergency food programs (also known as food charity) such as food banks, drop-in meal programs and soup kitchens may provide short-term relief for people experiencing food insecurity. Some of these programs may also offer other helpful supports and services.
For help finding a program:

Food Simcoe County – Meal Programs

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