Food insecurity in Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark and the Nutritious Food Basket Costing

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submitted by Danielle Labonte,
Registered Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist

Each year, with the exception of 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit conducts Nutritious Food Basket costing. This means we look at the cost of a variety of nutritious foods across several grocery stores in Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark, and determine the average cost of eating a balanced diet for those living in the tri-county. This includes foods found on Canada’s food guide such as milk, fortified soy beverage, cheese, yogurt, hummus, canned beans, dried lentils, ground turkey, pork chops, a variety of fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables and fruit, whole wheat pita, oats, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and peanut butter. The results show that individuals and households living with food insecurity struggle to buy enough nutritious food after paying rent, bills, and other living expenses

Household and individual food insecurity means not having enough money to buy healthy food. Really, it is an income issue, not a food issue – when money is tight there can be less money in the food budget. This can lead to skipped meals, poor mental, physical & oral health as well as put individuals at a greater risk of developing chronic disease. People who cannot afford healthy food are more likely to become ill and need more health services. Living with food insecurity means not getting enough of the vitamins, minerals and food energy needed for healthy growth and development and to maintain overall, mental and immune health. Food insecurity is a serious public health problem because individuals’ health and well-being are tightly linked to their household food security. Evidence shows a nutritious food intake plays a positive role for healthy pregnancies and birth outcomes, healthy growth and development, and a risk reduction for chronic diseases later in life. Addressing food insecurity will likely also decrease use of the health care system.

Nutritious Food Basket Findings for Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark

We found that the average monthly cost of a nutritious food basket in LGL for a family of four consisting of two adults (1 male and 1 female each between 31 and 50 years), a female aged 4-8, and a male aged 14-18 was $1109 in June of 2022. For a household with a monthly income of $2760, minus their rent, which is an average of $1561 in LGL, they have $1199 for everything else, before accounting for the cost of food. After subtracting the average cost of food, which is $1109, they are left with $90 for all other expenses, including hydro, transportation, insurance, basic phone and internet, childcare, clothing and footwear, household supplies, toiletries, and over-the-counter medications, extracurricular activities for children, minimal recreation and entertainment, and school supplies.

Donating Safe and Healthy Food

We acknowledge that there is an immediate need to assist those unable to afford food, so we should consider both good nutrition and food safety when donating food for a short-term solution. Longer-term solutions require critical conversations with family, friends, colleagues, communities and policy makers to get at the root problems of food insecurity. While alone these solutions may not be sufficient to eliminate poverty, together, they can help:

  • Support and expand tax filing initiatives targeted at low-income households
  • Ensure access to safe, affordable housing, childcare and transportation  
  • Implement basic minimum employment standards to reduce precarious employment
  • Increase opportunities for education
  • Encourage local businesses and agencies to become Living Wage employers
  • Ensure social assistance rates provide for the basic costs of living

When donating foods, choose nutritious food. Try using the % Daily Value (% DV) found on the Nutrition Facts Table to compare products. Look for products that have 5% DV or less of sodium and total fat and 15% DV or more of fibre, potassium, calcium, and iron. If you choose to donate food, contact a food bank in your community to learn what products they need and what equipment they have to safely store fresh or frozen food

Food banks must follow food safety legislation and cannot accept the following food products:

  • food with missing identifying labels
  • severely dented cans
  • foods damaged in floods or fires
  • food that has been partially consumed or has signs of spoilage or contamination
  • home canned food products (because of the risk of botulism from improper processing)
  • wild game or uninspected meat
  • unpasteurized milk products and juices
  • food prepared at home or in uninspected kitchens

It is also important to note that expiry dates and best before dates are not the same. Expired foods cannot be accepted, but foods past their best before date can be as long as they are not more than one year past their best before date.

For more information, visit our health unit website at healthunit.org, give us a call at 1-800-660-5853, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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