Map of Simcoe Muskoka

Nutritious Food Basket (NFB)

Since the early 1990s, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) and other public health units across Ontario have been mandated to monitor food affordability using the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey. The NFB survey is a tool that measures the cost of basic healthy eating across a region. Food costing is used to monitor both affordability and accessibility of foods by relating the cost of the NFB to household incomes.  Although the new Ontario Public Health Standards (2018) do not include an NFB protocol, there is still a provincial requirement for health units to monitor food affordability. Accordingly, SMDHU and many other health units that have made the decision to continue doing the NFB survey using the provincially established protocol, standardized survey form and guidance document followed in previous years.

The survey process involves the selection of a representative sample of food stores that reflect the local urban and rural population mix in a health unit area. Every effort is also made to include a balance of “regular” and “budget” grocery stores from all the major supermarket chains in the area, and to ensure that stores chosen for the survey come from a balance of lower, middle and higher-level economic areas of the region. Furthermore, no convenience stores or “big box” stores requiring private membership are included in the survey sample.

The list of NFB foods that are surveyed is not intended as a “prescriptive” list of items that must be eaten by everyone to maintain health. It only represents one example of a “basket” of foods that can be used to determine benchmark figures for the cost of healthy eating in a region.

During a two-week period in May 2019, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit staff conducted the NFB survey in Simcoe County and in the District of Muskoka separately. Surveyors visited a pre-determined sample of six grocery stores in each area and recorded the price of the same 67 foods in each store.

The foods surveyed included a variety of relatively inexpensive and widely-consumed choices from Canada’s Food Guide  and can be used to prepare a whole week’s worth of healthy meals and snacks. They include:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Breads, cereals and other grain-based foods
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Meats, fish and poultry
  • Canned beans and other meat alternatives.

All food prices are entered into the cost averaging spreadsheet originally developed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to calculate the weekly cost of the NFB. An extra 5% is added to account for coffee, tea and additional food items used as ingredients in meal preparation such as spices, seasonings, condiments, soups and baking supplies. The resulting food basket cost is based on the average cost of each food item across all grocery stores sampled. The food basket excludes food items with little nutritional value such as soft drinks, potato chips and other processed convenience foods high in sugar, fat and/or salt. Infant formula and baby foods are also not included, and neither are non-food items such as laundry detergent, tooth paste, toilet paper and soap.

Survey results are used to calculate the monthly cost of a NFB for households of different compositions and income sources. In 2019, these include:

  • A “reference family” of four (a man and a woman each aged 31-50 years; a boy aged 14-18 years, and a girl aged 4-8 years) with income from Ontario Works, or minimum wage work, or median income (after-tax)
  • A single parent household (a woman aged 31-50 years, a boy aged 14-18 years, and a girl aged 4-8 years) with income from Ontario Works
  • A single man, aged 31-50 years with income from Ontario Works, or the Ontario Disability Support Program
  • A single woman, aged 31-50 years with income from Ontario Works, or the Ontario Disability Support Program
  • A woman over 70 years of age with income from Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement
  • A man over 70 years of age with income from Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement.

The cost of the NFB plus apartment rent figures from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation Ontario Market Rental Report for Fall 2018 are then compared with income from the sources previously mentioned to get an indication of whether these income sources are adequate to cover food and rent costs.

Similar to 2018, due to data suppression of rental figures from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation Market Rental Report for Fall 2018, rental rates for bachelor and 3+ bedrooms in the District of Muskoka and Simcoe County did not present a complete picture for the area. Therefore, data imputation was utilized to assign replacement values for the missing data for District of Muskoka and Simcoe County to ensure increased accuracy of the Simcoe Muskoka rent figure estimates for 2018.

It is important to note that it is NOT appropriate to use local NFB results to calculate what individuals and families should be paying for food. NFB figures are an average of food costs from across the whole region and do not represent food costs in any one community. Food costs and other circumstances can be quite different from one community to another in Simcoe Muskoka.

The mix of stores and the approach to store selection may differ between health units. For this reason it is inappropriate to make comparisons between health units.

In the absence of Ministry guidance and support to conduct the NFB in 2019, Ontario Dietitians in Public Health (ODPH) provided health units with the supports required to proceed with the NFB survey and to develop the income/expense scenarios.