Monthly Cost to Feed Family of Four: $868

Too many people in BC can't afford to eat healthily, finds report. Plus: Photo essay shows five ways people pinch food dollars.


Jenifer and Shane Richardson do big grocery shops every week, usually at the Superstore. Jenifer says they do price compare, but sometimes it’s not worth driving to where a deal is. Today they’ve stocked up on day-old bread and buns, half price. Jenifer says they’ve noticed higher grocery prices and have stopped buying some snacky things — granola bars, for example — because they’re too expensive, and more sugary than a homemade version. They spend about $125 to $150 a week on groceries.


Mrs. Luu, pictured outside Lok’s market on Georgia Street, is holding bags of bananas, bok choy and oranges. She says always shops in Chinatown and eats mostly fruits and vegetables — very little meat — because it’s cheaper and healthier. Mrs. Luu lives alone, cooks for herself and estimates she spends about $50 per week on food. Since she relies on a pension, after rent there’s little left over for food, she says. All photos by Colleen Kimmett.


Antonio Castellanos and Jillian Hildebrand cook lasagne for 50 at Calvary Baptist Church in East Vancouver. There is a hot meal served every Thursday night at the church, and guests are asked to either pay $2 or sign up to help set up, prepare food, or clean up. The church has a budget of $150 per week for food. They don’t rely on donations, says program director Geordan Hankinson, because they tend to be unreliable and sometimes of questionable quality.


Rising food prices have motivated Victoria (left) and Jan to buy less processed food. “We do price compare quite a bit,” says Jan, and shop “off the beaten trail.” They’ve noticed that shops on Commercial Drive and Hastings have the best prices. They typically shop in small batches every other day, and tend to go to different places for different items. They estimate they spend between $80 and $100 per week on groceries for the two of them.


Jacquie lives in Gold River but makes regular visits to Vancouver to visit her elderly father. She usually goes to the Superstore to stock up on items he needs and says she finds the best prices here. Her main concern is not affordability but accessibility; it’s hard for her father to get out, and she wishes the larger grocery chains offered a shopping service.


A sign of the times: Benny’s Bagels offers a discount if you buy direct from its factory on Venables Street, but the price for a half-dozen continues to increase. The cost of flour increased 32 per cent from 2008 to 2012, from $3.91 to $5.18 for 2.5 kilograms.

It costs $868.42 per month on average to feed a family of four in British Columbia, according to the latest Cost of Eating report from the Dieticians of Canada.

That eats up about 15 per cent of the $67,200 that a median-income family in the province would earn — and much more for the one out of eight people who live below the poverty line.

The B.C. region of the Dieticians of Canada have produced the report every two years for the past decade. In 2009, the cost of a nutritious food basket for a family of four was actually slightly higher — $872 per month — than it was this year, but five years ago it was significantly lower: just $715 per month.

For a family receiving $1,851 in social assistance each month, this cost represents 47 per cent of their monthly income.

Kristen Yarker, executive director of the B.C. region of the Dieticians of Canada, says the report is a call to address poverty and the factors that keep people in poverty.

“We as dieticians care about people being able to eat healthfully and we see how so many people can’t afford to do that,” says Yarker. “This is our attempt to raise awareness.”

The $868.42 figure is averaged from the monthly cost of a nutritious food basket in each of the province’s health regions. In Vancouver Coastal Health region, for example, it’s actually $944 per month. In the Fraser Health region, it’s slightly lower at $851.

These figures are based on the price of about 60 items in a “nutritious food basket” determined by Health Canada that could feed two adults, a teenage boy and a four-year-old girl.

Not tallied: eating out, cost of getting to store
The cost does not include pre-packaged, take-out or restaurant meals. It doesn’t include spices or condiments, nor does it take into account special dietary needs or cultural food preferences.

Yarker also points out that the cost to get to a grocery store is not included in this assessment. The 2009 Cost of Food report found that in the average B.C. city, $16.05 would get you four litres of milk, one loaf of bread, one pound of apples and 10 pounds of potatoes. In a remote community, those items would cost $34.85, 177 per cent more.

The combination of higher food prices and fewer stores with fresh healthy options has been linked to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes seen in B.C.’s northern and remote communities that are effectively food deserts.

Food prices jumped five per cent last year
Canadians spend less on food than many other developed countries and remain somewhat sheltered from fluctuating global food prices, like the 2009/2010 crisis that saw global commodity prices jump 40 to 60 per cent.

Still, according to the latest Consumer Price Index from Statistics Canada, Canadians paid 4.9 per cent more for food purchased from stores and 2.8 per cent more for food purchased from restaurants in January 2012 compared to the same period last year.

Eggs, ground beef, carrots and flour were among the grocery items that have increased the most in price over the past several years, according to Statistics Canada.

From 2008 to 2012, a dozen eggs went from $2.50 to $3.09; a kilogram of ground beef went from $5.84 to $8.85; a kilogram of carrots went from $1.22 to $1.63; and 2.5 kilograms of flour went from $3.91 to $5.18.

Yarker didn’t offer any money-saving tips. “This report shows how even using those creative ways [to stretch your food dollar], people can’t make ends meet,” she says. “We need to create a provincial poverty reduction plan. All of us who are voters can be talking to our elected officials.”

This article was produced by Tyee Solutions Society in collaboration with Tides Canada Initiatives (TCI). TCI neither influences nor endorses the particular content of TSS' reporting. Other publications wishing to publish this story or other Tyee Solutions Society-produced articles, please contact Chris Wood.