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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tucker

How much does healthy eating cost?

Now, more than ever, I speak with clients who have the same concern: “It seems like I'm spending so much money on food. What is a reasonable amount to spend on groceries?”

My mobile banking app happily keeps track of purchases and even as a registered dietitian, I am low-key horrified every time it calculates how much I spend on groceries monthly. The app cheerily gives me “insights” like “In December, your spending at Superstore was 22% higher than usual”.

Grocery spending is individual. Some clients live alone and splurge on a variety of cheeses. Some clients have a large family, don’t eat meat, soak beans from dry and only buy produce on sale. Some clients eat mostly wild game that they hunt or beef they raised themselves. So grocery spending can vary wildly!

Starting in 1992, an Alberta Government Ministry calculated something called a “nutritious food basket”, which I turned to in order to get an objective answer. Using Canada's food guide and the Dietary Reference intakes (which say how much of each nutrient a person needs based on age and sex), The nutritious food basket modeled a person's food intake over a week. The researchers then priced out every food item in order to calculate the cost for a healthy diet for one week. The nutritious food basket also had a buffer built in of an extra 10% for things like spices and coffee (which some people, myself included, view as essential).

In the Edmonton nutritious food basket modeling for December 2019 lays out a weekly cost for a “family of four”- one woman aged 31-50, one man aged 31-50, one boy aged 9-13 and one girl aged 4-8. The 2019 weekly cost for this fictional family to have nutritious food in Edmonton is $245.15. Extrapolating that cost annually, returns a result of $1,062.32 per month.

The government stopped doing nutritious food basket modeling in December 2019 which is a bit of a shame because it stops right before inflation really took off. Using consumer price index averages for 2020 and 2021, the average monthly cost of groceries for the same fictional family at the beginning of 2022 would be $1,146.67. This likely undershoots the cost as many food items have increased in price more than the average CPI.

All this to say that our fictitious family is going to have a shockingly higher grocery bill in 2022 than even last year. This applies to you as well, living breathing person.

So what does all of this mean? It means that your grocery spending may not be out of line compared to how much it generally costs to have a healthy diet in Edmonton. Does this mean we can't strategize to save a bit of money? No. It just means that having a reputable basis for comparison on grocery spending can just be helpful to put things into context. Do you feel validated, dear blog reader? Because I sure do after all these calculations.

Stick with me and I’ll talk next about grocery budget tips and some meal planning strategies that can help your budget as well.

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